The Scientist CEO

The Scientist CEO

Albert Einstein was a brilliant discoverer, without whom life as we know it is unthinkable. Alexander Fleming transformed the world of medicine. However, if they had to market their products, could they have done it? If they had to draw a scheme of finances to build an organisation, would they have been successful leaders? Katya Naidu discovers the requirements for leadership.

There is a general myth that scientists are simpletons and lab mice who live in their own world and know nothing beyond experimentation. However, before challenging the leadership skills of scientists, one should not forget that the first citizen of our country is a man of science who also was a driving force behind ISRO’s launch vehicle programme.

Following his lead, the pharma industry has seen a spate of scientists successfully heading pharmaceutical companies, enhancing the field with their strong scientific background. There are many examples of researchers turned pharma entrepreneurs. So, what is it that makes researchers great leaders? Is it just their scientific knowledge or is it an X factor?

More than science

” A basic understanding is sufficient to comprehend financial aspects of the company and hire appropriate people to run it for you “

Dr Shivprakash, Managing Director,

Synchron Research Services

Heading a research team requires knowledge of more than just science: management, finance and marketing. It is not an easy task to make the colossal shift from the laboratory to the competitive world of business. For any researcher who takes up leadership responsibility, it is a start from the scratch. Dr Shivprakash, the Managing Director of the Ahmedabad-based Synchron Research Services, recalls his experiences, “It was very difficult to understand the market dynamics for a pure bench scientist like me. It took a lot of time and energy to learn the market of clinical research business.”

“One has to manage cross functionality among differently specialised scientists to achieve R&D corporate goals,” avers Dr Amarjit Singh, President R&D of Pharmaceutical Research, Panacea Biotech. Dr Singh has successfully launched several NDDS based innovative products such as Nimulid Transgel, Nimulid Mouth Dissolving Tablets, Bukatel Buccal Delivery Tab, Exceed (Novel Delivery Anti-TB Product) and several ANDA and NDA based products for the US and EU markets. He is a researcher who manages a team of ten core scientists, and led a team of over 200 scientists in his last assignment. According to him, it is very important for a researcher-leader to manage the special abilities of each scientist and target one specific goal.

Despite various facets, science is still the foremost element in a pharmaceutical company. Says Shivprakash, “A basic understanding is sufficient to comprehend financial aspects of the company and hire appropriate people to run it for you. However, it is very important to understand how you integrate your scientific capabilities into business opportunities. Still, in the business of contract research, science takes the centre stage.”

While in-built qualities are what make the right leader, some qualities have to be imbibed by an aspiring researcher-leader. These are:

a) Knowledge: A research head is whom scientists come to with queries. Therefore, he should be an authority on the subject.

b) Interpersonal skills: Communicating needs and requirements, and disseminating information to team members in the process of research is an important aspect of heading a research team

c) Team dynamics: The researcher should have a fair idea of team dynamics and how it works

d) Training: Learning is a process and a good research head ensures that he and his team are updated with the latest information

e) Financial aspect: Understanding the economics of drug discovery is equally important for the smooth running of a research team

Perfect recipe for a good leader

Ounces of good vision, a dash of motivational spirit and an iota of knowledge form the right recipe for a good research head. Good communication remains the foremost requirement. Shivprakash stresses that interpersonal skills and listening qualities are the two most important aspects a team manager must learn to be successful. In addition to communication, he says, “Transparency in dealings and capability in conflict handling are important. A researcher is a great leader when he trains staff under him and makes them deliver as expected. By doing so he not only improves the productivity of each individual but also makes their career.”

Also nowadays, it will be foolish to ignore the power of motivation. The pharmaceutical industry faces a high risk of failure in the process of drug discovery. To counter disappointment and despair, the research head should motivate and encourage his fellow researchers. Motivation should not be merely in terms of monetary benefits. Knowledge is one offering which can motivate a researcher. “Money alone does not bring motivation. We encourage our employees to continue their education leading to Masters and PhD degrees. Enabling employees to progress in their careers and not keeping them as manual workers motivates them a lot. Everybody expects to have careers not jobs anymore. Making them grow financially and intellectually is the most satisfying life any company can give its employees. Nothing can motivate more than this,” Shivprakash explains.

Amarjit Singh gives an insight into the teamwork of research. He says that providing excellent work environment and appreciating the contributions of the team members are some factors that will help boost morale. “A good research leader should be able to take up the challenge of making the team work with cutting edge technologies,” says Amarjit Singh.

Catch them young

An old adage says leaders are born not made. The present competitive generation leaves nothing to fate and chance. Leaders make their own destiny by training themselves to rise in their career. Experts from the industry opine that while researchers are scientifically qualified, some training is needed to bring them abreast of the basics of business management. Thus, they are encouraged to enrol for various corporate training programmes or to be admitted to various management development programmes, part-time courses and so on. This trend is already being observed in the IT industry. While a number of IT professionals are turning to management courses as 8 a way to move up the hierarchy, will pharma professionals lag behind?

With the Indian pharmaceutical industry entering a golden era, the necessity for executives with strong leadership and managerial skills has increased manifold. At the same time, research is metamorphosing into a lucrative career option and is attracting brilliant individuals by offering promising careers and an upcoming research boom in India.

Given the current industry needs, many management colleges are offering full-time and part-time management courses in pharma and healthcare management, IPR management and so on. Besides, institutes such as Institute of Clinical Research (India) (ICRI) are offering a postgraduate programme, the core curriculum of which is the management of clinical trials.

Dr Pratibha Worlikar, Principal ICRI says, “We help young graduates in research to understand the social side of an organisation. Good leadership skills in a research environment will help to improve the co-operation, communication and the ultimate achievement of objective. Hence, we feel it is necessary to imbibe leadership skills.”

In today’s performance-driven era, researchers as heads of large corporations is no longer a myth, but a striking reality. Therefore, it will not be enough for them to be masters in their area of expertise; they will also need to have an idea of the business side of research and the softer issues in an organisation.