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Rediff.com  » Business » 'Whatever I have is because of India'

'Whatever I have is because of India'

Last updated on: May 24, 2018 09:13 IST

'15, 17 years back we were not even in existence in the US. Today nearly 1/3 of prescriptions written comes from India.'
'India is showing that in a very competitive environment -- like the US and Europe -- our industry is doing very well.'

IMAGE: Dr Habil Khorakiwala, chairman, Wockhardt Ltd, at the company's headquarters in Mumbai. Photograph: Kind courtesy Wockhardt Ltd

The year Jewel Thief debuted, Madhuri Dixit was born, Zakir Husain became President of India and an earthquake near the Koyna dam shook western India, Dr Habil F Khorakiwala founded a drug company named Wockhardt.

That was 50 years ago. The year 1967. The month September.

We all know how well Dhak Dhak Dixit did. Today the Koyna dam, in spite of the quake, is one of the largest in the country, with an installed capacity of 1,920 mw of power. People have never stopped watching the box-office hit Jewel Thief.

How has their contemporary Wockhardt fared?

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology company is as big a winner as Madhuri with a ₹56.10 billion turnover annually, much of it coming from abroad.

It has its headquarters in Mumbai, but employs over 10,000 people in India and several other countries, including the UK, Ireland, the US, France and is marketing its products in most emerging markets. It now runs Wockahardt Hospitals and the Wockhardt Foundation too.

With earnings, in sales, from its US set up alone at $531 million and from Britain 108 million pounds, Wockhardt is easily one of the most successful products of the India of 1967.

The young man, with a degree in pharmaceutical science from Ahmedabad and Purdue, who set up Wockhardt, is 75 today.

Dr Khorakiwala wears his age lightly. And his success modestly. But he is, rightfully, immensely proud of the 50 golden, fruitful years he has come through.

For Dr Khorakiwala his favourite mantra on becoming a winning entrepreneur is about the courage to take risks.

Risks are attractive to him. He equates them with ambition, purpose, tenacity and energy. And the meaning of life.

He seems not fond of tradition. Traditional people, probably in the Khorakiwala School of Thought are risk averse.

And Dr Khorakiwala, in his 50-plus-year career, has never taken a traditional path. He didn't follow his father into the department store business or helm any of the allied family businesses. Instead he forged a new path formulating pharmaceuticals.

When the business teetered twice financially, because of some of the risks taken, he dug a new path for the company out of it.

Today, Dr Khorakiwala, who is on the Forbes 2018 list of billionaires, is still sniffing around for newer non-traditional paths as he immerses Wockhardt -- which is not a German word, but a name the entrepreneur took a shine to in his youth when he began his company because it sounded like work hard and also quaintly foreign -- deeper into drug research.

He has recently published his first book, and he says probably his last, his memoirs Odyssey of Courage: The Story of an Indian Multinational.

A meeting with him -- Vaihayasi Pande Daniel's first encounter happened years ago at the company's small then Worli, south central Mumbai, HQ -- takes place in his large office in the shining 8-storey skyscraper Wockhardt Towers, Bandra-Kurla Complex, north west Mumbai, that is the company headquarters.

Dr Khorakiwala is a cheerful man, with a smooth, polite but warm manner, who laughs a lot. He says he has always been a fighter. Never inclined to give up. But a calm one.

He speaks to Rediff.com about his children, who now run the company, and about the Wockhardt Foundation, which is focusing on education and healthcare. It has a fleet of mobile vans and other health projects that offer healthcare in interior India on behalf of Wockhardt and other companies.

Dr Khorakiwala discusses where India is going and his and Wockhardt's place in the Future New India.

 

IMAGE: Dr Habil Khorakiwala with his family. Standing, left to right: Grandson Zayn, daughter-in-law Umaima, second son Murtaza, eldest son Huzaifa, daughter-in-law Samina, son-in-law Ali Nabee and grandson Miqdad. Sitting, left to right: Grandson Ali, grandson Muayyad, Wife Nafisa, daughter Zahabiya, grand-daughter Aida, Habil and mother-in-law Sugrabai Latif. Photograph: Kind courtesy Wockhardt Ltd

Why do you have confidence in India?

You are assuming I have confidence. (Laughs.)

(For) the very fact that our economy has (become) reasonably liberalised -- I wouldn't call it highly liberalised. I think this growth momentum of 7 per cent, around, is going to continue.

We could be growing even faster depending on how we address governance in this country.

From that point of view, every eight to ten years we will double our economy.

There are not many economies, excepting China, which can attract (this kind of) global interest.

The second aspect: Why are we growing so much?

