Sanjeev Kumar Sawhney: India’s Strongest Leader in Healthcare
Selected as India’s Strongest Healthcare Leader 2020 by WCRCLEADERS, Sanjeev Kumar Sawhney has steered many of India’s strongest healthcare brands to excellence.
In conversation with Sanjeev Kumar Sawhney
THE JOURNEY: Your Experiences in the Healthcare Industry
It feels like just yesterday when I began my journey in the healthcare industry over three decades ago. Since then, each day, I have had an amazing sense of accomplishment and being a part of the healthcare landscape is very important to me. Each day I feel a positive energy based on the work that we do to restore lives in our community. Throughout my career, I have been involved with conceptualizing and executing the road map for “advanced and specialty products and therapies” such as transfusion medicine and blood safety, biologicals, and wound management to name a few. All of these segments were extremely niche and underdeveloped in our market, challenged by affordability issues and awareness. The most important driver for me and my teams has always been the feeling of “significance” in what we do to impact lives, and this has always been so different from the feeling of accomplishment of any commercial success. In the process, I have discovered the most important component of the value chain – passionate and committed employees. Our human assets have been the true differentiator.
Known to be a persuasive leader with passion for and success in building world class teams, I gained multi-disciplinary experience over three decades in delivering P&L results, sales, sales leadership, brand management, marketing, strategy, business development and business transition management at Baxter, Fenwal Inc and KCI Medical India.
For over a decade at Baxter International, I led three businesses and served in leadership capacities to conceptualize and ensure implementation of marketing and customer development strategies. I led major initiatives to tap into export markets, formulating marketing and sales strategies, and defining entry and penetration strategies for emerging and developed markets in Asia. Prior to Baxter, I launched Dabur Pharmaceuticals Ltd, the pharma wing/diversification of Dabur, as the startup key management team member. I am proud and privileged to be involved with building advanced specialty businesses from humble startups/setups to sizeable sustainable growth entities.
What is the big idea of the business that is impacting human lives?
As consumer needs evolve, so must product technology. With the influx of technology and the availability of more choices for customers and patients, the business environment for medical device companies has become increasingly challenging. However, when new technologies are utilized optimally, this can do wonders for restoring patient’s lives.
Progressive Companies constantly seek to innovate their products in order to best meet the needs of clinicians and patients alike. One needs to attend to the feedback from the healthcare provider/partners constantly and strive to create solutions that provide both clinical and operational benefits across the care continuum.
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?
Throughout my career, I have often come across challenges around the ever-evolving customer expectations related to improved therapy delivery and patient outcomes, all while working in an industry constantly faced with very stringent regulations, policies and changes. Our mission had been to provide safe and effective products with integrity and compliance.
I believe in having a dynamic forward-looking approach, bringing innovative solutions to clinicians that identify and adapt to unmet clinical needs. It is incredibly important to partner with customers to reimagine the science behind the healing process and create solutions that take market trends into account, but also look beyond the near-term into what the market scope and opportunity should look like in 5, 7 or 10 years.
With that focus, I emphasize on building upon pioneering market leadership in the customer segments we operate to revolutionize the management and delivery, today and in years to come.
I have a growth mindset, coupled with a strong grit of persistence and passion
A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. What has been your core strategies of retaining customers?
Throughout my professional journey at various companies and in different markets in Asia, one common objective has been “customer satisfaction and delight”. Over the last few years, I have put intense effort into understanding the challenges faced by clinicians in this country and have worked proactively to help find solutions and make therapies more accessible.
My core strategy has always been to encourage and invest in medical education and clinical application workshops/trainings and take customer feedback and suggestions seriously
3 Business Strategies of yours that were winners?
a. Leadership in product innovation to consistently adapt to changing consumer needs
b. Evidence based selling and solution approach to customer needs and expectations.
c. Building Customer engagement through Clinical/Medical Education in raising therapy awareness and patient outcomes.
Your strategies to ensure that you stay in touch with employees and customers in line with the company’s goals?
There are various forums/tools to connect and interact with all employees, including onboarding sessions, refreshers, one-to-one meetings, periodic reviews, skype and webex calls (in case of remote locations) and digital platforms, such as e-mailers and newsletters. These initiatives are directed at creating a work culture that creates a will to win and encourage integrity at all levels of organizational hierarchy. Be it my direct report or otherwise, all employees are free to reach out to me or anyone, as relevant, for support or feedback. I try to create a work culture that is open and inclusive of diverse ways of thinking, where no one hesitates to challenge an idea, in a respectful manner. On the customer front, we engage ourselves in various medical education and customer development endeavors intending to create platforms for educating the HCPs and sharing experiences on the new developments in the healthcare sector. This creates opportunities for receiving meaningful feedback that sets a way for new product development and updates to existing solutions.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever heard? How do you create trust with the employees and the overall management?
“Go back to basics” – I had heard these words a few years back and it was the best pieces of business advice I have received. This sentiment means that whenever challenges appear large and complex, sometimes the best solution is the most simple one and that it’s best to not over think. The best approach can be to get a think tank together, receive feedback from people that matter and are closest to the customers and work on the identified basics with a laser focus on execution. Building groundwork and enabling employees with a clear direction on the basics still remains the most critical test for any business. Employee engagement survey outcomes are at the top of my list when it comes to important management tools. This includes sharing the outcomes with the teams and forming working groups to undertake the necessary identified actions and drive expected change. It is all about engagement and empowerment of your employees & partners
What has surprised you about being an Entrepreneur/CEO-MD?
In 37 years of working in the healthcare industry across different roles and regions, I have come to realize that markets are dynamic in nature and customer needs are ever-evolving. Even a small change in the macro environment can impact the spirit and outcome of the business plans. As a leader, I have learned that we must be able to provide for and manage anomalies and unexpected externalities, and that requires developing leadership across the company. Leadership starts with fellowship, and one needs to be able to attract, retain and allow high performances from individuals and teams, who can then demonstrate the best leadership behaviors when times are difficult. The best investment is the investment in people, and changing attitudes and culture is the key.
What strategies do you use in terms of planning your personal career progression?
I have always been challenged with opportunities to build new, technologically advanced specialty products and therapy areas throughout my professional journey, and I have successfully built profitable sustainable businesses from humble beginnings. I look for challenging new segments where finding the rules of the game is the first goal. In any new venture, I typically search for the significance in what I do and the value it brings to the community/industry, rather than just focusing on successful management of a business.
Your Favourite Book, Automobile, Cuisine and Quote of all time? How do you maintain work-personal life balance?
- Favorite book: Jonathan Livingston’s “Seagull”. For me, the story touches one’s heart and makes one aware of the unlimited latent potential they possess and the courage that drives self-discovery
- Automobile: SUVs, as long as it is black
- Cuisine: Being a foodie, picking a single favorite cuisine is very difficult. But if I have to choose, it would be “Tandoori Kebabs”
- Quote: Better an “oops” than a “what if”
- Work- Life Balance: There can never be a sea without the storms! And urgencies and exigencies walk along the daily work relay. Amidst all of these and being a family person who is socially active and a keen traveler, it becomes a task to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I try and achieve it through my empowered and highly engaged teams. All said, I am still an intern at this skill.