W Power 2024

Every role needs a different leadership style: Samina Hamied of Cipla

The executive VP of Cipla, on the leadership lessons that have helped her over the last decade

Naandika Tripathi
Published: Jun 9, 2023 10:27:02 AM IST
Updated: Jun 9, 2023 11:03:34 AM IST

Samina Hamied, executive VP of Cipla. Image: Mexy XavierSamina Hamied, executive VP of Cipla. Image: Mexy Xavier

Representing the third generation of Indian pharmaceutical major Cipla’s founding family, Samina Hamied comes from a non-pharma background, and has climbed the leadership ladder to become the executive vice-chairperson of the company. She’s also the executive vice president of Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance.

From joining the company when it was going through a huge transformation to doing its first-ever M&A transaction, Hamied shares her experience with
Forbes India. Edited excerpts:

1) On a career in banking and finance before pivoting to pharma
I went to my masters at the London School of Economics. And the next step was trying to get a job. I really wanted to work outside the family business. So from finance, I went into banking. And I spent four years at Goldman [Sachs] before I decided to come back to Cipla. Working outside the family business, there is no safety net. You walk into work, and every single day, you need to prove yourself. I liked the anonymity. I liked the fact that it was non-familiar, and no one judged you for what your last name was or who you were. They judged you for what you delivered every single day. And that teaches you a work ethos like none other. Banking was very challenging, very different culture working across London and New York. So that learning always sticks with you. You operate on those first principles now in any environment. Whether it's something in the personal domain or the professional domain, I always apply those first principles that I picked up right at the head of my career.

2) On finding her feet in the pharma sector
I never understood pharma, but there was always a starting point. And I still learn every single day because it's dynamic. The industry is changing. The company is changing, the environment is changing. So the learning will never end.

3) On joining Cipla when the company was going through a huge transformation
I definitely had support. The organisation had been around for more than 75 years. And we realised that for Cipla to grow and be successful over the next 75 years, we needed to embark on a massive transformation. It was at that point that we hired McKinsey, and both the senior promoters and the leadership team were on board. And that's where the journey truly started for Cipla. And it coincided with me joining the company as well. So it was exciting.

4) On building Cipla into an inclusive, diverse and equitable workplace, and challenges faced
When I joined Cipla, I didn't believe that there was a gender bias. But it was different because I was from the promoter family, so probably didn't have to traverse the same journey that most women have to traverse when they join an organisation. But I think that we've evolved over the last 10 years. And I think the message comes from the top—It's about being inclusive. It's about being gender neutral. We walk that talk because in our management council, at one point, we were three women; on a board at one point, we were four women. And this came not because of design, it came because we followed our strategy of seeing who's right for the role, irrespective of which gender they belong to. It’s tough for women. They struggle when they decide to get married and have kids. And I think that's when organisations really need to step up and say what they can do to support women over that five-, seven-, ten-year journey that makes it very challenging for them. If you look at statistics, most women fall off at that point. So even if they fall off, is there any way we can get them back on, a couple of years later. And that's been our journey at Cipla.

5) On the biggest hurdles that keep women from getting into leadership positions
I spend a lot of time with women at Cipla to understand where they feel they are inhibited, where there's a barrier to proceed. Unfortunately—even for myself—most of the time, the barriers we create for ourselves. A lot of it [is] imposter syndrome, saying, I don't think I'm good enough. And because I don't feel I'm good enough, I don't raise my voice loud enough. And that's why I don't get heard. And when I don't get heard, I don't get seen. My constant push to women is that you've made it this far, now be heard, even if what you say is incorrect, it’s okay. At least your voice is heard. Have a seat at the table.

It's about us as women leaders providing the ecosystem for other women to feel that they have a safety net, and that they are not alone. A lot of it is about mentoring. I have had many women mentors over the last 10 years who gave me a lot of encouragement. I suffered from imposter syndrome. I self-edited along the way, but it is people who lift you and make you believe, and tell you that it is okay to fall. That’s the most important thing. It’s okay to fail, because you will get up and run again.

6) One advice for upcoming women leaders
Through my own journey, as I raised my kids over the last 10 years, there's a challenge every single day. And my biggest message to them is that it takes a village to raise a child, and have everybody lean in. It's okay to ask for help, whether it's inside the organisation or it's outside. And don't ever feel that by asking for help you're weaker, or you feel marginalised.

Organisations have to work towards giving women the safety net, and making sure they have the ability to assist women as they move through every inflection point. Because as you become a mother, as your kids get older, as they start going to school, you need different kinds of help, and different kinds of support systems. At Cipla, we've gone over and beyond to say, as mothers, what did we need? And is the organisation doing enough of that? So whether it is flexi hours or adoption leaves, we're constantly hearing back. You have to have your ear to the ground, listen. There is an incredible amount of power that each one of us has. Just unleash that power, trust in yourself, and have a group of people around you who lift you up and make you believe that you have the power to succeed.

Watch the full interview here: