Starting a digital revolution in the right ecosystem
While many bemoan the tech disruption in their industry, Raman Singh, CEO, Mundipharma, is quite the opposite. Having already introduced augmented reality to complement Mundipharma’s medicines, Singh stands out as a rare innovator determined to transform the company into a top digital healthcare business.
Singh’s formidable track record of expanding Mundipharma’s presence in the developing world puts him in good stead to lead Mundipharma into the digital realm. Since he joined the company in 2011 and set up its emerging markets headquarters in Singapore, Mundipharma has become the fastest growing pharmaceutical company in emerging markets, achieving 40 per cent year-on-year growth. Under his leadership, Mundipharma has expanded its operations from six countries to a current 128 and increased its headcount from 350 to close to 5,000 in 2017. Singh has established a corporate culture built around innovation and entrepreneurial capability.
Typically, developing nations are managed out of Europe because it is equidistant to Asia, Latin America and Africa, says Singh. But he decided on Singapore because of the city’s foresight.
“Singapore is one of the few countries, which is very progressive, where the thinking is not focused on the next 5 years or 10 years but the next 20, 50 years,’’ says Singh. “And that’s the kind of vision I have for Mundipharma as well.’’
On top of this far-sightedness Singapore provides “the right ecosystem’’, he adds.
“Singapore was ideal because it gave us a great combination of policy, infrastructure and talent all coming together in one place,’’ says Singh. “And believe me, there has never been a moment where I’ve regretted coming here.’’
Enabling a vision
For the 46-year old who spends 300 days out of a year travelling, fatigue doesn’t even factor into the equation because he enjoys his work. He relates a story of stepping back home after a long 18-day trip and joining his younger son in a PlayStation game.
“Never for a minute did I need to pause and get refreshed because I love what I do, so it’s not really a job,’’ says Singh.
The passion that Singh has for his industry and his job is palpable.
“I always say I’m very fortunate to be working in an industry that can truly change the world, and I think everybody in healthcare is,’’ he says. “There is this overarching desire, ambition, goal, and objective to change people’s lives.’’
Singh describes himself as a risk-taker and has been very aggressive on the acquisition front with over 40 completed under his watch.
“Singapore gave us the capability to expand very rapidly, which probably would not be available anywhere else in the world,’’ he says. “Today, the manufacturing plant, which we broke ground on a year and a half ago, is running eight months ahead of schedule - I mean where else would you yield something like that?’’
Not bad for a man who stumbled into the pharmaceutical industry. Singh, a U.S citizen, studied mechanical engineering at university. After some time, he decided to do an MBA and moved into sales. Starting as a sales representative selling to doctors, he taught himself Thai and got to see how the pharmaceutical supply chain works first-hand.
For now, Singh has set himself the tall-order of propelling the pharmaceutical industry to embrace the digital revolution. Mundipharma launched Breatherite, a free-app in April 2017 that uses augmented reality along with a range of smartphone sensors to correct how people use inhalers.
The company is also expected to complete its “first-of-its-kind” robot-heavy consumer healthcare hub in Singapore by 2018, where the company’s research & development, product development and manufacturing centre are all located in the same place.
“It was a no-brainer to build it [the consumer health hub] in Singapore with the talent, technology, universities and research centres available,” says Singh. “Also the government is open to collaborating with private industries.’’
There is just no other place in the world with a system as simple and convenient as this one, he adds.
“You can set up a company in Singapore within 24 hours and get an employment pass quickly,’’ enthuses Singh.
“It’s got the infrastructure, whether it be schools, hospitals or housing that makes it easy for people to come here. Because of everything Singapore has to offer, it’s a melting pot of individuals from around the world, which means we attract talent easily and manage to get everyone in the same place.’’ Even more than this, Singapore’s location makes it an ideal place to set up base and export to other Asian nations. “It has great access to port facilities, which enables you to ship products across Asia within a very small amount of time,’’ he notes. It’s also got “excellent trade agreements with neighbouring countries that enable you to minimize duties.’’
One of Singh’s all-time heroes is Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew who transformed the nation in a way he hopes he can replicate in the healthcare industry. His advice for new start-ups is “to come to Singapore with an ambition. Singapore gives you the tools that you need to fulfil these dreams.’’
When he is not working, Singh likes to head out to experience the city’s unique blend of the highly modern alongside the old and traditional.
“While you have areas of Singapore where the skyline looks spectacular, you will also have heritage sites like Chinatown, Little India, which gives a very nice blend to the modern infrastructure that has been created,’’ he says. “These areas give a very nice feeling of the country’s culture and tradition.’’
He likes to take foreign business associates to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, as it is the home of the Singapore Sling cocktail and also because “it’s the only place I know of where you can litter lawfully and drop peanut shells on the floor”.
Being a multi-cultural country with a great mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians living together, this uniqueness is truly expressed in Singapore’s food, says Singh. So varied is the dining scene – from street food at hawker centres to restaurants started by celebrity chefs – that Singh rarely visits the same spot to entertain within six months.
“I strongly encourage visitors in Singapore to go to the hawker centres and try different dishes,’’ he says. “Or if you want to go for a three-star Michelin meal, it’s also here. And then there’s even the Singapore hawker stall that boasts a Michelin star.’’
Having won several accolades including being named one of the world’s 10 most influential people in the industry by the UK’s Medicine Maker, Singh has spoken at a ton of forums. He notes that there are a lot more events in Singapore happening now as there is interest and the innate desire to upgrade oneself here.
Singh himself has been focusing on amplifying the Mundipharma brand through tie-ups with football club Manchester City and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
While getting to meet the Manchester City footballers is an enviable perk of his job, it’s the industry and job as a whole that allows Singh to feel truly blessed about what he does.
“Passion is not something you can create or fake – it is when your heart overpowers your mind,’’ says Singh thoughtfully. “Sometimes we make decisions which may not be too rational, where you rely on your gut and when you are in that space, it’s a beautiful space to be in because that’s when you get confidence in your belief, in your passion and that’s when you make passion possible.’’