Indian Pharma: Optimism, Concern and Retaining Trust

As many would know, the significance of trust is profound. It is virtually all-pervasive. Building trust is fundamental in retaining any relationship – be it in the family, society or even in business, such as pharmaceuticals. For long-term success and sustainability of any enterprise, trust is of strategic importance, and will continue to remain so.

In that sense, it is interesting to note that a growing number of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of a variety of corporate business entities, including pharmaceutical and also from India, have started experiencing a new challenge in a new paradigm, more than ever before. The rapid pace of evolution of the state of the art technology is further complicating the quagmire. CEOs, in general, are realizing the hard way that ‘in an increasingly digitalized world, it’s harder for businesses to gain and retain people’s trust’, keeping their nose to the grindstone of the conventional business process.

This feeling has been well-captured, among other issues, in the 20th CEO Survey titled, “Gaining from connectivity without losing trust”, conducted by PwC. The participating CEOs mostly believe that social media could have a negative impact on the level of trust in their industry over the next five years. With this trend, ‘as new technologies and new uses of existing technologies proliferate, they envisage new dangers emerging – and old ones getting worse.’ 1,379 CEOs were reportedly interviewed from 79 countries, including 106 from India in PwC’s 20th CEO Survey.

In the context of Indian pharma sector, the above finding is unlikely to raise many eyebrows, rather be construed as an obvious one. In this article, keeping the above as the backdrop, I shall discuss what the Indian CEOs recently expressed regarding their near-term business performance. After analyzing their confidence level on business growth, together with critical concerns, I shall try to gauge the quality of interconnection between the critical success requirements for business growth, and the optimism they voiced, drawing relevant data from PwC’s 20th CEO Survey, and other important sources.

Indian CEO confidence in business growth:

CEOs confidence, or optimism or pessimism about the business growth prospect of their companies is often used as a measure of ‘Business Confidence’. Financial Times defined ‘Business Confidence’ as “an economic indicator that measures the amount of optimism or pessimism that business managers feel about the prospects of their companies/organizations. It also provides an overview of the state of the economy.” A score above 50 indicates positive confidence while a score above 75 would indicate strong positive confidence.

According to published data, ‘Business Confidence’ in India increased to 64.10 in the first quarter of 2017 from 56.50 in the fourth quarter of 2016 with an. average 58.08 from 2005 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 71.80 in the first quarter of 2007, and a record low of 45.70 in the third quarter of 2013.

More recently, as per Press Release dated September 22, 2017 of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), ‘Business Confidence’ Index fell by 2.5 per cent in July 2017 over April 2017 on a quarter-on-quarter basis, for different reasons.

PwC’s 20th CEO Survey, by and large, captures similar optimism, as it says: “Nearly three quarters of India’s CEOs are very confident about their company’s prospects for revenue growth over the next 12 months as opposed to 64% in the previous year. In terms of optimism, CEOs in India surpass their global counterparts (38%) and their counterparts in China (35%) and Brazil (57%).”

Interestingly, as the report says, the motivation behind high CEO optimism is primarily driven by those factors, which are being widely discussed, at least, over a decade, such as favorable demographic profile, rising income levels and urbanization.

A mismatch:

Remarkably higher confidence level of the Indian CEOs on business growth, as compared to their global counterparts, is indeed encouraging. Nevertheless, while exploring the reasons behind the same, a glaring mismatch surface between high level of CEO optimism and their concern on uncertain economic growth, as PwC’s 20th CEO Survey indicates. 82 percent of Indian CEOs expressed concern about uncertain economic growth in the country, in this study.  A staggering 81 percent of them perceive over-regulation and protectionist policies and trends, as serious threats to their growth ambitions. Intriguingly, 64 percent of CEOs in India are concerned about protectionism as opposed to 59 percent globally, as the report flags.

The concern about uncertain economic growth in the country has also been voiced by many economists. For example, in an article, published by The Times of India on October 04, 2017, Ruchir Sharma – Chief Global Strategist and head of the Emerging Markets Equity team at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, wrote: “The global economy is enjoying its best year of the decade, with a worldwide pick up in GDP and job growth, and very few economies have been left behind. India is one of the outliers, with GDP growth slowing and unemployment rising.”