There is less of government and that's why we are growing. Not because the government has done anything for us to grow. There is no infrastructure. Health and education are in shambles.

So just because there is less government, India is growing.

We are growing mainly because of our people. And the entrepreneurs. That is something that is unstoppable.

So as the government (hold/interference) becomes less and the government becomes more responsible, this momentum will only increase.

Our government (has to) start functioning a little better -- in (areas like) our infrastructure, in our education and healthcare.

You have to take care of the people. Or the country cannot move forward too much.

Education is very essential for growth, in terms of skills, in terms of knowledge, whatever we need. That is why I feel India will continue to grow.

We have the extremes. Very good and very bad. That very good is something which is driving part of the growth.

Just take our (pharmaceutical) industry as an example.

15, 17 years back we were not even in existence in the US. Today nearly 1/3 of prescriptions written comes from India.

India is showing that in a very competitive environment -- like the US and Europe -- our industry is doing very well.

The whole IT industry's business is oriented towards exports. That is what shows some degree of global competiveness.

The auto industry is emerging to be globally competitive. In telecom, India's rates are some of the lowest in the world.

In the last ten years you have seen this kind of dramatic change. And it is only going to accelerate.

So the fact that we have grown, in spite of lack of governance, shows Indians have good staying power?

I wouldn't say that.

I would simply say: We are hungry.

We have to deal with a lot of difficulties, as a nation, and as individuals within the country.

Therefore the energy levels to do things, and think laterally, the need to succeed -- the motivation for all these are of a very high order.

Whereas (when it comes to) the Western countries, they had those things a hundred years back, 150 years back. As a whole, they are not as hungry. They want to maintain the status quo. De-risking is what they want to do in life.

Since we are hungry, we are high-risk takers. That is why we are growing.

It is not because we are Indians that we are growing. It because this (is what) our evolution level (is) that is why we are growing.

You obviously travel a lot and meet lots of people from all over the world. How do you give those interested in investing in India a sense of confidence in India?
India often gets a bad name internationally as it happened in the Daiichi-Ranbaxy deal.
We go forward five years and back ten years.
When you meet potential India investors what picture do you give them?

All democracies and all countries have problems.

All have scams of some kind. Having a scam is not new in a democratic set up, in a free society. It is only in a totalitarian society you don't hear (of them)…

In a democracy, India, the US, or anywhere else, things happen. There shootings take place. Or you have a president like (Donald ) Trump getting elected. Those kinds of things do happen. You have to accept it as normal.

Why does the investor come to India? Because there are opportunities.

And there is growth.

A billion people, growing at 7 to 8 percent.

That is where India continues to attract, because of sheer size and the growth. A combination.

If you are a tiny country of a million people or 5 million people and growing at eight percent, it doesn't interest many people.

It is the very fact that there is sheer size and the growth is coming with it.

People look for opportunities.

Problems all businesses know how to manage. It is a risk factor.

IMAGE: Dr Khorakiwala figures on the Forbes 2018 list of billionaires. Photograph: Kind courtesy Wockhardt Ltd

How has India made you who you are? As a person, as a businessman, as an entrepreneur?

In short, whatever I have is because of India...

The family plays an important role in terms of the values and the culture you get as an individual. That is one aspect that is very important for anything you do in life.

Second, in my earlier years I had a lot of freedom available to do what I wanted to do.

Thirdly, I would suggest that we have moved systematically and grown.

But after the liberalisation of the early 1990s, opportunities of globalisation (came our way).

It offered challenges because we were no longer in a comfort situation. The Patent Act came in 1995. India liberalised, so obviously people (global businesses) would come.

The comfort position changed. We (in the pharmaceutical industry) responded by accepting it as a challenge and opportunity, rather than going into a shell.

Like the textile industry went into a shell. It was a mature industry, but it was going to the government to ask them to do something to protect it and so on and so forth.

You had the Bombay Club which was formed (a bunch of Indian businessmen who lobbied the government for protection in the 1990s).

Our (pharmaceutical) industry as a whole accepted this as an opportunity and a chance.

I think that is what India contributed by liberalising, and allowing people to do what they want.

I think what we see -- the growth of the last 15, 20 years -- is mainly because of this liberalisation and the speed with which it happened earlier.

Now it has slowed down. Some reverses have taken places.

One doesn't like it, but it will move forward basically (again).

In what way has India personally shaped your view, your business?

I think the competitiveness in India is very intense... Obviously that spurs (on) an individual and an organisation to look for new horizons, stretch itself, accept new challenges.

Secondly, I had great opportunities, over the years, to be involved in a number of associations in our industry and social organisations. To understand how a society responds. That also helped to shape you as an individual.

