The co-promoter of PathKind Diagnostics Pvt Limited, a Company funded by the promoters of Mankind Pharma- the 4th Largest and one of the fastest growing Pharmaceutical companies in India. Before starting PathKind in January 2017, Sanjeev spearheaded SRL Diagnostics as the CEO. Currently on a mission to take superior quality diagnostics to the grass roots and help in building a healthy nation by spreading the message of “healthy India, prosperous India” and addressing the challenge of preventive cure by the horns, the man is arguably on his life’s most significant mission yet. Here is Sanjeev Vashishta’s Limelight Story.
For a country like India on the cusp of greatness, there has never been a greater need for ‘change leaders’. People with not just the zeal to take the nation ahead, but the vision, balance and resilience required to make the journey both rewarding and sustainable. The diagnostics sector - a vital ‘wing’ of the healthcare domain - is lucky to have someone who aptly fits the role and term. Sanjeev Vashishta – a visionary who is leading industry giant PathKind’s mission of transforming the Diagnostics ecosystem - is a man on whom rests more than a company’s future. For Mr. Vashishta’s big goal is to engineer a behavioural change – and a healthier ‘mindset’ – for a nation.
Sanjeev’s saga can be chronicled from the time he completed his schooling and graduation (B.Com- Hons) from Delhi. Thereafter, he completed his Company Secretary ship before doing Business Management from UBS, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He also got the exposure to undertake a few short duration courses from some International and National institutions of robust repute. He primarily focussed around Finance and Corporate Laws for the initial 15-16 years of my career – that was his initial ‘calling’For the last 15 years, though, Sanjeev has been firmly saddled in a business role.
Just like his multi-dimensional mind, his career has multiple facets. Perhaps most significantly, Sanjeev’s professional pursuits over a kaleidoscopic and eventful odyssey spanning about 30 years has afforded him unique exposures and insights into both the traditional economy such as textiles and chemicals - and the new economy such as IT, telecom and healthcare. Closely studying the evolving dynamics of each of these platforms from the vantage point of a decision-maker enriched Sanjeev’s perspectives, lending him a 360 degree grip over the management and leadership of business in general. Along the way, he got to put his versatile talents to good use, and is credited with the coveted attribute of a ‘Turnaround Specialist’ who reversed the falling fortunes of more than one enterprise. A warm and endearing personality acts as a sharp foil to his hard business side, and Sanjeev is known never to forget his ‘good friends’.
Memorable sagas usually have their share of inflexion points. For Sanjeev Vashishta, his decision to join a PSU after having worked for about 6 years in the Private Sector proved to be that ‘tipping point’ - A fateful masterstroke in the sense that it taught him to start taking big decisions early in his life. As the youngest Head of the Department that time, he picked up precious lessons and learnings around processes, protocols and effective communication, pretty much engrained in good PSUs DNA that moulded him into a better professional and make him more methodical and systems oriented.
But like all great minds, Sanjeev isn’t happy to rest on his considerable laurels. He is convinced that the best is yet to come. It comes through in the conviction in his voice when he says, “Turning point of my life? Oops - that’s a tough one. To be very honest, I am still waiting for that Eureka moment to strike. My working life has always been interesting and as mentioned earlier, I made every day count ever since I joined my first company as a Management Trainee. I always took my job seriously and assiduously worked towards creating a difference.”
Every ‘possessed achiever’ has his ‘triggers’. Life’s driving passions that make them get up in the morning. Sanjeev is a bit of an anomaly, in that sense. In his own words, “One may find it a bit philosophical but the fact of the matter is that I have never thought about having any life’s vision in the typical sense, one is expected to have. My idea of an ideal life is to derive happiness from small-small things. If trying to remain happy qualifies to be a valid vision, then perhaps that is the one for me. I believe in living by the day and take one day at a time.”
While that may sound like a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to success, it’s the reverse, actually. It is a necessary tempering of a mind that needs to stay super focussed when all hell is breaking loose left and right, and maintain the sang-froid that is a precursor to all progress. Trust Sanjeev to plan his day meticulously, so that he can get the most out of it. Like all achievers, his intense dedication stems from the passion to create something meaningful.
As a mentor guiding PathKind’s journey across uncharted territories to build a new metaphor of health and wellness in the mission, Sanjeev’s mission is certainly not short of mission.