Sharma further added: “The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that all 45 economies that it tracks will grow this year, the first time this has happened since 2007, the year before the global financial crisis led to a worldwide recession. Moreover, three quarters of all the countries will grow faster this year than they did last year; India is in the slumping minority, with GDP growth now expected to decelerate this year.”

This mismatch throws more questions than answers.

Wherewithal required to meet expectation:

It goes without saying that Indian CEOs must have required wherewithal to achieve whatever growth they think is achievable in their respective businesses. Besides financial resources, this will also involve having both, soft skills – which are basically ‘people skills,’ and the hard skills – that include an individual’s technical skill set, along with the ability to perform specific tasks for the organization.

A. Soft skills:

Indian CEOs identified ‘leadership’, ‘creativity and innovation’, ‘adaptability’ and ‘problem solving’ as the four important soft skills required to achieve the key business goals, according to the 20th CEO Survey, as quoted above.

A mismatch:

Here again, a strong mismatch is visible between the ‘importance of the skill’ and ‘Difficulty in recruiting people with skill’, as experienced by the CEOs:

Skills Importance of the skill Difficulty in recruiting people with skill
Leadership

98

73

Creativity and innovation

95

74

Adaptability

98

66

Problem solving

99

64

(Source: PwC’s 20th CEO Survey)

B. Hard skills:

Adaptation of any technology involves people with required hard skill sets in any organization. Currently, various state of the art technology platforms and tools, including digital ones, are absolutely necessary not just in areas like, research and development or manufacturing, but also for charting grand strategic pathways in areas, such as sales and marketing.

This is quite evident from PwC’s 20th CEO Survey data. While 76 percent of Indian CEOs participating in the survey expressed concerns about rapidly changing customer behavior, 77 percent of them highlighted the need to create differentiation in their products and offerings, by managing data better. Both these can be well addressed by digital intervention. Interestingly, 81 percent of CEOs in India have stated that it is important to have digital skills, and 66 percent have already added digital training to their organizations’ learning programs.

A mismatch:

The intent of having adequate hard skill, such as digital technology, within an organization is indeed laudable. However, here too a key mismatch stands out regarding their overall perception of the digitizes word. This is evident when 73 percent of CEOs participating in this survey felt that it is harder for businesses to keep and gain trust in an increasingly digitized world.

On the contrary, a 2017 report of EY, titled ‘Reinventing pharma sales and marketing through digital in India’ says: “Digitization can not only enhance trust, transparency and brand equity, but also generate new revenue streams beyond the pill.”

The report further says: “Since 2000, digital disruption has demolished 52% of Fortune 500 companies. These companies have either gone bankrupt, been acquired or ceased to exist. The pace of transformation has increased, competition has intensified and business models have been profoundly disrupted. This shift is happening at breakneck speed across industries, and pharma can no longer be an exception. Customers have already embraced technological changes, through their many digital touch points, and pharma must look toward digital to re-imagine the customer experience. The urgency of acting is acute. It is time that pharma companies in India took a step back and re-envisioned digital as a core strategic enabler.”

I am, therefore, not quite sure about the thought process behind this perception of the CEOs in the digitized world. Instead, by increasing business process transparency, digitized world helps gaining and retaining trust not just of the customers, but all stakeholders, including the employees and the Government, further strengthening the relationship. This is now a well-established fact.

Conclusion:

While analyzing the optimism of Indian CEOs for business growth in the near future, alongside the key concerns, it appears, they are quite perturbed on retaining trust of the stakeholders, especially the customers. More importantly, a telltale mismatch is visible between their level of business confidence, and the reality on the ground – including wherewithal needed to translate this optimistic outlook into reality.

Such incongruity, especially in the Indian pharma sector, calls for a quick reconciliation. Ferreting out relevant facts for the same, I reckon, will be the acid test for evaluating the fundamental strength behind CEOs’ confidence for near-term business growth in India.

In tandem, reasonable success in creating a high degree of trust and transparency in the DNA of their respective organizations, will undoubtedly be pivotal for this optimism coming to fruition. The name of the game for business excellence in this complex scenario is – breaking status quo with lateral thinking.

By: Tapan J. Ray 

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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