The current MD & CEO, Metropolis Healthcare, Ameera Shah, was never an average young girl. A Harvard alumna, Shah worked with Goldman & Sachs before she came to India to join her father’s business. In a very short span of time Shah managed to turn a single pathology lab into a multinational chain of of 125 diagnostic centers and 800 collection centres around the world.
One of the most successful woman entrepreneurs in the country and a recipient of many prestigious awards; Ameera Shah’s success proves that Indian women are as capable, skilled as they ambitious and talented. Shubhangini Arora spoke to Ameera Shah about her entrepreneurial journey in an interview conducted by SheThePeople.TV. Here is an excerpt from the conversation.
[Picture Courtesy: Growth Institute]
Your journey as a woman entrepreneur has been an inspiration for women all over the world. Under your guidance and leadership, Metropolis evolved from a single pathology laboratory to a multi-national chain of 125 diagnostic centres. How has this leadership journey been?
It was in 2001 when we decided to convert Metropolis from being a one lab sole proprietorship to a leading chain of labs across the globe.
In the early days, it required me to do a lot of running around and many hours of field work to set up a strong base. It is important for a leader to understand every facet of the business. I had to set up basic departments like IT, HR, Purchase, Marketing and Sales which did not exist, and slowly we started creating a chain across the country and then spread our wings across other countries.
Today, Metropolis is a fully integrated multinational chain of 125 diagnostic centers with 750 collection centers across South Asia, Middle East and Africa. Metropolis has become a well respected healthcare brand, catering to more than 10,000 small labs, nursing homes and hospitals, over 20,000 consultants and processing 15 million tests annually.
The last 13 years have been such a beautiful and exhilarating experience that cannot be replaced with anything else.
What inspired you to leave the security, comfort and glamour of a high-paying job in the US for an entrepreneurial venture? Was it just the thrill of building something on your own or were there other factors involved?
Over a decade back, when I forayed into the diagnostic industry, Metropolis Health Service was not a business of this scale at all. My father Dr Sushil Shah, who is an MD in Pathology, was a practicing pathologist for over two decades then.
At that time, I was working for Goldman Sachs in the US. I also did a few stints with start-up ventures to garner experience. While scaling success in the US, I felt deep stirrings to come back to my country and participate in its phenomenal growth story.
I realised that there are ample opportunities in India; in the healthcare segment, my father had created a platform in Mumbai by opening Metropolis Health Service. So, in 2001, I decided to return to Mumbai and help him build a stronger brand, spread across the country and beyond it.
Today, when I walk down the memory lane, I feel the experience of being a woman entrepreneur has been truly wonderful. Growing along with the company is a jubilant feeling.
All along my journey, I have learnt from my peers, colleagues, partners and staff. And the foundation of my leadership is my experiences and learning. Today, I am looking forward to augmenting the company across India and the continent.
You are a young self-made successful woman. As a female, what challenges do you think women entrepreneurs, such as yourself, face in India today? Are things getting better now or do we still have a long way to go?
India, which is predominantly male dominated; your gender is a big disadvantage. When it comes to a girl, there is a preconceived notion that you are not serious about work. When they think you are not serious, then you are not taken seriously. For me, I have to deal with doctors who are very experienced and around my father’s age, so for me gender as well as my age is a bigger problem. Plus the lack of a medical degree and the fact that I am the founder’s daughter and the assumption that the business is handed over to me adds to my disadvantages. So these are some of the challenging situations I and many women entrepreneurs like me have to go through.
In our country men and women are conditioned to believe that men are the bread winners whereas women are emotional and indecisive. Thus women hold themselves back as they’re made to believe that they cannot have the same dreams or bigger dreams than men because of which men assume certain things about women that they can and cannot do and women assume those things about themselves. Another challenge that women face is building human relationships. In a business you need to interact with your customers or vendors but there are many barriers for women like going out for a drink or just hanging without letting the other person think less of you which ultimately limits their opportunities and shrinks their market.
However, over the years, this situation has been changing and things have got better. But there is still a long way to go where women entrepreneurs will be treated on the same lines as the male counterparts
You are in the healthcare business. Like all other sectors, this too has its unique set of challenges. How do you deal with these? And what according to you needs to change in our country for a more effective healthcare system.
