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Pill pushers flock to foreign language classes

December 11, 2004 12:08 IST

It was Charlemagne, the "emperor of the Holy Roman Empire", who said that to have another language is to possess a second soul. That's not surprising, because he never knew how to read or write.

But the awe filled assertion could very well have been voiced by local pharma executives who are -- perforce, perhaps -- having to learn continental lingua as their employers pursue profit in distant shores.

They are flocking to French, Spanish, German and Russian classes in droves as the new patents regime that comes into effect next month brings about seismic changes to the pharmaceuticals sector.

Human resources heads believe that learning a local language will not only enable employees to work closely with their foreign colleagues but also make them feel at home in an alien country.

P R Joshi, president (group human resources) at the Rs 1,200 crore (Rs 12 billion) Zydus Cadila Healthcare, said, "After the acquisition of a France-based company, we needed to send a senior employee to handle matters related to finance for our new entity in that country. Pradeep Solanki was sent there recently only after he took lessons at Alliance Francaise and learnt a bit of French."

"A higher module of training not only helped him to work better with his colleagues but also helped the company to work closely with its partners," he added.

Zydus has operations in over 50 countries and stresses on empowering its Indian employees with foreign languages of nations where the company has interests.

Demand for managers and executives at senior level with knowledge of languages, mainly French and Spanish, has gone up recently, said a source with Ma Foi Consultants.

An official spokesperson of Wockhardt Limited, which recently acquired an entity in Germany, said, "We also have sponsored some of our managers for courses in French and Spanish before they left for overseas postings."

Swati Kirtane, course co-ordinator for Alliance Francaise, is excited about her new breed of students. "We have created a batch timing of 6.30 pm to 8 pm for pharma executives who are coming in a large numbers to learn French. It is good business for us. Earlier we used to get management students from textile companies, but now they all are mostly from pharma."

Alliance Francaise has also started work on translating documents for pharmaceutical companies on a contract basis, while the institute also provides French interpreters for plant visits.

A source close to Dr Reddy's Laboratories said, "With more and more people needed to be sent on overseas assignments, senior employees are asked to take training in foreign languages before they leave for their assignments."

Kamlesh Udani, executive director of Mumbai-based JB Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, said, "We even had to organise training in Ukranian languages for our employees as Ukraine and Russia are two big markets for us."

Cadila Pharamceuticals, the Ahmedabad-based Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion) entity has created a separate cell, called Overseas Product Management, which conducts similar training for its employees.

"It is a booming market for us and thanks to pharma companies, we have a found a new revenue stream," said an official with a foreign language training centre at Mumbai.
Joydeep Ray in Ahmedabad