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HiMedia Laboratories, a leading bioscience company, with its global presence in more than 150 countries and is amongst the top three brands in microbiology in the world and has been conferred with a Pride of Maharashtra award in the year 2019 by Maharashtra Industrial and Economic Development (MIEDA) under the category “Best Company of the Year Award” for 2018. HiMedia Laboratories Pvt. Ltd was founded by Dr. Gangadhar Motiram Warke (Founder and Chairman & Managing Director), I would like to share part of an interview with him in this edition of the magazine.
Take us through the beginning of your professional and personal Journey.
After completing my masters from Mumbai University in early 70s, I went on to do my PhD in Microbiology. While doing my doctoral research I realized that the media required for the same weren’t available very easily in India and had to be imported. Later on, when I joined the pharma industry, even there, the microbiology media needed for research, fermentation and quality control were expensive since they were imported.
When I did some logical cost analysis and contemplated over this subject, I inferred that the cost could be reduced. That’s when the thought occurred to me, “what if one can manufacture microbiology media in India?”. The thought stuck in my mind and it was couple of years later that I started working towards it after quitting my job. It was an idea in a scientist’s mind to start with the mission of ‘Make in India’ around 5 decades ago. That’s how the professional journey of “Make in India” of Microbiology media begun. Today, HiMedia has evolved to be listed among top 3 biosuppliers in India with a legacy of 45 years of innovation & more than 30000 SKUs and with business in more than 150 countries, and offices in USA, & Germany.
Dr. Gangadhar Motiram Warke Founder and DGM, HiMedia Laboratories
How could you think of this business thought/get related with the organization?
As I mentioned earlier, the thought of manufacturing media in India was stuck since the early days of my doctoral research. After I quit my job, I got in touch with a company in UK for collaborating in manufacturing microbiology media in India. To the contrary, they responded that such kind of product was not possible to be manufactured in India. They refused to help me. I decided to start my own way. I manufactured a small batch of the product in my kitchen start-up and sent them for quality validation. The product qualified 60% of their quality need, which was, I guess a very humble beginning.
This assured that I was on the right path and needed more dedication and perseverance. That’s how the business started. The area of developing and manufacture of media was as such a niche area as a business project, with most players were from abroad. However, it was the need for our country to really become self-reliant. My thoughts were very clear then that without being self-reliant Indian scientists & professionals could not get microbiological media at affordable prices.
What did your first 100 days at HiMedia Laboratories look like? You walked into a difficult situation, so what have you done?
Initial 100 days were the most difficult times. Getting approval and obtaining license showed us really hard time. It was also tedious as it required making multiple rounds to government offices to get through all approvals. Help came from home as my brother, Mr. V. M. Warke and my wife, Mrs. Saroj Warke took marketing and procurement responsibilities to themselves respectively. Saroj also overlooked the manufacturing processes. Additional to all setbacks, no dealer was ready to give us material on credit since we were relatively new company and had hence, had to purchase every bit by paying in cash. Due to heavy cash crunch, we borrowed money from friends and relatives to buy raw materials and manufacturing finishes products. The road wasn’t an easy one to cover, but we never gave up.
What are the difficulties that you find in managing the Microbiology/Biotech Industry?
When we had just started, the finished products sold by most MNCs were cheaper than the raw materials themselves. The reason being, there were no Indian manufacturer of the necessary raw materials which were required to manufacture media. That way, our products could not be price competitive in the market as we had to sell our products at a higher cost as compared to the MNCs. So I decided to start manufacturing required raw materials for any media on our own. There were differences in opinions with respect to the final price of the product even after collaborating with an Indian partner; however, I decided to keep the prices of my product lower than everyone. I wasn’t worried about the quality because that was an aspect my products excelled in.
We eventually went on to become the industry leaders with respect to both price and quality.
Sir sometimes it’s just not possible to get everything on your to-do list done. Tell me about a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do?
It’s definitely not possible for a single person to handle everything at this
level as HiMedia has now grown into becoming an MNC having operations in Europe and the USA. Most of the responsibilities have now been delegated to experts in every area of operations like IT marketing, sales, procurement, finance that helps an organization to move ahead smoothly. I feel picking the right people is most necessary and we have been lucky in that area. Apart from Microbiology, HiMedia has diversified into different key aspects of biosciences such as Cell Biology & Immunology, Molecular Biology & Virology, Agro business, Chemical and Medical devices etc. Our next generation leaders, Dr. Vishal G. Warke, Dr. Priti Warke, Dr. Rahul G. Warke, Dr.Rajas V. Warke and Dr. Kavita Khadke have expertise in different areas of bioscience and are taking care of their respective businesses in HiMedia along with their team of experts. Timely delegation of responsibilities to right people is my way to keep my mind free for my further research and developing new products.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus is posing a challenge to many businesses, how HiMedia is affected with this pandemic?
HiMedia was affected in terms of production. We had to stop production of all other products and focus on mass production of the Viral Transport Media (VTM) Kits for COVID-19 sample collection and RNA extraction kits, required for detection of Corona virus. We were definitely not prepared because our VTM kit was developed in 2009 and until before COVID-19 outbreak, the number of VTM kits manufactured per year was 5 lakhs. However, due to the pandemic, the demand of VTM test units soared to 5 lakhs per day and meeting the numbers was the biggest challenge for HiMedia. We had to put up extra investments to procure additional machines, manufacturing aids, and swabs.
Also, the test-tubes used to fill the VTM medium solution are not available in India and needs to be imported. After a while, the imported tubes started showing defects like leakage and other issues. In view of this, we weren’t able to approve them through quality control. We finally found solution to the problem in vacutainer tubes. We have, gradually been able to overcome the problems and have been successful so far in manufacturing and providing the requisite amount of VTM kits. In this process we, have also got good support from Government.
We have also started manufacturing our other products recently.
HiMedia as an organization came together to and help manufacture the VTM kits. All employees came forth to work towards one cause i.e, helping the nation during crisis. This was only possible due to the relations we share with our people and the trust employees have towards the organization.
Message to business community in biotech
One should not get disturbed and face with courage. Plan according to situation, and work sincerely.