When Lupin Ltd bought Japanese generic drug maker Kyowa Pharma in 2007, it created more than just a ripple in Japan. Local TV channels showed Kamal K. Sharma, then Managing Director of Lupin, getting out of his aircraft and stepping on Japanese soil, much like a conqueror. When Sharma met government officials, he found emotions running high. Many feared the deal would lead to Japanese losing jobs and Indians taking their place.
Anybody else may have been intimidated - but not Sharma. He managed to carry the Japanese along and grow the company at an impressive clip without ruffling feathers. Lupin Japan is still run by Japanese, with few Indians on its staff. And the Japanese business has grown well: it clocked net sales of Rs 1,304 crore in 2012/13 compared with Rs 860 crore the previous year, or 14 per cent of Lupin's consolidated revenues.
How did Sharma manage to crack the Japanese market which has traditionally been a tough one? By focusing on creating efficiencies, targeting hospitals that treat patients with complex diseases, and by canvassing doctors. "Doctors are diffident about generics in Japan, but Sharma has managed to successfully navigate that," says Ranjit Shahani, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of pharma company Novartis India Ltd.
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Sharma's success in Japan was particularly impressive for a company that was a late-entrant to overseas growth. He came into Lupin after the company went through tough times. For one, the pharma firm was saddled with a massive Rs 500-crore debt after it dabbled in real estate, and failed. For another, it had missed the bus on global expansion while its peers such as Ranbaxy had started operations in the US. In July 2003, CVC International, a Citigroup company, bought 12.55 per cent of Lupin and the promoter family's stake fell to 55 per cent. The investors wanted a professional manager - that's where Sharma came in. Shahani says Sharma's big contribution was transforming Lupin into a professionally-run company.
Industry experts say Sharma, now vice-chairman, has played a key role in helping realise founder Chairman Desh Bandhu Gupta's vision of reaching a revenue of $3 billion by 2015/16 - from about $250 million in 2003. Already, the company's turnover has jumped to $1.75 billion (Rs 10,780 crore) in 2013, catapulting it into the big league. "When Nilesh Gupta (D.B. Gupta's son) takes over, he will get a very different company from the one Sharma took over. The credit goes to both DBG and Sharma," says Dilip G. Shah, CEO of Vision Consulting Group and Secretary General of Indian Pharmaceuticals Alliance, who has worked with Lupin and Sharma.
From being a company best known as one of the largest manufacturers of anti-TB drugs, Sharma helped Lupin diversify into a range of affordable generic and branded formulations in many markets. Lupin has also acquired several pharma firms across the world and Sharma has made it the first Indian company to successfully market an individual branded drug, Suprax, in the US. Suprax is used to treat infections. Lupin's US sales leapt to about Rs 3,835 crore in 2012/13 from Rs 2,200 crore in 2010/11, mainly due to Suprax.