Interviews

Mahesh Sharma, General Manager and Head OD Laurus Labs Limited

THE JOURNEY OF MAHESH SHARMA AND LAURUS LABS

You have integrated your science and management backgrounds into your work. How difficult was it for you to come up with a platform that will enable you to utilize all your learnings?
I have realized that consummate learning is a lot about integration. I think we should decide our purpose and then carve pathways to take us there. The reason many people lose steam mid-stream is that they hastily choose one path that seems to be the most traversed and then realizes half way down their journey that it is not taking them to their desired destination. Now, there is nothing wrong with that because very often many of us are not clear about our purpose, to begin with, and it is only after having explored different vistas that we develop a taste of what we want. So, that is where integrating what we learn and experience over the years comes handy. We should be able to exploit our competencies to change tracks quickly and take the most inspiring one. In doing so, learning agility plays a vital role so that knowledge and skills can be rapidly consolidated. The tricky part of any transition is not as much about finding a suitable platform as it is about acclimatizing to the new culture. Self-awareness and neuro-plasticity or rewiring our thinking are essential to get well ensconced in any culture. I think I have been able to leverage my learnings reasonably well because of these elements and have been able to contribute successfully, even in diverse environments.

How is Laurus Lab improving access to quality and affordable healthcare worldwide?
Laurus Labs aspires to be a leading player in providing integrated solutions to global pharmaceutical needs in creating a healthier world. To achieve this, it strives to innovate to enhance quality and provide affordable pharmaceutical solutions to facilitate wellness worldwide. It has adopted a research and development-centric route to serve as a partner of choice for leading pharmaceutical companies. We have robust research talent pool, infrastructure, and facilities to manufacture top quality medicines. The core-strength of Laurus is its innovative, robust, and scalable chemistry which deals with all stages of drug lifecycle right from route identification to commercialization. We follow a philosophy of one quality for all markets in manufacturing. We are approved by WHO, USFDA, PMDA, NIP Hungary, KFDA, and BfArM. Today, Laurus Labs caters to around 40% demand for APIs worldwide for ARVs, besides providing APIs to leading pharmaceutical companies worldwide for their oncology, hepatitis C, diabetes and other needs. Laurus Labs is poised to make significant strides in the finished dosage formulations and the next couple of years will see it contributing more in that domain.

“Holistic wellness includes physical and mental well-being. Providing affordable and quality pharmaceutical solutions are our primary contribution towards this. By keeping people in good health, we promote a happy and stress-free lifestyle and are therefore able to help them in complementing their mental and spiritual wellness as well.”

What makes Laurus Labs a preferred partner for manufacture and development of New Chemical Entity (NCE)?
A robust talent pool of innovation-driven scientists with rich experience in chemistry, state of the art research and manufacturing facilities, swift and scalable manufacturing capacity, a widely acknowledged reputation for high-quality products, a one-stop destination for integrated solutions, and an excellent track record of trustful customer-focused relationships make Laurus Labs a preferred partner. Laurus Labs went public in 2016 by launching its IPO which drew an overwhelming response from Institutional buyers, public, and its employees. It is now a Fortune 500 company in India and has a healthy growth, driven by very capable leadership and a Board that provides effective corporate governance and direction. Recently, Laurus Labs has also been certified as a Good Place To Work. We have other achievements and laurels to our credit in areas of exports, safety and manufacturing excellence. All this has helped us in building trust with all our partners, and that makes us a preferred choice.

Laurus Lab is one of the leading manufacturers of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) for antiretroviral (ARV), and hepatitis C. What makes your company stand ahead of the growing competition in the pharmaceutical sector?
As I have mentioned earlier, Laurus Labs’ focus on innovative quality, affordable products, and customer centricity make it stand ahead. We look at competition differently. Competition for Laurus Labs means a race to make affordable medicines reach faster to the patients. Laurus Labs strives for excellence, and that keeps it at the forefront. We believe in providing innovative end-to-end solutions for diverse needs. The drug product development team at Laurus Labs is fully capable and equipped to develop all type of formulations, both for New Chemical Entities (NCEs), generics and other specialty products. While handling processes of marketed APIs or KSMs for an eventual contract manufacturer, our development and manufacturing teams have a sharp focus on aspects such as performance at scale, continuous process improvement, securing and de-risking supply chain, etc., thereby providing an efficient, compliant, cost-effective and long-term commercial drug substance solution. We always keep our patients and partners in mind, and that’s another reason why we are in good stead to face the competition. Laurus Labs believes in living the core values of Knowledge, Innovation, Excellence, Care and Integrity and the same is reflected in our employees’ behavior and in the products we manufacture.

