Shifting gears

Shifting gears

Today, R&D professionals in the Indian pharmaceutical industry are a much sought-after resource. What is the cause for this scarcity and how do pharma companies plan to retain these key resources? Suja Nair analyses

A job switch is triggered essentially by a perception that another job would be better than the present job for the employee. When the economy is growing like India’s and the demand for talent is more than supply, the employee value proposition goes up significantly. Companies are willing to pay increasingly higher prices to hire and retain such targeted talents. Under these circumstances, awareness of job market realities and more specifically, movement of peers to another job with significant improvement in salary or role, act as a trigger. As Ashim Kumar Banerjee, Director-Human Resource, Wanbury, avers, “While most of the exit interviews will reveal a politically correct statement and will highlight the gains in the new roles, in most cases, the trigger of changing job is embedded in discomfort with present job and once a job search is started, one eventually ends up getting a better salary and role which gets highlighted.”

An attractive salary package and position definitely attract good talent, but is it always like that? Are money and power the only driving forces behind this job-hopping? It would be unfair to say that people change jobs only for money, because often money is not all that counts. It is job satisfaction that matters. For instance, for professionals in pharmaceutical R&D, it could be the satisfaction of working towards a cure for diseases relevant to India.

Decoding the phenomenon

“Though the trend is partially true, companies do recognise the merit while hiking salaries. The primary objective of our company is to create a congenial atmosphere for work and realise their goals by providing them support and training for enhancing their competency levels and knowledge base”

– V T Gopinath Executive Vice President

Actis Biologics

“While most of the exit interviews will reveal a politically correct statement and will highlight the gains in the new roles; in most cases, the trigger of changing job is embedded in discomfort with present job and once a job search is started, one eventually ends up getting a better salary and role which gets highlighted”

– Ashim Kumar Banerjee Director-Human Resources

Wanbury

Rationalising the trend of job hopping, Dr Harish V Iyer, General Manager-R&D, Biocon, says that this trend may be a result of an employee’s dissatisfaction with the company with respect to work environment, sharing of ideas wherein the point of view of the person is not heard, etc. Typically, an employee at this level decides to call it quits when he/she does not get the desired level of satisfaction.

Iyer points out, “In our company, at present we have had no senior level exits in R&D and that clearly indicates that we are doing the right things in terms of keeping people excited and happy; and our efforts are being appreciated by our employees in keeping their interest alive within the company.”

Agreeing to the same, Dr Arun Bhatt, President, ClinInvent Research, who is also on the managing committee of Clinical Research Education and Management Academy (CREMA), opines, “People in strategic positions are primarily looking for the job satisfaction of creating an innovative new product. The companies which employ them make a lot of promises about their future investments in R&D of new products. However, quite often, these commitments are not fulfilled either due to the company’s financial limitations or due to company management’s short term R&D objectives. Hence, the key people get frustrated and decide to quit. Of course, once they decide to quit, money becomes an additional reason to leave.”

Whether the job market outside is buoyant or not, a discomfort with the present job acts as a trigger for employee attrition. Some of the key triggers are discomfort with the nature of work including monotony, fear of failure at present job specifically under changing environment, fear of the unknown during mergers and acquisitions (M&A) or divestment etc.

However V T Gopinath, Executive Vice President, Actis Biologics, says, “Though the trend is partially true, companies do recognise the merit while hiking salaries. The primary objective of our company is to create a congenial atmosphere for work and realise their goals by providing them support and training for enhancing their competency levels and knowledge base.”

Not a merry-go-round

All said and done, quitting from an R&D position is not as easy as it seems. People who hold this position carry a lot of responsibilities and confidential information with them, which are vital to the company. In order to prevent siphoning of information by departing employees, almost every company has a confidentiality agreement as a part of the appointment letter and some companies seek confirmation on such clause at the exit interview. Some companies could even make it a condition to the smooth settlement of dues and benefit.

Dr Ashok Kumar, President, R&D (Chemicals), IPCA adds that most of the pharmacos opt for confidentiality agreement. But it is also the duty of the R&D scientists to do their jobs with honesty, integrity and commitment. Further, he says, “Now that India is signatory to the TRIPS agreement (WTO), inventions are being patented by Indian pharma companies in their name before making it public.”

Gopinath seconds that by saying, “We at Actis have executed confidentiality agreements with scientists restraining them from divulging any vital information available with them during their research activities in the company.”

