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Pharma: A tonic for talent

The top pharma companies have a "people first" mantra to nurture and retain talent.

E. Kumar Sharmaand Shalini S. Dagar. | Print Edition: Feb 6, 2011

Talk to senior Pfizer India executives and they will tell you that the company believes in meritocracy. They cite the example of Sunil Madhok, Director of Business Operations. Madhok joined Pfizer India as a sales officer in December 1976 and has stayed with the company since, rising to the top echelons. He has also been on the internal advisory board of the CEO of Pfizer Inc.

This unflinching commitment to promoting talent, Pfizer says, is the reason why almost a quarter of the company's workforce has been with it for more than 10 years. At Dr Reddy's Laboratories, too, it is the same refrain. In fact, Dr Reddy's human resources, or HR, executives say that it is the only pharma company in India with a woman heading a huge sales team: Ritha Chandrachud, Senior Vice President and Head of India Marketing, leads a sales force of over 3,000. And at Ranbaxy, the rules of moving up the ladder are fairly clear. An example is an online tool, called Vector, which allows employees to apply for positions across the globe without any in-house approvals. And in-house candidates are preferred even if their current capabilities are only 60 per cent of the required levels.

G. Pushpakumari, a scientist with Dr Reddy’s
G. Pushpakumari, a scientist with Dr Reddy’s
"We take a chance on people within the company and they almost never fail us," says Bhagwat Yagnik, Senior Vice President and Head of Global HR at Ranbaxy. This people-driven approach is, perhaps, what has made these three pharma giants bag the top three spots in the pharma and health care category in our survey.

To retain talent, these companies have tried to ensure that some good practices are systemic and institutionalised. Each employee has enough autonomy in his designated role to stay committed and involved. And then there is a well-oiled mechanism for feedback. "The feedback is not from a control or a gap perspective, but only tries to ensure that each employee is successful at the role he or she is engaged in," says Yagnik. Dr Reddy's, too, is trying to build a "role-based organisation". Last year the company partnered with Mercer, a global HR consulting firm, to prepare a new organisational structure that will define every job and evolve "sharp scorecards to define accountability". The idea, according to Saumen Chakraborty, President and Global Head of Quality, HR & IT, is "to migrate to a transparent, role-based organisation where employees and managers can understand what is expected from them (have role clarity), know what it takes to move up and across (promotion and career movement), know the scientific process for getting talent inside (talent acquisition)".

Bhagwat Yagnik (left), Senior VP and Head of Global HR, Ranbaxy
Bhagwat Yagnik (left), Senior VP and Head of Global HR, Ranbaxy
Kewal Handa, Managing Director of Pfizer India, asserts that "there is no distance between the employees and me" and that the company has a culture of open communication and access to top management. At the frequent regional meetings of its field force, it is an open house with the top brass responding to some searching questions from the employees. Handa recalls how in the third week of December, at one such meeting, field staffers wanted to know why, despite Pfizer calling itself a sciencebased and research-driven company, it was launching a range of generic products instead of innovator products.

These companies have also chalked out their own unique initiatives to retain talent. Ranbaxy on a regular basis surveys the market reality globally and tries to keep its remuneration benchmarks above median levels.

The appraisal systems, in addition to key result areas, or KRAs, incorporate Values in Action, which could include evaluating people on qualities such as people development. At Pfizer India the focus is now on talent development across levels through initiatives like management development programmes at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, and, for its best talent, at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Dr Reddy's says it is committed to building a "very womenfriendly organisation".

All the three pharma giants have attrition rates much lower than the industry average. Clearly, for the moment, the emphasis on nurturing talent seems to have paid off.

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