The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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How I Made It
Ashwin Thacker
Chairman and managing director, Flamingo Pharmaceuticals

The flamingo is a colourful bird found in more than 50 countries across the globe. Like its ornithological namesake, Flamingo Pharmaceuticals has also been attracting attention because of its proud plumage and performance. “When other Indian firms are striving to reach global customers and achieve standards for a global presence, we already have an impeccable achievement of having our wings spread across the globe in as many as 50 countries,” says the Mumbai-based manufacturer of anti-infective orals and injectables. For chairman and managing director Ashwin Thacker, it’s been a long haul, but an eminently successful one. “The entrepreneurial bug bit me right at the beginning of my career,” says he.

Coming from a solid middle-class background, business was the last thing on Thacker’s mind in his early days. His was an uneventful childhood in many ways. He completed his schooling from Fatima High School, Mumbai, and then graduated in chemistry from Mumbai University. He also did an MBA
in marketing from the same university.

It was in college that life took a different turn. “College taught me to be more analytical with the situations I faced and helped me look at issues from multiple perspectives. This enables me to explore multiple options methodically in my decision-making process,” says he.

There are other qualities which helped him immensely. Thacker is a keen observer and his eye for detail assisted him in understanding the nuances of the business. However, if you ask him what stood him in good stead, pat comes the reply: “Hard work and the tenacity to stick it out.”

Despite his self-assured manner and easy charm, Thacker didn’t have it easy. He had to struggle every inch of the way. Says he: “I started my career at the ground level as a medical representative in a pharmaceutical company and picked up the fundamentals of marketing.”

Later on, he worked in an export firm. This is where he got his first taste of how business deals were done. “I was there for about four years, and I wouldn’t call this experience ‘work’. It was a platform for getting an extensive crash course on the export industry. And the best thing was that I was getting paid for it too,” grins Thacker.

So what made him zero in on this industry' “My initial experience in the pharma business got me more inclined towards the dynamics of this industry and familiarity with the export industry acted as a catalyst. Also, I look at a venture in the healthcare industry as a socially gratifying job,” says Thacker.

Flamingo was started as a trading company and it was only later that it became an exporter. As Flamingo was a start-up, Thacker had to research the market dynamics of pharma at length to get a hang of the business.

His strategy for all this was simple. “I met up with a lot of people from the industry to understand the supply and demand process and also to gain their faith in me as an individual and Flamingo as a company,” says Thacker. The going has always been tough. Initially, he had no office space of his own and no infrastructure. The biggest obstacle was that none of the banks were ready to finance his vision.

This didn’t deter him and he plodded on. His guiding companion in those days was his philosophy: “Strengthen your foundations, enlarge the view, and keep going no matter what.”

Thacker claims he’s placed his bet on a winning horse. Today, the Indian pharmaceutical industry is at the forefront of India’s science-based industries with a wide range of capabilities in the field of drug manufacturing. A highly organised sector, the Indian pharma industry is growing at about eight to nine per cent annually.

However, there are other challenges in this field. The industry is highly competitive with a large number of players. Also, the migration into a product patent regime (which will bring in new and innovative drugs) is likely to transform the industry. The threat from other low-cost countries like China and Israel is another dark cloud on the horizon. However, on the quality front, India is better placed in comparison to China.

But it’s not all work and no play for this medicine man. “I de-stress by working out in a gym, swimming, reading or playing golf,” says Thacker. Health, like charity, begins at home.

Based on a conversation with Shibani Chattopadhyay in Calcutta

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