How second-generation entrepreneur Priyanka Chigurupati is taking her family’s pharma business forward
Priyanka Chigurupati says she didn’t have the slightest inkling of what she would be doing before she joined Granules, the family business.
After graduating in bachelor’s of science in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, she took her interest in fashion forward by pursuing an associate degree in applied science (fashion marketing) at Parsons, the New School of Design.
She soon started her fashion label, Chigurupati and designed Western and Indo-Western apparel for women between 18 and 30. She retailed through ecommerce platforms, which she says was very different at that point.
In 2012, she was asked to join Granules India, the Hyderabad and US-based family business of pharmaceuticals, and there has been no looking back. Granules India Ltd. is a vertically integrated pharmaceutical company with R&D focus and multi-product delivery capability. It manufactures Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), Pharmaceutical Formulation Intermediates (PFIs), and Finished Dosages (FDs).
“After finishing my education in 2012, in the US, I came back to India and pondered on what to do. I joined the family business of pharmaceuticals,” she says.
Priyanka began by listening to everybody and following the principle of a collective decision. “I think I did have a ‘developmental’ philosophy. When I started, I believed in seeking the opinion of people and finally applied the decision, rather than following the attitude of knowing everything,” she says.
The process of learning also gave her the confidence to transform organisational thinking.
Priyanka subtly changed the focus of the company from developing a specific type of products in the US, and reaffirm what they understood best: manufacturing.
“I began my stint in Granules, initially as a marketing manager for one region of one division. A year-and-a-half later, I took a sabbatical. After that I was brought back to oversee a new API facility the company had acquired for one year and was relocated to the US,” she says.
In the US, Priyanka was responsible for driving the over-the-counter division as a project manager. Later, her responsibilities were widened, to understand the prescription side of the business. This, she says, was challenging because as a company its emphasis was not deep-rooted into R&D, so “it was a great learning to try and understand this side of organisational business integration”.
In addition to setting up the team in the US, she also changed the entire portfolio set-up for the company. “Two years into this role, I was made Executive Director of Granules Pharmaceuticals Inc (GPI).”
“On the Rx side in Granules Pharmaceuticals Inc, I was responsible for establishing our front-end of global business, to accomplish 30+ abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) filing and commercialising them. Later, I was responsible for growing Granules Pharmaceuticals.
“Currently, I am responsible for the entire US generics business, which generates 50 percent of our overall revenues, including handling the portfolio for the entire company, and leading our investor relations,” Priyanka says.
Pharma in focus
With the pharmaceutical industry in focus now, Priyanka believes Granules is a company that swims against the tide. She recalls that Granules persisted when most Indian drug makers stayed away or moved out of making highly commoditised molecules such as Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Metformin, Methocarbamol, and Guaifenesin.
Granules entered the US generics market when there were possibly more than a dozen competitors for every single product and amid pricing pressure. These bets, she says, seemed to be paying off. Currently, the US business contributes about 50 percent to the Granules’ total revenue.
The company invested Rs 600 crore in setting up a formulations manufacturing facility in Virginia, US. In India, it has expanded capacities across facilities and added APIs to its portfolios.
As of March 2020, Granules has a total of 35 ANDA approvals from the US FDA (33 final approvals and 2 tentative approvals) and has filed 20 US drug master files (DMFs).
“Our focus is to consistently choose the right molecules for the US market. Our strategy is to choose a bouquet of products, where the competitors were failing/ struggling to scale. We picked those products and processed them efficiently,” she says.
Her biggest challenge was to set up the front-end division for the Rx business that turned out to be a milestone for the organisation and her, personally.
The company is setting up a new Multi-Unit Pellet System (MUPS) block at the Gagillapur site in Telangana to manufacture niche palletisation technology-based products. An API block to manufacture medium to high volume products is also underway.
“Internationally, we are foraying into Europe and filing DMFs and dossiers while enhancing our market share for existing products in the US market. The commercialisation plan of some of our units is ready, resulting in various new product filings and validations and triggering a regulatory inspection,” she says.
Priyanka shares that for the second consecutive year, the company has clocked 22.7 percent growth in Q2 FY21with revenues up to Rs 858 crore, and net profit surging 71 percent to Rs 164 crore. The company's consolidated revenue for FY 19-20 was Rs 2,598.65 Cr.
The pandemic struggle
As the company fell under the Essential Services Act, it continued to work towards ensuring that there was no lacuna for medicines critical in public healthcare.
“Being a public healthcare-driven organisation and as the world’s largest single-site manufacturer of paracetamol, permission to resume manufacture of drugs immediately for management of COVID-affected motivated us to continue the uninterrupted supply of medicine for healthcare providers,” she says.
A senior management team of operations, safety, quality, and human resources was set up to review the pandemic situation and identify solutions to tackle them with a major focus on employee safety while supporting regular operations.
The interim plan was to launch limited competition products with a shorter lifecycle but more financial benefits to generate stronger cash flows.
Passions and inspirations
Priyanka is also a fitness and fashion enthusiast. She continues to be passionate about fashion, writing, and blogging. She is keen on fitness, and having parents who are marathon runners has helped.
Her parents are also her biggest inspirations.
“Besides being successful entrepreneurs, they left a huge influence in other walks of life – my parents went on to participate in some of the toughest marathons on the planet, through the grasslands of Kenya with wild animals on both sides, in the searing heat of the Gobi desert, and the Australian outback at Ayers Rock. They earned themselves an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010 when they ran marathons across all seven continents – including Antarctica — through freezing winds, and in the North Pole, at 34 degrees Celsius,” Priyanka says.
She also believes in being an empowering leader - enabling her team to imbibe the organisation’s vision with strong conviction and commitment.
Her future plan is to help Granules to consolidate and strengthen its position as a billion-dollar company.
Edited by Teja Lele