Priyanka Chigurupati is the Executive Director of Granules Pharmaceuticals, Inc. She heads the company’s USA-based Generics business and Investor Relations Department. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Having worked across several divisions of Granules in the USA and India, she has gained valuable experience…
You have witnessed how Granules Pharmaceuticals has grown over the years. When and how did you decide to join the family business?
I have a semi-typical story. I was sent to the USA to pursue a degree in business management and when I came back, I wanted to pursue my love for fashion and business. I ventured into the world of e-commerce and fashion, through my label. For 2011-12, it was quite forward-looking. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur without having to depend on my parents. I firmly believe that unless you do something of your own, you will never truly understand what it takes. All my efforts from video blogging to starting my fashion label were towards it. Within two years of launching the label, Granules was spreading its wings and my ambition led me to make a big decision to switch overnight. I wanted to be part of something big and the transformation Granules was going through, was the right time for me to start so I decided to join the family business.
How has the journey been since you joined Granules? Was it a steady climb or did you take a winding path to success?
I was initially assigned the position of a Regional Manager in India within one Division. It took me about six to seven months to get a basic understanding of our business strategy and operations. My next assignments took me across the company, where I focused on commercial marketing and sales. Each new position gave me invaluable experience. That said, my real learning came from our setup in the USA. I was sent to facilitate a transition for a month. Long story short, I ended up staying there for almost eight years. We have three divisions that I have worked across including a complete start-up, Granules Pharmaceuticals Inc., which does everything from R&D to manufacturing to commercial sales. Today, about 60% of Granules India’s revenue comes from the USA. It has been interesting to get start-up experience and blend it with mature practices that I learned in India. I certainly made a lot of mistakes which I think I could have possibly avoided if I had a mentor. I never had, until now, any sort of formal structure that I could fall back on but that in a way fast tracks your learning as well.
Is there anyone whose example has guided you along the way?
I am inspired by my father’s tireless conviction to look at things differently. Whatever he does, he learns something from that and implements it in a different field. His way of looking at things is a huge learning for me. He’s unbelievably resilient; never gives up. Always looks at things optimistically. I always say that entrepreneurs breathe, think and look at the world differently. He is the ultimate example of this. One day, if I can even embody a bit of his personality, work the way he does, the way he looks and works with people, I think I’ve done my job. I also get inspired by any woman who does something extraordinary and puts herself out there. My favourite inspiration is actor Priyanka Chopra, known for revolutionizing Indian cinema and foraying into things and fields that are not traditional.
Could you tell me about your experiences in the fashion industry? How did that pan out?
Are you still keen on taking it forward? I did a Fashion Marketing course for around one year after school at Parsons, New York. I started my fashion business by starting a blog, which was pretty popular in India at the time. I then decided to open an e-commerce-based website that sold easy clothing for women. The site did well for about a year and a half. However, it wasn’t working out ideologically, so I stopped pursuing it. Though I could restart it today, there are some differences in how I would approach it this time around. Practically, I am not thinking about it because I have another company to focus on. I would love to make a comeback in the fashion industry—but go the mass market route.
Over the years, you have taken many risks. If given a chance to do things again, would you change anything?
I had a position up top overnight. Never really had much of a chance to grow step by step. I made a ton of mistakes. I would’ve done things differently if I could go back in time. First and foremost, it would have been my management style. Second, I should have sought out a mentor and selected one as well. Lastly, I should have kept working on the fashion project because now as I think about it, it could have become pretty big by now. Especially considering how virtual the world is today.
What advice would you give to other women in business?
Making that first move is the hardest part. The world of business judges men and women differently but it is up to you how you want to be judged. If you choose to put that behind you, then it won’t matter. If you’re a woman entering a field like pharma—which is even more challenging—one should have a never give up attitude! I always tell women who seek advice from me to take the plunge rather than keep contemplating the decision. Once you make the decision, work hard and make your way up as there is no easy way to success. Don’t doubt your competence. Also, having a strong support system is vital. And once you have your targets in sight, never look back! Just keep going!
So how long into the future do you plan business-wise? Do you have a five to ten-year plan, or do you look further down the road?
Earlier, we emphasized hitting our targets and had a one-and-a-half-year plan. But now that we’re re-strategizing as a company. Our focus is on achieving three to five-year goals by working toward yearly objectives. Today, that’s where we are. It’s important to look ahead at least three years at any point in time, in my opinion.
Has the industry changed drastically over the last decade? And do you foresee more changes taking place in the next few years?
The pharmaceutical industry is more complex than ever before, with new players and customers entering the marketplace every day. Companies are struggling to be out there right now. You need to build sustainability into your business and I’m not talking just about financial sustainability, I’m talking about strategic sustainability. Most important is to have an element of green in your business. Unless you’re geared up for the future, costs are going to go up significantly with no give on the pricing in the market. Doing business responsibly will be vital in the times to come.
And what are your thoughts on CSR and philanthropy?
Pharma Patashala, a pharmaceutical academy formed in association with Swarna Bharat Trust, was founded by Mr Venkaiah Naidu and his family. My father is on the board there, so we take children from villages between the ages of 15-18 years. We give them formal education in areas of pharmacy along with training on basic etiquette, etc. After they graduate, we give them jobs at our site. My father always says that if you train people effectively when they’re young and then put them into real jobs overnight, you’ll tune their minds. Young people are like spades; they’re blunt but effective. They don’t care how small or big you are at the company they’ll come right up to you and tell you when something’s wrong. I think training young minds to act this way is important and if there is anything we can do via CSR, it’s a win-win. If it’s about social responsibility, yes, because there are a lot of women who never even thought about stepping outside their homes before coming to our Pharma Patashala. We’ve recruited hundreds of people from cities in Andhra and Telangana. I’m proud of our success as a team.
Apart from work, what keeps you busy?
I’ve just been focusing on work. I like to exercise and do things outside of that, like go to the movies and TV shows. I got engaged recently, so I’m now trying to find that balance between my work life and personal life. That’s what keeps me busy.