Kaartik Chauhan | Cepheid Diagnostics (Danaher Group)
A dual role of ‘student and master’ is inspiring tech, strategy and innovation leader Kaartik Chauhan to reimagine the transformative power of learning.
Kaartik Chauhan currently holds the position of Director – South Asia, Global Access at Cepheid Diagnostics (Danaher Group). Cepheid is one of the world’s leading providers of molecular diagnostics with a strong portfolio of products in infectious diseases. Prior to joining Cepheid, he led one of the verticals of the global health consulting team for IQVIA. From 2013 to 2019, he held multiple positions both for India and SE Asia operations at Clinton Health Access Initiative – an international non-profit in global health. Prior to his experience in healthcare, he had five years of experience in management consulting in the US and India. He completed his Bachelors and Masters at Miami University in the United States. He is a keen tennis player and lives in Gurgaon with his wife and two young kids
The one big philosophy that defines Kaartik is a steadfast conviction in the power of learning, and the positive externality that comes with further sharing that knowledge and expertise with others. Having worked in the consulting and knowledge industry, reading and staying informed of the latest business news was always a mandatory part of Kaartik’s evolutionary journey. Where he is taking it to the next level, however, is in the way he is re-interpreting the very idea of learning through his unique lens, and the holistic approach he brings to the exercise.
Kaartik believes his curiosity and willingness to engage with others is what helped him develop an untraditional approach to learning. He captures his signature approach to the game, so to speak, succinctly for us when he says: “I think what I fundamentally believe is that no one person/group/organization has a monopoly on good transformative ideas. My own experience has taught me that good ideas first and foremost come with the ability to listen, understand, and contextualize the problem you are trying to solve. Moreover, even though taking decisions unilaterally is often quicker and efficient, a more consultative and iterative approach is one that has long lasting impact and success. This inclusive approach is also helpful when it comes to actual execution of the idea.”
According to Kaartik, a multi-disciplinary approach - featuring a diversity of experiences and plurality of exposures - is key to forming a well-rounded understanding of the world, and its kaleidoscopic problems. He explains, “I do make it a point to learn about other sectors and try to have a more multi-disciplinary world view. It’s with this intent that I try to learn something new every day and find myself researching and reading on topics that are not even vaguely related to my work. And I can wholeheartedly say that this has also helped me professionally – to engage with a diverse bunch of stakeholders across continents and eventually see and understand their perspective and motivations.”
We are naturally curious about the tangible ways in which his uniquely personal perspective to learning has helped him in life and at work. Kaartik is happy to oblige:, “This habit has helped me stay relevant and keep myself abreast with the latest developments, ideas, policy not only in the healthcare sector but in other correlated sectors as well. Having spent the last 8 years in global health, I have realized and seen first-hand that many of the most pressing problems in public health are linked with underlying challenges in education, sanitation (and hygiene), gender rights, and financial inclusion etc. A more holistic understanding of the problem has helped me develop interventions that are steeped in the realities of local contexts and other non-health related factors. Another benefit has been the learning and adoption of best practices that have worked in other sectors to our work in global health. It’s also won me the respect of my peers and clients who have seen me bring new ideas and collaborations backed with real world data and evidence.”
A spontaneous and experimental approach to learning has also helped Kaartik break free of the contours of his professional roles and responsibilities, an easy trap to fall into for most professionals. The knowledge gained has enriched him with the vital ingredient of ‘outsider objectivity’ which has been deftly ploughed back to his own domain. As he says, “I have always believed that a person’s job shouldn’t define their complete identity. Very often, I have seen well meaning and very accomplished leaders been completely consumed by their work – with relatively little time to pursue interests and learning beyond their realm of work. Having broader interests has helped me understand other cultures, politics, societies beyond my immediate sphere of influence. This has also helped me in global organizations where I have worked in multicultural teams and work environments.”
In many ways, Kaartik, the intrepid learner for life, has been learning throughout his life - sometimes without him even realizing it. While he didn’t always enjoy academic reading or coursework - the lure of discovering and experiencing more about the world has been his constant companion since childhood. Relatives fondly recall how he swore by The World Book, one of the few sources of verified information before the days of the internet and Wikipedia. To this day, his mornings are incomplete if he doesn’t spend a good hour with the day’s newspaper.