Lack of access to quality testing/diagnosis in tier 3 cities and rural belt: There is an ever increasing burden of disease that has particularly affected tier 3 cities and the rural belt. Early treatment, disease management and cure totally depend on availability of quality testing with a quick turn-around time. Government should allocate budget for research and development of rapid and low cost devices that can truly take timely and quality diagnostics to rural areas. This is taking the tests from a central laboratory to a point of care testing/diagnostics; from the lab to the vicinity of the patient. Rapid Diagnostic Tests also known as RDTs based on various techniques will enable to take testing to the rural belt and this is only possible through a public private partnerships. This will also help doctors in effective management of the disease.
Lack of a regulatory body to govern the industry: What India needs is a strong regulatory body that will represent each segment of the healthcare industry. It is important to spread awareness on accreditations and maintenance of basic quality standards, whether it is a hospital or a laboratory. A large part of the healthcare industry still remains unorganized. Some state governments have taken the lead and are aligning the government hospitals to the NABH Accreditation. The government should take the charge and set an example in providing quality care at affordable costs and this should be made available to all corners of the nation.
Gap in investment, spending, infrastructure and workforce: There is a huge gap in health care spending, health care infrastructure and healthcare workforce. The investment in this sector has been much lesser than the economic growth and this has further crippled the industry. It is important to ensure adequate funds and keep various checks to be sure that is used efficiently.
Increasing the budgetary allocation on National Rural Health Mission & National Urban Health Mission will have a visible effect on Public Health. There is a lot of hope from the National Urban Health Mission, and one could contemplate that diseases which were out of focus hitherto would garner more attention. Chronic diseases and mental illnesses should gather pace with the National Urban Health Mission. Increase in awareness will also lead to early treatment and cure.
There should be more avenues and opportunities for Public Private Partnerships which will enable the government and the health care players to take quality care to tier III cities and rural areas. IPAQT associated with Metropolis for affordable quality and timely diagnosis of Tuberculosis. This has greatly helped the physicians in timely diagnosis and effective disease management. India is a polio free nation today and can effectively manage any disease, if tare ihe systems and processes are put together.
There is a huge opportunity in the Insurance sector. People are more likely to access quality services if they are insured. Research suggests that about 25% of the Indian Population is covered under Insurance. The government should develop a Social Insurance Model that can take healthcare access to those who cannot afford interest rates by large insurance players. There is a huge burden of non-communicable diseases that can be effectively tackled through well packaged insurance products. Moreover it’s high time that Government sets a regulation for diagnostic testing to be covered under Insurance. In the existing model a person is required to get hospitalized for availing insurance and this is an added burden despite people investing in their health.
You have achieved a lot at a very young age. Are you content with everything you have today or do you still have any unfulfilled aspirations?
Being content is a mark of maturity but that does not mean one stops having dreams or aspirations. Metropolis has come a long way from what it was in 2001 and we surely have a longer way to go and much to achieve. We are already the most respected and leading chain of laboratories in a lot of emerging markets. Going forward, our focus will be to enter newer markets and expand our presence in existing markets. All aside, at the end of the day what matters to us most as a group is the difference we bring to people’s lives.
How can the youth today bring an edge to their businesses? So much is changing in technology and consumer patterns, why are the young people today poised for big achievements?
Entrepreneurs who make an impact in India, have unique skills of being able to operate in uncertain environments with an ability to create alternate routes, overnight, to navigate their way out of a problem. This works well while the company is small or midsize but the same entrepreneurs struggle to create large world class companies unless they are willing to evolve and change their styles of working and invest more in processes and create certainty for all stakeholders. When you have built a viable idea and showcased sustainability for a period, it is important to keep evolving, constantly study the market and map the consumer requirement. You have to go down to the field and see what your customer needs. Investment in technology is a right thing to do. But a lot of research is required before you take a leap. Consider the pros and cons, see if there are any strong limitations and then make an informed decision. It is the era of digitization and hence whether you are a, start-up or a corporate, entrepreneur or a well-established businessman, you simply need to use technology in your favor.