The excitement and passion is palpable every time he speaks about it: “Imagine that in our country not even 20% of people have given their blood samples for testing even once. Not that they don’t fall sick. Perhaps, they are oblivious of the fact that 70% of the clinical decisions taken by the doctors are based on these tests/ investigations. Another reason could be non-availability of superior quality diagnostics facilities in the Tier 2, Tier 3 towns and the rural areas where over 65% of India’s population resides.” Sanjeev and his team intends to change this for good. The express goal is to reach out to the people in the remotest of the places with superior quality diagnostics services at affordable prices. In his words, “The very idea of people having to travel 50-100 miles to get good quality diagnostics services is appalling.”
The standard temptation is to stick to urban habitats – such as cities and towns – to maximize purely business goals. Not many players in the organised space have set up the centres in the hinterland for two reasons. The primary roadblock comes form of a huge dearth of MD Pathologists. Consider this: There are less than 11,000 MD- Pathologists/ Bio Chemists/ Micro-Biologists and more than 110,000 Labs in India today.. This is where Sanjeev’s mission raises its sights a notch and hits ‘noble mode’: That of taking the healing touch of good health and wellness to the farthest corners of the country.
Instead of limiting their presence only to the Metros and Tier 1 cities, Sanjeev’s team is reaching out to the masses in the smaller towns by setting up Laboratories (and not just the Collection Centres) there. Elaborates Sanjeev: “We are in the process of creating an enabling and a meaningful network of Diagnostics Labs which are manned by MD Pathologist doctors, who walk the extra mile to ensure right diagnosis is provided to the patients so that their treatment could start at an early date. Is it easy to tread on this untrodden path? Certainly not, but we are committed to making this a reality by our tenacity, perseverance and knowledge of these markets and Diagnostics.”
They say it’s not the glow of the limelight (no pun intended), but the shadows of the downside and hardships of life that reveal our true character. Sanjeev, too, has had his share. Infact, quite a few, by his own admission. But with each ‘encounter’, the persona has only emerged stronger. If he’s fallen 7 times, he has gotten up 8. So when he hits a trough, what gets him through? Confides Sanjeev, “Man proposes, God disposes. One plans for something and something entirely different happens. One falls and fails often. The problem is not in falling or failing. One must have the fortitude, conviction in self and determination to bounce back. There have been instances where the decision taken by me went quite awry. But it has never deterred me from taking decisions. I feel, the problem lies in not taking the decisions. A few decisions may go wrong but they provide us with wonderful insights. Another area worth mentioning is my nature to trust people. On a few occasions I felt short-changed, hurt and let down by those I trusted completely which obviously afflicted me with abominable pain but such instances have never deterred me from believing in people. I trust people and would continue to do so.”
As an industry, Diagnostics is still in a very nascent stage of evolution. And as a nation, India hasn’t even scratched the surface. This is what makes his initiative a need of the hour. Agrees Sanjeev : “Research suggests that there is a huge scope for those players who are willing to dig their heels for at least 15-20 years. Unfortunately, the short term approach to limit the availability of high quality diagnostics services only to the large cities may not augur well for the industry and the country in the long term. Timely diagnosis and accurate diagnosis brings huge amount of savings to the exchequer; firstly by containing the cost of treatment of any ailment before it aggravates and secondly by arresting loss of productivity. We need to acknowledge the fact that cost of diagnosis is only a fraction of cost of treatment. Therefore, we need to push the envelope by reaching out to the masses pro-actively and educate them about the virtues of preventive healthcare.”
So what makes Sanjeev’s venture a game changer for the sector? “It is our endeavour to make the diagnostics services accessible at affordable prices right at the doorsteps of the people who need the services. In a span of just little over 2 years we have set up 46 state-of-the-art labs across 5 states apart from 575 Collection Centres (until December 2019). Given the fact that in some of the geographies of our country the temperature soars upto 50 degrees in the summer months, it is our endeavour to reduce the “sample travel time” to less than 3 hours by picking the samples and ferrying them to the closest labs under strict temperature controlled packaging. We firmly believe that we are doing the right thing by going closer to the masses despite various odds and this is going to be a game changer in the longer run.”
No goal worth pursing comes easy. It’s easy to see that the road ahead for Sanjeev isn’t one of roses. But going by the steely look in his eyes, the team is ready to face adversity in the eye. Sanjeev admits that the path chosen by them is an arduous one.
He elaborates, “Opening labs in the smaller cities and towns will make the project more and more capex as well as opex intensive. Despite the fact that majority of the equipment are available on “re-agent rental” basis, yet huge investment goes into setting up the lab in the form of leasehold improvements, utilities like UPS, DG sets, IT, stable connectivity, systems and SOPs etc.
