Dr Priti Warke
Leading the brand, Dr Priti Warke, Director, Cell Culture & Plant Tissue Culture; Head, Regulatory Affairs at HiMedia Laboratories crafted a unique stance for herself as a leader after switching professions from being an MBBS to a career in Biotechnology research and regulatory.
“Life-changing opportunity knocks at your door very few times and we should recognize it when it does.” Says Priti. For her, it was a circumstantial decision. After completing her medical graduation, she would have joined residency program however, just around the same time, she had an arranged marriage with Dr Vishal, who was pursuing his PhD in the US. Given the possibility of disturbance in family calculations and perceiving an opportunity to do something bigger on an international scale, she decided to join the family business.
There was a huge lacuna to be filled within the cell culture media business; being the lack of companies involved in developing and manufacturing mammalian cell culture media, not only in India but this side of the globe altogether. This was the reason why mammalian cell culture work was beyond the reach of common scientists, and students suffered due to meagre funds, expensive reagents, and consumables. When Dr Priti realized this, she saw it as an opportunity in fine research and, HiMedia’s scale-up capacity became a complementary platform to support her vision. Hence, she decided to switch from the medical profession to basic science to make India self-reliant and take up a good business initiative.
Dr Priti is driven by fundamentals of quality and service since the brand’s inception. When in 2003, Priti and her husband returned from the US, mammalian cell culture was just picking up in India. Developing and manufacturing mammalian cell culture media and feeds are difficult due to the high complexity of media composition and challenges in consistent availability of high-value raw materials eventually impacting the consistency and quality, a major reason why many did not venture into this field.
Eventually, they took up this challenge, set stringent SOPs from procurement of raw materials to production to quality control to packaging. Even the most minor steps in the manufacturing were meticulously defined. In the first phase, they brought the quality of all products at par with the market leader. In the second phase, they concentrated on development of speciality niche products. Today, they have a very strong product portfolio, and are focused on global brand building and collaborations.
Driven by providing friendly service to end-users, operational savvy in nature, their stringent SOPs in production and quality assurance minimized possible issues. They imparted focus trainings for sales and marketing personnel and Priti inculcated the idea that indices of internal surveys for customer satisfaction be sustained between 9 & 10. She shared, “I believe that success, most of the time, is not about pulling out some maverick ideas but rather doing the right things with consistency and diligence.”
Being the head of regulatory, Priti ensured that the regulatory and quality team had not left any stone unturned to bridge possible gaps. She also ensured there are sufficient quality checks for every product and service they offer to the customer. She admires working with the R&D team to develop new products as per market trends and making improvements on existing products based on feedbacks.
An important learning was ‘building trust’ and relying on each other to get through most difficult challenges as one cohesive team. Frontline team members were entrusted with cross-functional responsibilities and did an amazing job in pulling off the most arduous tasks effectively.
COVID-19 has created an opportunity for HiMedia to become more agile, take on chances that once appeared daunting, revisit organizational culture, rethink work plans and productivity, learn from and rapidly correct mistakes and reposition for the future. What leaders must do above all else is, remind people of what’s important, emphasizing on organisations’ foundation tenets, its purpose, mission, and the impact it can create.
“The only target that I spoke to my team of, was target to stay fit. I encouraged them to exercise, eat properly, do yoga, and most importantly, maintain a balance between their physical and mental health” shared the woman of the hour.
For revenue targets, HiMedia being the market leader in VTM and considered as a gold standard, helped many new manufacturing setups by supplying media in bulk. This helped them in receiving higher returns and at the same time, addressed the supply-demand issue to a large extent. With sales doubled in the Covid-19 period, the challenge is to maintain it.
The global cell culture market is expected to grow from USD 19.0 billion in 2020 to USD 33.1 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 11.8%. HiMedia’s divisional average CAGR has been 52.8% for the last five years, and HiMedia intends to keep it reconcilable. Priti wrote, “Every crisis is also a big opportunity. We saw the opportunity, worked strategically, and permuted the crisis into an advantage.”
Since HiMedia manufactured diagnostic products like viral transport kits, RNA extraction kits, PCR and antibody testing kits for COVID-19, the team was fully operational throughout the lockdown for the past year and a half.
Dr Priti worked alongside in factories on ground level and realized that employees needed various kinds of support. She shared, “It was time to help everyone with their grief. Morale was low, so I motivated them by helping them find a meaning and the greater impact their work had.”
Receiving the prestigious “BIRAC Innovator Award-2020” from honourable Vice President, M. Venkaiah Naidu this year counts as the biggest achievement of their efforts. However, for Priti, the value added to India rates as the highest success.
Being the only cell culture company in Asia to stand alongside American and European giants, she believes, it was an honour to serve the country by being country’s sole supplier for sampling kits during the swine flu epidemic in 2009 and during early months of COVID-19 pandemic.
They used to manufacture around 0.5 million VTM test units per year during the pre-pandemic years, which had to be scaled up to 1.0 million test units per day. Additionally, they successfully launched antibody detection kits in India in collaboration with Syngene International, within 5 months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported here. They also developed media for vaccine production and are working with various vaccine companies to help in scaling up their production.
“Women are inherent leaders and influencers. It’s just that they need to restructure their perceptions of self” believes Dr Priti.
Being a working mother of two; juggling between raising them right and taking care of the responsibilities of a growing business, has their own share of hardships and sacrifices. Dr Priti understands this very well and hence, mentoring other women herself, sharing her learnings from her personal journey holds a special place in her heart and is something that she looks forward to doing continuously.
Priti closes the conversation with a very powerful quote by Marissa Mayer, CEO, YAHOO “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”