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Women Mean Business: My KRA is to jumpstart the economy - Shobana Kamineni

The gender divide is fast dissipating in every sphere of business. There are several women business leaders today, leading from the front and inspiring an entire generation of young women to take up the mantle of leadership. 

English Business News Channel BTVi - Business Television India has endeavoured to bring women thought leaders under one platform, celebrating their success stories, thereby motivating the millennial with their show, ‘Women Mean Business’. The second season of the show went on air on June 17, 2017 and airs every Saturday @ 8pm on the channel. The guests on the show this season will range from Media baron to Renowned Restaurateur, from award winning Gemologist and Jewellery Designer to Globally acclaimed artist. 

Shobana Kamineni is the first Woman President of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) since it began in 1895. She is also the Executive Vice-Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Enterprises Ltd and a member of its founding family. Championing Special Initiatives for over 7 years, Kamineni has steered the organisation’s emergence as a proponent of integrated healthcare in India.

She is an Independent Director on the Boards of Blue Star and Hero MotoCorp. She also serves on the Advisory Council of the National Cadet Corps (NCC). She was an Advisor to CISCO India’s External Board. 

Passionate about inculcating a culture of wellness, Kamineni had championed the establishment of ‘Billion Hearts Beating’, an NGO dedicated to educating fellow Indians about preventing heart disease and staying heart-healthy. 

Kamineni was also a national level squash player. 

Adgully, in an exclusive tie-up with BTVi, brings the interviews with these pioneering women leaders. 

To watch full video, click here.

What does the title of being CII’s first female President mean to you?
It’s a huge prestige to be a part of CII, which is the No. 1 industry body. I never grew up with gender bias. I think I deserve to be there because of my work, but I am enjoying that extra attention since I am the first woman President. We actually call ourselves a developmental organisation with membership, CII members constitute over 50 per cent of India’s GDP. 

You have played an integral part in spearheading your group and innovation, and your efforts towards integrated healthcare on multiple platforms have been commendable. What are some key milestones that you recall that have been real game changers in the industry?

One of the things that I did when I was just 26 years old was building three of India’s biggest hospitals in Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi. That says a lot for Dad since he empowered us while we were young, but the biggest thing that gave me confidence was when I was given the responsibility of the pharmacies, which was so uncool; who wants to work in a medical store? At that time we had 200 stores and I went to my team and learnt about retail. Then we decided to set ourselves some audacious goals – 1,000 days, 1,000 stores and Rs 1,000 crore, and we actually did this with One Store A Day. Today, we have 2,500 stores, probably one of the most profitable retail companies in the country. 

I think retail has really helped me in the way I look at different solutions in a much leaner and faster and the ability to actually do this. The next thing that I did was a completely different kind of company when we got into health insurance. We got into a joint venture with an American company and put together the most cerebral team. This was empowering and thus, I learnt how to be an empowering leader. In the last seven years, it has been chosen as one of the best places to work and in the last three years it has been recognised as one of the most intelligent health insurance companies. 

How have you managed to navigate the delicate territory of being a very credible force and brand as well as ensuring a viable business model?
A lot of that comes from Dad. Working with my sisters as a team means a lot; this journey would not have been worth it had I been alone. The fact that the four of us do everything together makes the work so much more interesting and fun, because each one brings better dimensions to it. It also comes from having great parents. Mom always thought that we could do whatever we wanted and my father was not only a great teacher, but he also empowered and inspired a lot of people. The ability to see ahead of the curve has been really good for Apollo. Being women, we are extremely dedicated and have worked in there thinking that it’s a mission; it became bigger than us. 

How has it all come together across challenges when you want to go through some new horizons, since you are all individuals with strong opinions?
It’s not easy, since I am a bit more combative than others and each has their own styles and super smart opinions, but at the end of the day, when there is love and respect, nobody wants to spoil this relationship. It changes your frame of reference. Although we compete, our competition is more in terms of doing something better for each other and for ourselves. 

In terms of taking the business forward smoothly as well as understanding the younger lot – what are the best ways of transferring the ethics? What are the best practices when it comes to working as diversity but as a family as well?
On my parents’ 60th birthday, we signed on to a constitution. That was the first step when we realised that it might work for the four of us, but the next generation and their upcoming generations need discipline. All over the world it is a proven model that you need to have some amount of discipline into it and a constitution that would state in great clarity, because ambiguity is not a good idea. 

