Veena Kohli | Vanguard Diagnostics
Veena Kohli is the CEO and Founder of Vanguard Diagnostics - a developer and manufacturer of in vitro Diagnostics Reagents. She also serves as the President of ADMI (Association of Diagnostics Manufacturers of India).
Veena is a veteran leader of the Medical Diagnostics sphere with over 30 years of experience across Domestic & Global Business Management, Quality, Manufacturing and R&D – most of it in critical leadership positions. Over the course of her eventful rise to the top, Veena has deftly managed over 15 manufacturing sites and set-up processes for manufacturing and assuring quality.
Veena Kohli is also the Convenor of the IVD subgroup at the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and has spearheaded the creation of Standards for diagnostics products for the very first time in the country. In addition to serving as the Technical Representative for IVD from India for the Asian Harmonization Working Party she is also Chairperson of CLIN LAB India.
In her corporate avatar, Veena has been the Vice President and Head of the Global Diagnostics Business Unit at Avantor Performance Materials, a US -based MNC where she was responsible for business strategy formulation, product road-map, driving business partnerships & technology, and the global P&L. Veena successfully led a team of 130+ professionals across sales, service, marketing and R&D, spread over the US, Europe, Asia and Mexico for five years. She, in fact, was single-handedly responsible for growing the organization’s diagnostics business in India by 322% in three years through a combination of organic and inorganic endeavours – catapulting it to the top 5 domestic diagnostics manufacturers in the country. Parallely, Veena is credited with successfully integrating the two acquired Biomed businesses of Wipro & Godrej.
A well-known leader in the industry, Veena is an alumnus of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (AIIMS) – having graduated with a Bachelor’s in Human Biology - and a Master’s in Pharmacology.
Veena founded Vanguard Diagnostics in 2015 – an in vitro diagnostics ( IVD) manufacturer, actively contributing to better healthcare in India and emerging markets by developing, manufacturing and marketing high quality diagnostics products at affordable prices. “I love what I do. Diagnostics has been my calling in life. To be able to contribute towards the Indian diagnostics industry and make our country self-reliant in this domain, gives me an immense sense of purpose”, she says.
We start the story from Vanguard Diagnostics, as we probe into the need-gap this future driven venture is addressing. As their CEO and founder, Veena describes her vision: “There’s long been an unmet need in the Indian IVD industry – for a dedicated diagnostics group that develops and manufactures reagents in customized formats locally for other companies. We position ourselves as being the first-choice partner for all non-manufacturing companies based in India and the sub-continent. Vanguard is equipped with a formidable development team and a high production capacity. This is strengthened with unbreachable quality standards and stable pricing to create a truly compelling offering. We are also determined to reduce the need for import, thereby giving impetus to the ‘Make in India’ initiative and realizing our collective goal of an Atmanirbhar Bharat.”
Veena is an alumnus of MGD Jaipur - a well known residential public school that instilled in her the values of diligence, tenacity and a strong work ethic very early on. She credits her family for playing a decisive role in facilitating her success: “My family has extended extraordinary and unconditional support to me throughout my career. They are my sounding board. My husband - a passionate professional himself, has been a pillar of strength. My two children, on the other hand - have helped me keep pace with trends and technology.”
While at AIIMS, she envisaged forging a career in the diagnostics industry. “I always visualized myself working at the highly-reputed Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited, which was the very first Indian MNC.” She went on to join that very organization - before embarking upon a highly- rewarding stint. “I joined the diagnostics division of Ranbaxy at the time of its inception in 1986. Initially, as a scientist before being presented the opportunity to lead the technical function of the division early in my career.”
So what was the tipping point in her journey? “I spent 19 years at Ranbaxy, climbing the corporate ladder in the technical functions of the division - encompassing R&D, Quality, Manufacturing, Regulatory and Supply Chain. I had never envisaged taking the role of a business leader until then. However, on one fine morning in February 2006, I was asked to lead the India business of diagnostics – taking over as Vice President at RFCL (formerly Ranbaxy Fine Chemicals Limited). While initially hesitant and a bit nervous, I knew that my learning curve would have to be short and efficient. I learnt the ropes fast and my strong technical background helped me immensely. I was able to grow the business three-fold in three years with the support of an excellent team. This was truly a turning point in my career”, recalls this intrepid idea leader.
A tipping point it was, as a few years later she went on to become the Global Head and Vice President of the Diagnostics Business Unit at Avantor Performance Materials – the American MNC that acquired RFCL in 2010. It turned out to be a life-altering and highly enriching experience, as it gave her tremendous exposure and opened up unparalleled opportunities.
During the crisis precipitated by the ongoing pandemic, the power and potential of her platform came to the fore. She explains: “In the face of COVID-19, we decided to channelize our energy towards the development of high quality solutions for the pandemic. These included sample collection and transportation kits, as well as antibody detection tests. We were able to create a high-quality formulation for our VTM Kit - which we successfully upscaled 400 fold in 6 weeks to address the urgent demand. Additionally, we are working on a novel aptamer-based antigen detection test in collaboration with IIT-Delhi and BIRAC.” Learnings during this phase may open up new frontiers of innovation and possibilities for Vanguard Diagnostics.
So, what are the roadblocks she has faced? Veena responds: "I don’t consider any experience in my career as a setback, since every change helped me to move from strength to strength. You either win, or learn. There were great learnings that I earned while running the global business, which stand me in good stead even today. These key learnings greatly benefited me when I forayed into entrepreneurship and founded Vanguard Diagnostics - with three of my former Ranbaxy/RFCL colleagues."
What would be the learnings she would like to leave behind for the next generation of leaders? She says, “A step-by-step, planned growth in one’s career path results in stable and robust success. It helps you to place your feet firmly on the ground and take sure-footed steps upwards. My advice would be - don’t be in a hurry to get your salary or position raised. Instead, be in a hurry to learn, to imbibe and become knowledgeable. With a combination of knowledge and hard work, success can never be far behind. It will, in-fact come chasing you.”
How would she like to be remembered? “I would like to be remembered as a decisive leader in the industry, and a woman entrepreneur who broke several glass ceilings, paving the way for a generation of successful women entrepreneurs – in healthcare, and beyond,” is Veena’s candid answer.
“My entire life has been guided by the belief echoed in the Paulo Coelho novel, ‘The Alchemist’ – which when paraphrased, says: if you really want something in life and are willing to work towards it, the entire universe will connive to make it happen for you!”
*This story is published by VOH team*
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