Biocon-A Bionic leadership story
Date: Saturday , April 30, 2005
When I began Biocon I saw Biotechnology as a business opportunity, whereas others didn’t even consider it to be viable. This called for an untested strategy. Leadership is about strategizing.
It is about approaching an opportunity through a strategy. The underlying strategy for us was to match our business development goals according to our company’s mission. This has been the essence of my leadership style.
My strategy was to enter the biotech space through enzymes, which had a relatively low regulatory barrier.
Enzymes are biocatalysts and we believe that business growth is about catalysis. Key catalysts are required at each stage of a company’s growth, commonly referred to as “growth drivers”.
All leaders need not be visionaries and all visionaries need not be leaders. I believe that more than being a visionary, a leader must inspire people, help them share their ideas and aspirations. What is a vision anyway? The vision concept is hyped and overstretched.
A visionary need not be one who has foreseen the future, mapping out each and every milestone and problem. I can honestly state that I personally did not imagine when I began that Biocon would achieve success of this stature. It all happened in due course of time with one day unfolding into another. Each day’s progress wrote our success script.
Vision is an evolving process and not something that has to be rigidly adhered to.
My mission, rather than my vision, was to build a biotech company that would be globally respected. I wanted to change the world’s perception that India is not capable of a research-based business. To me, a leader should have more mission than vision.
All leaders should be passionate about their sense of purpose.
Personally, I find that my sense of purpose has shifted from concentrating solely on my company to broader realms. As a pioneer in a new area I am aware that I shoulder a huge responsibility in setting standards in India’s biotech industry. I owe to the business community, as it is my way of giving back to the industry, which has indeed nurtured my company and given it the platform to grow.
An important ingredient to leave behind with your leadership signature is to build strong fundamentals for the company.
One does things for the right reasons but the right results as expected may not always happen. Failures are a part of maturing and if entrepreneurs do not encoutner it then it can be considered an abnormal process.
Entrepreneurs need not think twice about, facing failures and need not make any bones about the same. One learns more from failures than successes.
I was inspired by India’s software success story and thought if software service solutions could succeed in our country then why not research-based solutions? This motivated me to set up Syngene. Biocon was essentially an industrial biotech company and I wanted to get into the pharmaceutical sector as well because the opportunity there was greater. One missing components I noticed after entering the pharmaceutical industry was clinical development capability and hence Clinigene was initiated. This was also a positive decision for the company. The ability to sense trends and give strategic direction to the company is important.
Giving high levels of responsibility is a large motivational factor for many employees. To perform well under this pressure introduces a feeling of achievement. Awards and incentives are important but cannot be equaled to responsibility, which takes the employee to an emotional crest. Nothing surpasses such recognition in the organization. It’s a primal human instinct to strive for fame and feel wanted by others. Any well-meaning entrepreneur will address this within his or her organization.
At Biocon, the Indian management style application would be the approach to encompass gender-sensitivity issues. Women are encouraged not to come at odd hours and if they must travel to interior areas of the country a male escort is provided. Also, the company provides crèches to provide care of their kids. These considerations address employee apprehensions.
Choosing the Right People
I have been lucky to have the right people with proper application of skills and emotional maturity, which has been a result of our rigorous selection process. Employees at Biocon are encouraged to interact and this osmosis of ideas prevents territorialism between people, thus holding the organization as a unit. I believe in informality as rigid structures decimate employee morale.
For people to express themselves, organizational hierarchy must be reduced to the minimum and stands true for me too.
Customer relationship and confidence building measures were instrumental to Biocon’s growth. We strive to give add value to our business and our customer. I noted that as the company grew, the equation with the customers changed. Earlier client meetings were under a cloud of patronization but now it’s a meeting of equal minds.
Most Admired Companies
In India I admire Infosys and Wipro along with HDFC and ICICI. Business conglomerate Tata is also high on my list. I admire Dr. Devi Shetty for his work at Narayana Hrudualaya in terms of culture and implemented systems. Overseas, I choose GE for their management style.
Among Biotech companies, I benchmark Biocon against Genentech especially for the pioneering and strategic initiative they have taken to build their product portfolio.
How the Road Ahead Looks
The future of Biocon and that of India is intrinsically linked. Their destinies are intertwined. The strength of Biocon is in its technological capabilities.
We are capable of producing results in a short time frame. Our weakness is that we are not ready to market products to the retail segment. We are doing well in selling our products to large customers but have not addressed the retail market. There are many opportunities to focus on a number of unmet medical needs. Threats to Biocon would be the lackadaisical formulation of sector policies in India, which are not in sync with world standards, which then could harm the nation and Biocon as well.
The problem becomes acute with the kind of visibility that the biotech sector is getting recently where unfounded fears and misleading information could be detrimental to the sector.