Reflections as a Business CEO

Reflections as a Business CEO

Reflections as a Business CEO

Nishant Saxena, CEO - Emerging Markets & Europe, Cipla, 0

Views expressed here are personal

Nishant Saxena, a senior pharmaceutical executive, has a strong history of achieving step-change results. With over two decades of experience in MNCs, Indian cos and startups, he has lived and worked in 6 countries and travelled to 75. While driving P&L, Strategy and M&A, he has led diverse international teams.

Being a business head is a crazy, relentless roller coaster where the initial glamour of the role is quickly replaced by the weight of responsibility – millions of patients, thousands of employees, the legacy of an 85-year-old institution and hundreds of millions of dollar P&L – directly under one's watch.

Hoping my Top 12 reflections below could vicariously make others’ journey smoother.

1.Entrepreneurial Growth Mindset: It’s humbling that the daily rigamarole of business will happen with or without me. The role is then to make it move in unthinkable ways. My mantra is for large corporates to learn from PE/VC’s ability to scale businesses fast - Bold ambition, frugal thinking, quick decision making, no nonsense focus on KRAs and aligning interests of investors and management.

2.Commit to BIG Goals Publicly: So you will be embarrassed if you don’t deliver against them. Committed to very significant growth on day one of my role in a business which had seen almost flattish growth over the last five years. And on track to deliver.

3.Go Back to Basics: My mentor used to say, “Business is simple: demand creation and demand fulfilment”. We started doing micro-tracking of basics like high potential doctor conversion, growth in each pharmacy share, repeat visits to our marketing events, hiring feet-at-street to increase coverage, increasing new product filing, reducing costs… none rocket science.Similarly, asking customers for their opinion on our services (quality and portfolio thumbs-up, supply reliability an issue).

4.Clarity of Mind: We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them (Einstein). Easy problems would have already been solved. Thinking right precedes acting right. Failed businesses are still run by intelligent, hardworking people. What is the real problem statement (vs. symptoms of the problem). Also, I have failed each time I tried to solve by simply throwing more money or people. We need to ask, what is my innovation, my right to win?

5.Pick Your Battles: Strategy is also a choice of what not to do. Time and Energy have suddenly become my most precious resources. The few projects that can step-change business trajectory must take lion’s share of my time. And yet, daily operations cry for attention, tempting my involvement. Only to be sucked up in the thick of thin things, working hard but not reaching anywhere.

6.People & Listening: Early on in my career, I wanted to be the smartest in the room. Now, seeing the vast complexity of my business and my own limited knowledge, I simply have to hire talent and expertise way better than me. This also means investing in a trusted and aligned A-class leadership team. I still try to be the most inquisitive in the room, asking pointed questions to learn from others.

7.Detail Orientation: At least in Generic Pharma, god and devil are both in the detail. I have
developed a disdain for smart, articulate managers who speak pompously but largely regurgitate motherhood statements. A recommendation to the CEO should have insights based on specific data or else it is just an opinion. Managers must know infinitely more about the specific proposal than their bosses.

8.Unboss: Our team sells 3000 SKUs in 50 countries. We will go mad unless we are clear what my country manager will decide, what my region managers will decide and what will come to me. Often bosses, in doing minor value add, take away entire sense of ownership. The front line sales rep does the hard job of commercial delivery. HO should simply give strong products, ground rules and empowerment. My first boss (later vice-chair at P&G) used to say, “I lead with a cool head, a warm heart and busy hands.”

Strategy is also a choice of what not to do. Time and Energy have suddenly become my most precious resources.

9.Three Clear Ground Rules: “Leadership equals one word: Results!” so a sense of Accountability, bad results and good excuse is still bad performance. Execution - through rigorous monitoring - is key. Compliance comes next, we always do the right thing. Short term wins at the expense of long term sustainability is just a stupid business idea. Speed, emails get responded within 4-24 hours with a yes/no or target date.

10.Break Silos, Collaborate: “Biggest challenge in companies: Lack of processes and systems, Things don’t get done!”. Large matrix organizations require working with and through people across functions, creating one team. Unfortunately, our most target-oriented colleagues often start developing rough edges, and fight internally rather than in the market. I am a big believer in win-win thinking - courage to articulate our point of view balanced with empathy to understand the others’ view.

11.Communicate - CEO as Chief Evangelist: “Inspire – To put spirit into… After every interaction with the leader, people should feel charged up”. Communication is less about English, and more about clarity of thought. Every day, in good and bad months, I have to articulate an inspiring vision of how we will become better, with an equally compelling supporting logic. It is also important to keep smiling, generally in life, even more so as the champion of the cause. There is no room for panic or bad temper. In fact, I share my own annual reviews, strengths and opportunities, transparently with all direct reports every year.

12.Managing Family & Self: Fundamentally, work exists to give the security, comfort and challenge needed for a fulfilling life. My own mojo: Family dinner without cell phones; Helping kids with coursework; Talking to parents every morning (a practice for last 25 years); daily meditation/swim/jog; Avoid sugar and carbs at night; Read voraciously all genres as an active interest outside work.

These are reflections, not advice. We all know the usual failings of which I am as guilty as anyone else… Getting involved in small fights, even when the costs (time, energy, goodwill) overshadow the benefits… Not being present in the moment, frustrated by things deep inside I know I cannot control… Carrying a grudge for too long even though it is enervating me, sapping me emotionally… Common sense, alas, is not always common practice!

And beyond 'failings' is the perennial dilemma of short-term results (this quarter and next) and long term business building (which in Pharma takes time... portfolio, registrations, brand building). Both critical (one drives accountability, the other health) but requiring effortless switching from one thinking hat to quite another.

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