Selling shampoo is different from selling a pain killer or a drug for the central nervous system. Most in the Indian pharma industry would also say so. They would concur with the head of a leading pharma company in Mumbai who told Business Today, "The pharmaceuticals industry requires deep domain knowledge. You need to know the medicines and the health indications when these are to be prescribed." He added that it was equally important to know "how doctors prescribe medicines."
Thus there are few examples of people from FMCG moving to pharma. The only well known one is that of Hasit Joshipura, Managing Director, GSK India, who was earlier with Unilever.
It is interesting therefore that Sanofi India has just hired a seasoned professional from the FMCG space, appointing him general manager for pharmaceutical operations in India, a position it has created for the first time. N Rajaram, 46, joins the company in this capacity and also as the country head. What makes this even more unique is that Rajaram has never been associated with pharma. He comes to Sanofi with over two decades of experience with Hindustan Unilever, and thereafter in the telecom industry with Airtel. Rajaram, who holds a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India and an MBA in International Business from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi, will now be responsible for the marketing and sales of Sanofi India's entire pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare range (think brands like Allegra - an anti-allergic drug and Combiflam, an analgesic). At Unilever, Rajaram held a number of positions in India and Southeast Asia and managed some of the company's iconic brands (think: Dove, Sunsilk, Clinic Plus). And more recently, he worked for over two years at Bharti Airtel, the telecom major, as its chief marketing officer and CEO (Data & Digital group).
Until recently, at Sanofi India, Shailesh Ayyangar, Vice President - South Asia, Sanofi and Managing Director - Sanofi India, was handling both responsibilities - as the GM for Pharma Operations as well as his responsibilities as Zone Head (Vice President) for South Asia - including overall management of diverse businesses of Sanofi Group in India. Apart from the pharma operations, there are two other major business verticals for Sanofi in India - one is its vaccines business under Sanofi Pasteur and is headed by country head Dr Stephan Barth, and the other is its animal health business, which is headed by country head Mayank Parekh. Shailesh Ayyangar has the responsibility of overall management of all the three businesses and therefore all the three heads report into him.
While Rajaram has been travelling. He is in Paris at the moment, Shailesh Ayyangar, in response to questions from Business Today, said in an email: "Over the years, Rajaram has had strong experience in managing large sized brands and categories, and expanding distribution reach. He has operated in a highly competitive and aggressive market place. Many of the iconic brand building teams of which he was part of, relied heavily on getting the consumer insights-- before embarking on effective marketing strategies. This unique skill of understanding the precise consumer needs, and dovetailing the promotional approaches to fulfill those needs is an integral skill set amongst most FMCG professionals, and particularly so in case of Rajaram."
On how it will help the company? He said: "In a changing world of pharmaceuticals, consumer healthcare is emerging as one of the biggest growth drivers as more and more people take responsibility for taking care of their personal health and nutrition. Sensing the opportunity in this fast emerging growth platform, Sanofi acquired well known nutraceutical brands from Universal Medicare in late 2011. We believe that Rajaram's experience will greatly benefit our consumer healthcare aspirations, as he now provides a fresh impetus for growth in this segment through superior consumer insights being built in our marketing strategies." Futher, he said, "In the pharmaceutical segment as well, there is a need to change the approach to develop offerings which are differentiated and patient centric. We believe that Rajaram will explore new ways to engage with healthcare professionals, and endeavor to provide greater patient satisfaction."
The last part of what he says seems to be something that is on the mind of most pharmaceutical companies. In times, when the pharma industry in India is under pricing pressure and needs to tightly monitor its "expense line" thanks largely to the 348 medicines brought under price control by the government. A back of the envelop calculation shows that typically one medical representative (medical rep, as some call them) will cost around Rs 4 lakh per annum and each can see or call on around 250 doctors in a month or two in a country where there are around six lakh doctors, there may be need to do some out-of the-box thinking and bring in greater efficiencies.
In a statement by Sanofi, announcing Rajaram's appointment, Ayyangar said, "The healthcare industry in India is on the threshold of major transformation - as we address the problem of increasing access to quality healthcare and medicines to our large population. Rajaram's induction reinforces Sanofi's commitment to deliver innovative solutions to access issues. His vast experience and consumer insights will help drive Sanofi's growth strategy in India." To which, Rajaram adds: "This is a very exciting opportunity for me. The pharmaceutical industry is witnessing a rapid change in different aspects such as innovative healthcare delivery and patient care. The prospect of playing a responsible role in making a difference in the lives of people is very exciting and fulfilling."