Business Today

THE GLOBETROTTER

Sangita Singh's dogged determination has helped expand Wipro's healthcare and life sciences technology vertical in a tough business environment.
twitter-logo Venkatesha Babu        Print Edition: September 27, 2015
Sangita Singh, CEO, Healthcare and Life Sciences, Wipro
The go getter: Sangita Singh has nearly doubled her division's revenue in four years. (Photo: Nilotpal Baruah)

How many top executives come to mind when one thinks of those who doubled revenues of the divisions they headed, especially at a time when their company overall grew at less than half that pace? Sangita Singh, CEO, Healthcare and Life Sciences, Wipro, ticks the box.

The diminutive but hard-charging executive literally lives out of a suitcase, shuttling between her office in New York and her family home in Bangalore. And she makes it count. Singh and her team brought in more than $810 million in revenues in 2014/15, up from $429 million in 2010/11. The division contributed about 11.5 per cent to the software majors top line. For two years in succession, the division has won an internal award for being the fastest growing vertical, significantly above the company's overall growth rate. The achievement is all the more commendable as healthcare and life sciences (HLS) technology business is globally dominated not by Wipro's Indian peers such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys or Cognizant but by its multinational competitors such as IBM, Accenture and Perot Systems (now part of Dell).

Stories abound about how Singh impressed her superiors. Says Rama Kumar, CEO of electronic payments solution provider Tarang Software Technologies and one of her early bosses at Wipro, "What struck me about Sangita when she reported to me was her ambition to grow, her aggressive go-getting nature and her huge capacity for hard work. During the performance appraisal discussion her goal was clear, she wanted the highest rating. She was prepared to achieve what was needed to get it with her boss setting targets and informing her upfront."

The HLS business of Wipro has had a difficult history. Set up as a separate business vertical in 2002, under the veteran D.A. Prasanna, it struggled to gain traction for several years. That was until Singh took charge of the division in 2011. Wipro HLS now works with eight of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world and a similar number of medical devices companies apart from leading biotech players. While the company is loath to name its major customers citing non-disclosure agreements, some of the publicly named ones include Takeda Pharmaceutical Company and AstraZeneca Plc.

The Wipro campus in Bangalore
The US remains the biggest market for HLS service providers. There are huge shifts happening in this industry driven by patient empowerment under what is popularly called Obamacare, a pay-for-performance revolution and digital adoption in the industry. In life sciences, pharma companies are looking at new sources of value to drive R&D productivity and innovative models to ensure compliance as well as security. Says an analyst with a market research company who did not want his firm or himself to be identified as he is not authorised to comment on specific service providers: "There is huge churn happening in the life sciences and pharma space driven by Obamacare initiatives in the crucial American market. There has been pressure to cut costs, digitise health records and pharma companies looking to generate blockbuster drugs on limited budgets. This means that conventional service providers like Perot and IBM are being challenged by Indian service providers like Wipro and Cognizant. It is to Wipro's credit that they have ridden this wave of changes smartly."

Seizing those opportunities has not been easy for Singh and Wipro. It has meant personal sacrifices on her part and Wipro having to adapt to changes in the marketplace. For instance, Singh did not hesitate to relocate to the US in January 2014 when there was leadership transition in the American team, just when newer opportunities were coming up in that market. "Yes, it wasn't easy but the team and business required that," avers Singh, who is likely to relocate back to Bangalore by the end of October. She credits her family and especially her husband, Shantanu Jha, co-founder at chip design and multimedia solutions company Ittiam Systems, for being supportive during this period. "I used to come here [Bangalore] once in 45 days. Now that I have achieved what I set out to achieve in New York, I will be moving back."

Krishna Kumar Natarajan, CEO of Mindtree, a mid-sized IT firm that was started by ex-Wipro employees, remembers Singh's ability to venture into 'zones of discomfort.' Natarajan was another boss of Singh's at Wipro. "She was an entry-level marketing person when marketing in IT services was evolving in the late 1990s. When a divisional marketing head came up in my division, she forcefully put herself up for the role fully realising that it was a much larger job. I have heard she did the same when the role of head of enterprise applications came up and she pitched for it when she had very little knowledge of ERP. Similar is the case when she took up the HLS role. In roles where she had no prior deep experience, through sheer determination and hard work she has managed to make Wipro a leader in area whose responsibility she was given," he recalls.

This is an often repeated theme in Singh's career. How she does not hesitate to pitch to a senior person to get what she wants. Natarajan says it is not just a question of reaching out to a senior person. "A quality which sets her apart is the high standards she sets for herself as a professional. She is always raising the bar for herself and never satisfied with what she has achieved. Continuous self-improvement and learning from a diverse set of people make her improve constantly."

Singh dismisses such accolades saying that the only thing she herself can claim to is persistence. "Everybody just remembers (stories) of me reaching out to superiors to get what I wanted. But I have always had a plan to show them how I will execute and I work hard on it."

In 2014, Singh declared that HLS would become a $1-billion division in a couple of years. She asserts she is on track to achieve that goal. "It will be a mix of organic and inorganic growth to reach those numbers by 2016. We are focussed on offering differentiated domain solutions, patient centricity compliance, product innovation to further enhance our growth." Apart from work, Singh plans to write a book on everyday women heroes - such as women vegetable vendors or maids - and tell their stories of courage and resilience.

In spite of a demanding work and travel schedule, Singh says she tries to achieve the work-life balance. Natarajan says this ability to balance her professional success with commitments to her family is commendable given the demands of a global job like hers. "While many capable women professionals drop out of a career to prioritize home, she has balanced both in an admirable manner," he adds.

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