When you were growing up, did you originally want to go into this or were you interested in architecture?
I still do look at architecture and I love to draw everything. It irritates my husband when I am working on a house project. He then asks me ‘why do I hire these people if you want to take over?’ 

We didn’t have a choice. Right after college Dad had this big dream, his big mission, so we just signed on and grew along with it. 

In terms of how the industry is poised right now, in a time with competitive advantage, technology, protectionism in some fronts, how would you visualise the business and the brand going forward?
It is not about beds anymore, because people now can be engaged and you can turn your home into an ICU with the technology that is there. 

We have to change mindsets and be able to understand that we can do things. You have to understand price points, which continuously get eroded; you have to see and manage inflation. We, thus, decided to explore the business and try to make and create more centricity, because we are the only group in the world that owns every piece of the healthcare pie – whether you talk about education, retail, research, education, hospital, speciality, insurance and everything else. When you wrap all of it, the question that arises is what is it that we can create as a fantastic product for anyone out there, and then we realised that we need to go back to the old Chinese paradigm. Let’s try and keep people healthy than they ever were and use our interventions very intelligently. We have the largest Tele-medicine network in the world, Tele-radiology, deep machine learning and lots of fun stuff going on. 

In the healthcare landscape, how do you think the Indian mentality has changed?
It doesn’t need to change, we will help them through it. When you know the whole thing, it is up to us to be able to teach and turn healthcare into a journey of empowering people. 

There are 300 million smartphones in India and so we encourage them to do more with it, make them realise that the power is in their hands. India is going to be the largest growing market for new mobile phone users in the world and thus, a lot can be done to expose people to healthcare facilities. We will bring the best of technology to the people at a better price point, as it has to be affordable. 

Regarding credibility issues with healthcare groups, what do you think are some of the biggest mistakes that they make?
They don’t have the luxury of legacy. We will have a huge legacy. The other thing is that they chase some of the wrong dreams and get carried away. On the other hand, we are very outcome focused; we benchmark our outcomes on Mayo Clinic, Cleveland, Houston. That is why we were the first ones to get JCI, all the rest of our hospitals are JCI. We set quality above all. 

I have a really smart sister who knows how to raise money better and cheaper than anybody else. Because of all these factors we have been able to do things really well and without any stress. 

Is there enough connect in terms of well being and better living?
For the first time there is an International World Yoga Day. We have institutionalised something and I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Modi for bringing forward something that has been there for thousands of years. You go anywhere in the world, everyone is doing yoga, it has become a part of their lives. 

There is enough in our healthcare system like Ayurveda and Homeopathy that we should bring back and merge with Allopathy. It’s way more preventive and curative. 

You being an entrepreneur, what is the thought process when you come up with innovation?
I am still trying to find out whether my entrepreneurism stems from being optimistic or being a risk taker. Maybe they both go hand in hand, but I think I have a little bit more of those two characteristics. Taking risks is what an entrepreneur does, but being optimistic is important too, because there is so much that can pull you down. Whoever is getting on this journey has to be optimistic. 

Do you think we should be talking much more about failure so that we could encourage entrepreneurs to go out there and take more risks?
I don’t think one should hide it as everyone has encountered failure, but you don’t have to live with it every day. The same way one should not let success go to the head as it closes you, whereas one should stay open because there is a lot of stuff going on and this is a society which will disrupt you tomorrow. If we weren’t thinking the way we were about hospitals, we would be obsolete in 5-10 years. 

How do you curate the ideas from the ones which are going to work vis-a-vis the ones which are riskier than others?
The easiest thing to do is to say that an idea doesn’t work. I will never invest in businesses that I don’t think will be sustainable or profitable. They have to show a path right at the beginning. I need to see that path to profitability and what the business model is, understand their capability and only then will I risk it. And when you risk it, you have to put in all your effort. 

How do you keep learning?
I meet some of the most amazing people and I think that is where you get so much of your learning. 

You as a woman of impact, what are some of the facts that come to your mind as CII’s new President?
I asked some past presidents and one of them told me to just put my head down and power through it; everyone had different views. Many of them said make sure that you are engaged to do something different. There will be a lot of time that I will have while travelling or doing other things and its heady stuff. On my first day at the job, I met the Prime Minister, went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan for dinner, and have met four of the top Cabinet members already. I respect what the CII is doing and if I can move the needle in that, I think that’s a good thing. I told everybody that my KRA is to jumpstart the economy.

To watch full video, click here.

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