Nowadays consumers worldwide are adapting to a lifestyle of holistic wellness, how are you contributing in this regard?
Our focus is towards providing integrated pharmaceutical solutions for wellness and healthier lives. Holistic wellness includes physical and mental well-being. Providing affordable and quality pharmaceutical solutions are our primary contribution towards this. By keeping people in good health, we promote a happy and stress-free lifestyle and are therefore able to help them in complementing their mental and spiritual wellness as well. A healthy mind in a healthy body, you see.

What are some of the CSR activities done by Laurus Lab alongside working for the development of the healthcare sector?
Laurus Labs actively contributes towards CSR. Our activities are primarily focused on initiatives relating to education, healthcare, and the environment, particularly in the geographical areas near our manufacturing facilities in Visakhapatnam. For the financial year 2016, we have spent an amount of INR 27.02 million towards CSR activities. We feel inclusive development is a key to overall sustainability.

Tell us about a few milestones you have reached in your extensive career. What have you learned from them?
I take every day as a milestone but will talk about a couple of, what I call, turning points in my life. The first one was in mid-eighties when I joined the Indian Military Academy as a Cadet while I was waiting to receive a scholarship to pursue my studies in microbiology in the US. I finally secured the assistance, left military training and went there, but it was a short-lived tenure as I had to return home mid-stream due to sudden policy changes for the scholarship funding and unforeseen developments back home. It was a very demoralizing setback and challenging period for me. But I held on to my motivation and joined Air Force Academy soon after that. I not only topped the course and received the Best Trainee Officer Plaque from the President of India, but also went on to have a very satisfying career innings in the Indian Air Force. It taught me that one should always prepare for contingencies, should not be afraid of failures and build strong relationships with family and friends. If we continuously learn new skills and keep sharpening our saw, setbacks are only temporary. Mental robustness and persistence take us farther than anything else.
The second turning point came when I voluntarily left Indian Air Force as a Group Captain after 25 years of service to step into the corporate sector for my second innings. It was a hard choice because while on the one hand I had a job that I was immensely proud of, had everything going well for me regarding career, and had a large extended family who was supportive. On the other hand, I didn’t have a confirmed job offer, there was an uncertainty of stepping into totally unexplored terrain, and I was diving into a world of complete strangers and unknown complexities. Most people around me, except my family, thought that it was a foolish step at such a juncture in life when people look forward to reaping the fruits of their toils. I had also been warned that it is an open war every single day due to cut-throat competition. But, my experiences had taught me that risk-taking is an essential part of life if one has a challenging vision to chase. I had chosen to work in a corporate environment, and I prepared for it by undergoing a management program from XLRI, a leading Business school. I took the plunge and soon enough landed my first job with Dr. Reddy’s. It wasn’t a smooth transition because it was a significant culture change for me, but it taught me a great deal, and I learned how to swim on the deep side of the pool.
I feel much stronger having gone through that, and it was a great learning experience for me. It reinforced my belief that fortune favors the bold, provided they are ready to face the adversities head-on, and their moral compass is aligned correctly. I think learning agility, adaptability, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence are critical for survival today. At the same time, networking and relationships are the catalysts which help us build a secure future. We all have to make choices and decisions in life, otherwise, leave alone leading people, we cannot even lead ourselves to anywhere. It is imperative to learn continuously for tomorrow, gain personal mastery and be relevant, failing which people can compose and sing their requiem. The purpose in life to me is how to be more useful to the world and enable others to do the same. The more I learn, the more relevant I become.

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