Everyone says India is instinctively an entrepreneurial country. That the country has entrepreneurship in its blood. Is that true in your view?

I don't think it is in the DNA of anybody to do that.

Earlier times, the Vikings were there. They were risk takers; going all over the place. They might not have been nice people, but they were doing all those things.

And Christopher Columbus discovered the US.

So adventure and all those things are various phases in a nation's life.

So we will remain like this for maybe another 100, or 200 years, I don't know.

IMAGE: Dr Khorakiwala with his wife Nafisa, whom he met and fell in love with when she was still studying at St Xavier's College, then Bombay. He had just finished his master's and had started working.
His memoirs are dedicated to her firstly and then his three children. Photograph: Kind courtesy Wockhardt Ltd

But Indians are always ready to sell you something. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking in every street corner seller. There is a salesmanship mentality that you don't always see everywhere.

Which is true. Because in Western countries, people are de-risking.

They are very few who are still doing new things. Those who do, they take very high risks. That's why overnight there are new organisations coming up. There are those kinds of people (there too).

Why is America doing so much better than Europe today in innovation? They have injected a lot new people (new blood) through immigration. So the country has remained relatively young.

Anybody who goes to another country -- they are very hungry for a while, to get established. So that injection over the last 50, 100 years is what America is today.

While Europe doesn't have that much injection of new people coming from outside. (It was) rescued, according to me, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Eastern Europe became part of Europe. Eastern Europe (had those) kind of hungry people, at a different level (from the rest of Europe), and they have come into Europe and given it a little bit of energy and spark.

What is the climate for doing business in India today?
Is it better, as projected by Prime Minister Modi?

There are two things that have improved since Mr Modi has become prime minister.

One, India's image outside India has dramatically improved. UPA (the United Progressive Alliance government), in the second round, spoilt the image considerably.

So that is now very definitively positive.

Why has India's image abroad improved?

There are two or three things. One, he (Prime Minister Narendra D Modi) is perceived as a very strong leader, which also helps, therefore something will happen.

Second, India is always loved in terms of its democracy, its language and all those things.

All those positives were there. India moved back considerably. But it was a temporary setback that got revived.

(Thirdly) a very large number of business people have started noticing India even more for the future.

They are very closely watching, basically. So these are the positives fundamentally.

What is the second thing that has improved since Mr Modi became prime minister?

He has also stabilised the country. There is a stable economy and a stable way of working.

There is improvement taking place, incrementally, not dramatically, as people had expected.

So if there is an incremental improvement taking place, and the direction is okay, things will improve.

IMAGE: Then President A P J Abdul Kalam inaugurates the Wockhardt Biotech Park, Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Photograph: Kind courtesy Wockhardt Ltd

Incremental improvements are the nature of India really, isn't it? The less the government interferes, the more incremental growth will continue.
So can the credit for this incremental growth go really to Mr Modi?

Yes, I would. Because to bring stability and bring about steady improvement is important. At times, during (then prime minister P V)Narasimha Rao's time, (then prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayee's time and during the first part of Manmohan Singh's time, the change was even faster than it is today.

But there is nothing like five steps forward and four steps backward. Maybe one step backward is what is happening.

What are some of the things pulling India back under Mr Modi?

Two things worry me.

One was the recent Budget which talked of going back to protectionism, which is counter to liberalisation. That worries me.

Because we are not going to help the competitive dynamics of India over a period of time. Instead of doing that (protectionism) we should have tried to resolve some of the specific issues. It has become really broad, and not a few areas, so that worries me.

Second, this division in society, which is taking place.

It does not bring a kind of perception of stability from a long-term perspective.

Where will it end? How far it will go?

What will happen in a socio-economic sense two years, five years, ten years down the road?

IMAGE: Dr Khorakiwala with his family on the company's 50th Founder's Day in 2017. Photograph: Kind courtesy Wockhardt Ltd

Does it worry you that Mr Modi may be too strong a leader?

There is nothing (about) being a strong leader. Like (India's first prime minister Jawaharlal) Nehru was a very strong leader in (India's) formative years and he had an ideological mind, which people today criticise.

But without Nehru you wouldn't have democracy, you wouldn't have those kinds of institution building which he has done, you wouldn't have the temper of science and technology, which he has created. So he was a builder that way.

A strong leader doesn't mean good or bad, that is what I am trying to tell you.

China has a strong leader, leadership coming for the last 40 years, liberalisation and they have done extremely well. It is not a democratic system. Done well, strong leadership. So by strong leader, it is not good or bad.

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel / Rediff.com