Destiny must have sensed Kaartik’s innate curiosity and exploratory nature, for he was to make his first trip to the United States for his undergraduate education at the relatively young age of 18. Apart from the obvious academic mileage, the experience also went a long way to expand his ‘world view’. Kaartik recalls, “This was perhaps the first time I was exposed to a culture and society so different from my own. Adapting to a more multidisciplinary and pluralistic world view was both a necessity to survive college life as well as a great complementary foil to my well-rounded initiation into liberal arts undergraduate education.”
His innate inquisitiveness has also helped Kaartik’s professional pursuits and influenced outcomes for his organization and teams powerfully. Kaartik takes us through the rewarding journey in his own words, “I have had the good fortune of being able to live and work in the United States, India, and Singapore. These are three completely different societies with their own working cultures, quirks, and professional etiquettes. Later in my career, I was also given the opportunity to manage teams with direct reports being based in different countries many of who were non-native speakers of English. Leading with an intent to learn (and listen) helped me tremendously in these roles.”
“In a professional context, my most cherished accomplishment was successfully setting up a very ambitious public – private partnership to deliver affordable infectious disease testing to patients in India from 2013-2016. The Initiative for Promotion of Affordable and Quality Tuberculosis Testing (IPAQT), is one of the largest access programs to deliver affordable diagnostics to private sector patients in India. This initiative directly led to over 1 million patients (till date) being tested on accurate diagnostics for infectious diseases like Tuberculosis, Hepatitis and HIV. This project involved coordinating with various stakeholders – government policymakers, technical experts, donors, patient groups, private life sciences companies etc. It was not always easy making all these stakeholders work together but I believe my ability to learn quickly and be open to ideas (and resultantly course correct) helped this ambitious project succeed.”
Can his powerfully unique template of ‘focussed-learning-without-frontiers’ play a role in India’s growth story if implemented correctly? We ask this rhetorically, since we are already convinced there are distinct possibilities here. Kaartik corroborates with equal doses of optimism and belief, underlining the need for a broader and more inclusive view of one’s own professional ambitions and success: “Yes! Given that I work in healthcare, and India has many inequities relating to health – I’d like to continue being part of work and organizations that are fundamentally making an impact on the ground. In a country as big and complex as India, the movement of the needle is often not seen easily – but I truly believe that the collective efforts of the more fortunate can improve lives for the less fortunate amongst us. This is both a moral and ethical obligation for those of us born on the right side of destiny.”
Like all true leaders, Kaartik realizes he has been downright lucky and blessed to be given such diverse opportunities and exposures, and recognizes the importance of giving back. He has been giving the pearls of wisdom (that have been affectionately curated along the way) back to the next generation of leaders as well. “Over the past 3 to 4 years, I have taken a keen interest in both seeking mentorship and coaching some of my junior colleagues. While coaching junior colleagues has come more naturally, I have had to push myself out of my comfort zone to seek mentorship. The realization that having a good coach can be extremely beneficial has come from my experience playing tennis – where consistent time with a coach has helped me improve my game tremendously”, shares the soul who is both pupil and master.
The one thing that Kaartik wants to stress with his peers in the industry is the power of personalization when it comes to learning, self-development and growth. We all carry our own codes and methods of evolution. When it comes to grooming the next line of leaders, it is important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Kaartik elaborates on a theme that is evidently close to his heart: “While I am still uncomfortable in being called a “leader”, I do think that every person has their own individual leadership style that’s best suited to their personality and situation. While organizations are increasingly turning “flat”, it’s important to recognize and remember that it’s your duty to ensure professional development and emotional wellbeing, and provide a conducive working environment for your direct reports. Be honest to them and to yourself – this is often easier said than done, but one simple advice that will always bode well for the development of your own self, team, and organization.”
We request Kaartik Chauhan for his views on VOH, and how tribute profiles such as Idea Leaders can be important means of adding direction, inspiration and positive energy to the healthcare community. The Idea Leader readily obliges, “I am honoured that I was contacted by VOH to be profiled as an Idea leader. I hope that such coverage and articles inspire some of the younger colleagues in our industry. To that point, I have already read and viewed some of the video chats with industry veterans and hope to connect and seek guidance from folks who are much more experienced and accomplished than me. Given the reality of the current pandemic – this is a great forum to connect with other leaders, innovators, and changemakers in healthcare. I do hope we get an opportunity meet physically in-person with the other members on this forum once the COVID pandemic is behind us.”
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