26 Years
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The Pathology of Success…

Monday, June 20, 2011

She is smart, she is young, she is confident. Her curriculum vitae reflect successes she achieved at the beginning of her career. Be it a degree in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin or her selection for the prestigious Owner-President Program at Harvard University or be it working for the most coveted job at Goldman Sachs, she has done it all.

But not one to be satisfied with her achievements, Ameera Shah, Managing Director and CEO of Metropolis Healthcare, followed her heart back to India to write the success story of Metropolis Healthcare Ltd. From her father’s one lab in Mumbai, she took the groups business to 65 laboratories, both nationally and internationally and a turnover which stood at Rs. 12 crore in 2003 to Rs. 250 crore in less than a decade. This hard-working, uncompromising, unapologetic successful young entrepreneur embodies the potential reach and aspirations of the continually growing Indian economic experience. And here she tells her story to Mayura Shanbaug...

What made you step in the family business?
When I got into it, it actually was not a business at all. My father is a doctor who was running his pathology practice for 20 years till 2001. At that time, while I was working for Goldman Sachs in the U.S., I also worked for some start up ventures. While I was there, I realized that I wanted to come back and contribute in my country. I also felt that there are lots of opportunities in India and in the healthcare segment in particular, where my father had created a platform in Mumbai and so I decided to come back.

Was it tough to leave Goldman Sachs?

I know Goldman Sachs is considered the most coveted job in the world, but I did not enjoy working in a large firm. For me, working in a smaller environment and making an impact everyday, mattered. Contrary to large firms, where your absence or presence does not have any bearing, in smaller firms every individual plays a crucial role in the overall picture, every body matters. I liked that feeling when I worked in a couple of start-ups in the US.

Tell us a bit more about your company and your role in it today?
Metropolis is India’s largest laboratory chain with a network of 65 state-of-art-laboratories across India, UAE, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Nepal and Mauritius with over 500 collection centres. We offer 4500 plus routine, specialized and highly specialized investigations that use over 100 different technologies including Biochip and DNA sequencing. Processing over 12 million tests a year, catering to more than 10,000 Laboratories, Hospitals, Nursing homes and 20,000 consultants, that’s the business I am handling right now.

The initial hurdles you encountered?
Initially it was challenging, more specifically because I came from non-medical background… you do not have the qualification attached to your name so you don’t get the automatic respect that comes with the qualification attached to your name. You have to earn it and you do not speak the same language as them. Initially I spent a lot of time on the operations floors, understanding how the tests are done accurately and in understanding the difference between good quality and bad quality labs and understanding its terminology. What worked in my favour is that I used to hang out and help in my father’s lab when I was a teenager and thus got used to the terminology a little. It helped me later.

Any tricky situations ever?
In the healthcare industry, which is predominantly male dominated; your gender is a big disadvantage. When they see a girl coming, there is a preconceived notion that you are not serious about work. When they think you are not serious, then you are not taken seriously. For me, I have to deal with doctors who are very experienced and around my father’s age, so for me gender as well as my age is a bigger problem. Plus the lack of a medical degree and the fact that I am the founder’s daughter and the assumption that the business is handed over to me adds to my disadvantages. So these assumptions are the everyday tricky situation I and many women entrepreneurs like me have to go through.

It’s been 10 years that you started your business with just one lab to 65 labs in four countries. What has this journey been like for you?
It’s been phenomenal, very exhilarating. It’s been a joy ride. In the last 10 years after I came back, I spent most of my time building this business and we are successful in converting it into a business from a pathology practice. I really can’t say anything more besides that it’s my baby.

What is a typical day for you?
It was quite different in the first few years when I was building my business, than its now. Initially I was out on the road more; I was making sales calls, meeting various doctors and would spend my day on the operations floor. But for the last four to five years, my job has been more of management, scaling the business and monitoring its growth, building infrastructure, planning new divisions. Basically it involves more of leadership.
Well, on a typical day, I read my mails early in the morning, reach office at 9 a.m. work for 10 hours a day, six days a week and rest on Sundays. I do not believe in overdoing it.

What are the three most important lessons you have learned through building Metropolis?

The lessons that I have learned is: nothing can replace hard work and commitment. To be taken seriously, you have to take yourself seriously and try and work as far as you can, without an ego, and learn to give respect.

What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs?
The only suggestion or advice I give to all those women who are starting off, is to be like sponge, to absorb a lot, ask lots of questions, don’t take things for granted and understand why certain things are better. Once you understand and see the logic and reasoning behind everything then you can feel the pulse of the business and know where you can add value. Without this understanding, value addition is a bit difficult. And most important is not to rub people in the wrong way.

What is the business model that Metropolis follows? What was the reason behind not going the franchisee way?
When we started, we did not have huge seed capital for the expansion. On the other hand, during that time, many multinationals were entering Indian markets though Joint ventures, but they were not that successful in realizing the huge potential this sector had. So we thought of this dual model for our business, we thought of expanding our business in an organic and inorganic way. We tapped doctors in various cities, running successful labs and made them our equity partners, plus we opened labs in the cities where there were no labs.

As far as franchisee model is concerned, I feel it’s not apt for this sector. The healthcare business is a very specific business, where we deal with a life and death situation. A wrong diagnosis or test results can cause the death of the patient. A franchisee will have profits as their primary concern and to increase the margins they may be tempted to take shortcuts, which in turn may result in faulty or wrong diagnosis. That will eventually bring a bad name to the company.

What are the future expansion plans?
We probably would be 150 labs with 1000-1500 collection centres in the next 3-4 years. We have our presence in four regions right now; I would like to expand our presence in other countries. We would like to consolidate as we go deeper in the territory and would like to be leaders in healthcare sector in these regions.

How do you plan to procure funds for your future expansion? Will you be taking the IPO route?
As far as funding is concerned, we raised private equity funding from Warburg Pincus this month itself. We may consider an IPO in a few years down the line, but at the moment we have enough funds available for our expansion.

You are the Co-chairman for FICCI Healthcare Committee, what you think should be done to improve the healthcare industry?
We at FICCI are lobbying with the Government for laying down standards for setting up diagnostic labs. The fast expanding Indian diagnostic industry needs regulation. There are no set criteria in terms of infrastructure, technology, qualification, etc. for setting up a diagnostic laboratory. The fact that anyone with money can open a diagnostic laboratory is dangerous. Diagnostics is an important part of healthcare and thus proper regulations need to be in place, be it terms of regulations for opening a laboratory or mandatory accreditations. Lack of skilled workforce is another issue we have to look into so that the overall quality of services we provide will be better.

Where do we see Ameera Shah five years down the line?
You will see me taking the Metropolis business forward and getting more involved with the healthcare environment in the country through various bodies and public policies. You will also probably see me involved in one more business or doing the same thing that I am doing now.

What about marriage and family?
Marriage and children form the essential part of ones life, it will eventually happen when it has to happen.

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