Along the same lines, Iyer avers, “Definitely we do have a confidentiality agreement, as employees have vital information with them concerning the company, which is not expected to be divulged elsewhere. Thus, they have to sign the same from the first day of their joining. This binds them from sharing product specific information. But of course, they can make use of any of the skills that they have inculcated from the previous organisation as it may come up unconsciously and moreover it is not possible to police each and every activity of a person who has left.”

Giving examples, Iyer points out that process validation is learnt from experience at any job, and candidates can use these general principles of validation. But he calls attention to the fact that if a person can understand product development only through a particular job and experience and if he knows which arguments or ideas work, then this information becomes too confidential and company specific. If these processes are applied for developing the same product for another company then he/she may run a legal risk of getting sued.

The confidentiality agreement is more of a deterrent than a punishment. In the past, companies like Biocon have taken people to court for breaching of contract, and this was with regards to not only senior people, but also junior employees within the company, as they also have information with them that can be of use to others. “We have sued people in terms of leaving and potentially stealing the company’s secrets. This definitely acts as a strong deterrent, but apart from that, it is a very tiresome process, not only for the concerned person, but even for other companies,” informs Iyer.

In recent times, there has been a spurt of job hopping within pharma and biotech companies. We can see R&D chiefs and scientists from established companies quit their jobs to either join a competitor or to pursue their own research plans. Swaroop Kumar, R&D Chief, Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, for the past three years, recently quit to start his own research unit. In a similar move, Uday Saxena, Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, for over seven years also bid adieu to the organisation; and not long before, Dr Sudershan Arora, head of discovery research at Lupin left to join Ranbaxy.

“People in strategic positions are primarily looking for job satisfaction of creating an innovative new product. The companies, which employ them, make a lot of promises about their future investments in R&D of new products. However, quite often, these commitments are not fulfilled either due to the company’s financial limitations or due to company management’s short term R&D objectives”

– Dr Arun Bhatt President

ClinInvent Research

“We should have an education system that is geared more towards thinking and analysis rather than memory. We give a lot of importance to memorisation; this is definitely important, but what we need is to encourage students to think more and be more critical so that then they become inquisitive by asking questions that are more open ended, even though these may be general in nature”

– Dr Harish V Iyer General Manager-R&D

Biocon

Why is there a tug of war within the industry? Is it because there is a serious dearth of talent within the industry? Kumar highlights, “There is a shortage of manpower. However, in reality it is not the number that matters but the quality which is becoming rare. The main reason for this is that the younger generation is opting for careers in areas such as engineering, medical, finance, MBA etc. which now offer faster growth along with much higher salaries as compared to the best jobs in pharma/biotech research.”

Need for visibility

The truth is that R&D as a career choice lacks visibility among the general population. The lab coats remain in the background, while the ‘suits’ are the public face of most companies. “R&D is yet to emerge as a coveted professional choice at junior and senior colleges. This line has not had a high impetus and awareness in terms of career opportunities available in industry and hence fewer students opt for it. Government should encourage more scholarships and assured jobs to make it more lucrative,” feels Banerjee.

Bhatt feels that the basic reason is that students in India are taught theory of science; but they lack exposure to modern technologies, are unaware of pharma R&D advances, and lack knowledge of critical disciplines—drug development, regulatory aspects, ethics etc. he says. “The government should make an industry apprenticeship of at least six months compulsory for masters/doctorate level students. The universities should have faculty from industry R&D to expose the students to new commercially relevant disciplines.”

Along the same lines, Gopinath concurs that though significant awareness and efforts are being made by some corporates to augment basic R&D activities, it warrants much more vigorous and concerted efforts by both public and private sectors in envisioning and creating institutions of excellence. To support basic research activities, eminent scientists of Indian origin currently working abroad should be roped in by incentivising them according to international standards. Such an approach would inspire confidence among Indian scientists and help them to choose from many scientific/research career options available in India rather than going abroad. Government policies should be such that they promote basic R&D activities by creating many centres of excellence and making them accessible to deserving candidates based on merit, on their scientific interests and capabilities, devoid of discriminatory practices.

In biotech, this scarcity of talent is more acute because this is a new field compared to pharma. There are only few companies like Biocon who have biotech products.

Iyer concludes, “We should have an education system that is geared more towards thinking and analysis rather than memorising. We give a lot of importance to memorisation; this is definitely important, but what we need is to encourage students to think more and be more critical so that then they become inquisitive by asking questions that are more open ended, even though these may be general in nature. Indeed, it is through general questions that many innovations have happened. We need an innovative kind of education where there is freedom to think and question.”

suja.nair@xpressindia.com