Venu Ambati, Managing Director, ABBOTT INDIA LIMITED
Describe your business in 10 words or fewer.
Branded Generics, specialist focused pharmaceutical company committed to saving lives.
What is the big idea behind your business?
At Abbott we strive to go beyond just being a traditional pharmaceutical company (supplier of medicines) and instead try to make an impact on society throughout the “continuum of care” (awareness, diagnosis, treatment and compliance). We have targeted interventions at each stage along the ‘continuum of care’ that have a direct impact on our patients.
Awareness: We run a number of awareness campaigns across the therapy areas, we play in. For example, our ‘Make India Thyroid Aware’ campaign which focuses on raising awareness on the symptoms and effects of Thyroid disorders will reach over 37 million Indians in 2017 through both digital and mainstream media. Our ‘Constipasana’ campaign tries to ‘Break the Silence’ and increase the seriousness around constipation which will reach 15 million Indians in 2017.
Diagnosis: In India, there is a huge section of our population that does not get treated for a condition because they lack access to affordable diagnosis. We at Abbott try to bridge that gap. Through our subsidized Thyroid clinics (INR 50 per test vs market rate of ~250) we plan to screen 2.5 million Indians in 2017.
Treatment: Not only do we provide innovative medicines but we are also committed to upskilling our HCPs through improving treat
ment standards and releasing guidelines and position papers.
Compliance: Medication adherence is becoming an increasing challenge and it is estimated that 50% of people suffering from chronic diseases do not take their medications as prescribed (WHO, 2003). Through innovative offerings such as our Vertigo app, we are able to have pill reminders sent to our customers.
Thus I believe that healthcare is evolving from a volume based approach to a ‘value based approach’ in which, there is a greater focus on the overall quality of care.
It’s often said that leaders these days must operate in an environment of extreme volatility. Do you agree? How does that affect the way you lead?
I agree to some extent, today in the current environment there is relentless change in the pharma industry – change that is often unpredictable and always challenging. A leader’s mettle is honestly tested in tough times and not when the going is smooth.
However good leaders are those that are dynamic and can adjust to such challenges and even better leaders are those that can anticipate and have scenario plans to counter these unexpected challenges. Thus I always try to build in mechanisms of anticipating change when I lead and have plans in place to counter situations that best safeguard the business.
“The easiest thing is to react, the second easiest is to respond but the hardest is to initiate” (Seth Godin)
A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. What is your prime focus for retaining customers?
In the Indian pharmaceutical industry there are a number of different brands having the same molecule, thus doctors can easily switch from one brand to another. In order to retain customers (doctors and patients) we at AIL ensure the following:
Consistent and reliable supply of all our products- any shortages can have a huge impact on sales
– Quality- As our products touch the lives and wellbeing of people around the world, we hold ourselves to the highest standard to ensure our products are of the best quality. Even the smallest compromise in the quality of our products adversely impacts Abbott’s reputation amongst patients and HCPs. In fact the quality of our products serves as a differentiator in today’s increasingly competitive business environment.
– Doctor engagement- educating doctors with guidelines and presenting the medical studies to demonstrate superior efficacy of AIL products
What was your first paying job?
My first job was at GSK where I was hired as a management trainee. My first stint was as a sales representative in Chennai which taught me the fundamentals and on-ground reality of the industry.
Do you have a formal mechanism for making sure you stay in touch with employees and customers on the organi- zation’s front line?
At AIL I have two formal mechanisms to stay in touch with both employees and customers. The first is called “SLT in Field”. Here every month, my entire leadership team and I travel to a set location and spend the day first doing field work where we meet a number of doctors and pharmacies, enabling us to keep up to date with HCP perceptions. In the evening, we conduct a townhall for all employees in that location. During the townhall I present the latest business and organization updates and spend time answering the field employees concerns and questions and take on board their feedback as after all they are the pulse of the organization.
The second initiative is called Annual Meet called “Lakshya”, this is an initiative where all 3000 AIL employees gather under one roof to celebrate the year’s achievements and align on the goals for the upcoming year.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever heard?
Mark Fields, President at Ford said “organization culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner”. While many studies show there is a direct correlation between a healthy, productive culture and a company’s bottom line, the majority of companies spend little time thinking, let alone doing anything about, this topic – even when they’re spending lots of time thinking about their business strategy.
Thus focusing on cultivating the right business culture is essential. It is important to create an “enabling” environment for your employees to ensure they can perform at their best for your company. Hence your organizational structure should reflect the culture you are looking to create.
What has surprised you about being a leader?
Team/people > Products The significance of the talent in your organization and having the right people in the right roles is much more important than your product offerings. What I learnt quickly is that even if you have best in industry products, if the people behind those products are not the right fit you may not be successful.
Hence my business priorities are always people, products, profits – in that order.
What strategies do you use in terms of planning your personal career progression?
I believe that success is a bi product of doing what you love to do. I tend to plot each of my roles and note its progress on a scale that has impact on one axis and challenge on the other axis. With each role I strive to get to the maximum level on each front. The challenge and the impact of a role are for me the most important.
Your Favorite Book or Quote of all time?
Book: The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. It provides an insightful analysis of changing technology and its importance to a company’s future success. It is based on a truly radical idea—that great companies can fail precisely because they do everything right.
“The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently”. – Warren Buffett.
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