People

Picking S'pore - with the heart of a firefighter

Since he joined Mundipharma in 2011, the company has grown its revenues more than 10 times and has a presence in over 122 markets, says Mr Singh.
Since he joined Mundipharma in 2011, the company has grown its revenues more than 10 times and has a presence in over 122 markets, says Mr Singh.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Swiss pharma firm also evaluated other sites for factory, but Republic chosen for political stability, infrastructure

Last May, Swiss pharmaceutical company Mundipharma revealed that it had chosen Singapore as the hub for its global consumer health business, and the site for a new Betadine production plant.

Betadine, Mundipharma's flagship medicine, is used to treat wounds, and Singapore is the stronghold from which the company plans to globalise Betadine.

The man behind this decision is Mr Raman Singh, president of Mundipharma Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Middle East and Africa.

If that's not global enough for you, Mr Singh was born in Delhi, grew up in the United States, and draws inspiration from Singapore. The 46-year-old father of two also travels 300 days in a year.

Since he joined Mundipharma in 2011, the company has grown its revenues more than 10 times, he said, with a footprint in over 122 markets.

Q Not many people think it's a good idea to build a factory in Singapore. Can you explain your decision?

A Leadership is when everybody goes out, you go in. You need to have the heart of a firefighter. When people are running out, firefighters go in.

The decision to set up this whole infrastructure in Singapore is not a short-term one. It's way beyond 10 years that we are looking at.

IN FOR THE LONG HAUL

Leadership is when everybody goes out, you go in. You need to have the heart of a firefighter. When people are running out, firefighters go in. The decision to set up this whole infrastructure in Singapore is not a short-term one. It's way beyond 10 years that we are looking at.

MR RAMAN SINGH, president of Mundipharma Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Middle East and Africa, on why he chose to build a factory in Singapore.

We evaluated many other sites - Malaysia, Thailand, Cyprus, Germany. And Singapore came in front, for political stability, infrastructure, consistent quality, etc.

Q Isn't the labour cost here relatively high?

A It is not a labour-intensive plant, it's going to be the most heavily automated plant the world has ever seen. It makes no sense to have a labour-intensive plant (here).

We are investing US$100 million (S$140 million) in the whole lifespan of the project, and employing 40 to 50 in manufacturing - not more than that. Construction will begin soon and the plant will be finished at the end of next year.

Q How has Mundipharma grown so quickly in so short a time?

A I'm only as good as my team is. I ensured that I assembled a team that shares with me a similar kind of a vision, ethos. If you look at my leadership team in 2011 and you look at it today, just one person actually is the same.

We are always looking for acquisitions. One of the big reasons we have grown the way we've grown is we've been very active and aggressive in inorganic growth and in the last five years we have done almost up to 40 different acquisitions.

Q Any roadbumps when you went on the expansion path?

A When we were geographically expanding, we were in a real rush so we went into some markets too early. We've had to pull back and balance that.

Some of the acquisitions that we made didn't pan out the way they should have. But, over the course of time, we've got really better at doing it and most of the acquisitions we've made have been very successful.

Q Can you describe the company culture?

A We are ruthless in terms of winning. We want to win. Winning means we hire right, get to as many patients as possible.

Also very important is transparency. We are absolutely transparent within the organisation. I want to know what the problem is so that we can address it, I don't just want to hear the good things.

Q How did you get into the pharma industry?

A It was by accident. My undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering, and I went to work in Thailand as a shift engineer. I used to work in Ayutthaya, outside Bangkok.

I was bored with what I was doing and, in order to move my career, I had to do something. An MBA was one of the ways.

I did my MBA in Thailand and that moved me from engineering to commercial. I moved as a sales rep, selling to doctors. I had to go meet doctors, and people could understand you only if you spoke Thai, so I picked it up on my own.

Q What's your vision for Mundipharma in the next 10 years?

A In 2011, the vision was to reach as many patients as possible in the emerging market. Now our geographic expansion is complete, the question is how do we go deep?

So we've gone wide, but within each of the markets, how do we go down and ensure that we get our products and medicines to as many patients and consumers as possible?

Q What keeps you up at night?

A I've had a great five years, we've been growing north of 40 per cent. There have been more successes than failures.

I fear that one day we will fail, and that keeps me on the hot seat. That helps me to find the next right answer. When you are successful, there is always a fear of losing.

In 2011, we took all the risks we could because we had nothing to lose. I want to continue that culture of taking risks, and understanding that there is nothing wrong with failing, as long as you learn from it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Picking S'pore - with the heart of a firefighter'. Print Edition | Subscribe