To reach out to the people in the remote areas, we need to create more and more labs which requires huge amount of investment layout. Further, this industry is becoming more and more opex oriented as one needs to incur operating expenses in the form of salaries, increased consumption (assets are not exploited optimally in the initial few years), Administrative expenses etc. Thus, the hyperbole around Diagnostics industry being ‘Asset Light’ doesn’t hold good in the current times.
Another difficulty is around sending qualified and trained people into the smaller towns / cities. It takes huge efforts to hire qualified people and train them on various aspects of running labs. This certainly increases the costs significantly.
Paradoxically, the paying proclivity of the customers/ patients in the Tier 2/3 cities is low which works as a big deterrent for many to set up high quality labs as the costs are de facto quite high and the revenues are low as compared to the larger cities.
IT connectivity is another big challenge even today when we are at the cusp of introducing 5G in our country.
Lastly, there is a huge push back from the local Labs, especially the ones that are not following quality protocols and are run by non-qualified/ un-trained people, which leaves most organised players with an odious taste.”
Despite the evident odds, Sanjeev’s mission has started robustly, and is well on its way to adding new feathers to his already decorated cap. When enquired about the milestones already crosses, Sanjeev divulges generously, “We have just commenced our journey towards making India’s diagnostics space better. We have to do a lot to be actually qualify to call it as an achievement. However, we are building the right blocks and what keeps me inspired and excited is my team’s dedication towards creating better eco-system in the diagnostics arena. It certainly is an onerous task to create an enabling network of 46 labs and 575 Collection Centres in such a short span of time despite various odds. Our National Reference Lab has been made with great passion. We have all the departments including the following:
• Bio chemistry & immune Assays
• Haematology, Immunohaematology, Coagulation & Flow Cytometry
• Clinical Pathology
• Histopathology and Cytopathology
• Micro Biology
• Serology, Automated Elisa and IFA
• Molecular Biology
Our network of Labs and Collection Centres are quite contemporary with similar look and feel, use of technology and processes. We are proud to share that all our Collection Centres have functional toilets (you may find it very mundane but most of the Centres in our country don’t even have toilets) and all these centres follow strict hygiene protocols. All the Labs and the Collection Centres are linked through IT and thus we are able to carry out the accessions right at the remote locations which ensures that the samples do not get mixed up. We have an amazing logistics team comprising about 150 ground force team members who work hard to meet the committed Turn Around Time over 99% times.
Thanks to the Quality Orientation, we have been able to get 7 of our Labs accredited/ Certified by NABL and all the 46 labs strictly adhere to the quality/ NABL guidelines. As we go along, we will have more and more labs certified/ accredited”.
A great beginning is half the job done. So what lies ahead? What are the future milestones that Pathkind would like to cover over the next 5 to 10 years? The immediate vision revolves around becoming amongst the nation’s most trusted brand. Sanjeev wants Pathkind to be a household name in every house in the nation, which means scaling the winning formula across the length and breadth of the country, leading to a pan-India footprint. He captures it succinctly, “Our mission is to be a Trusted Brand having Pan-India footprint, making Superior Quality Diagnostics Services Accessible to the masses at Affordable Price through Innovative means. In line with our Misson statement, our endeavor is to set up labs much beyond the Tier 1 and Metro cities. As per our strategy, we pick one geography (state) at a time and go deep inside it with our Labs and Collection Centres and as soon as we are over and done with our agenda in that state/ geography, we replicate the model in the contiguous state. We are moving steadily and resolutely on our journey to have our Labs network spread across the length and breadth of the country and take Pathkind pan-India and beyond.”
A lofty goal worth of admiration that should make both PathKind and Sanjeev Vashishta unique templates of performance and a prescription for national progress - one that delivers, no questions asked. In a time when starting up is more glamorized than the rest of the odyssey, Sanjeev is making a strong case for the merits of perseverance and sustainability as well, which are equally important to success. So how does he look at his own evolutionary curve when he looks back? For the next generation of achievers, how does he want to be remembered? In short, what would his legacy be? Sanjeev takes his time to weigh the question’s various ramifications before sharing his measured and candid view:
“In line with the philosophy of our parent group- Mankind pharma, we would like to reach out to the masses with superior quality diagnostics at affordable prices. We know that the people at grass root need the diagnostics services and thus, we will have to create our own market as opposed to pouncing on the same pie. If we want India to become a healthy nation with universal health coverage, we will have to invest in the hinterland. We are doing just that and we hope the percentage of people who undertake Diagnostics tests goes beyond 50% in the near future. We have taken it upon ourselves to educate the masses around the virtues of preventive health and are working in all earnest towards reaching out to the doctors / KOLs with the latest tests/ technologies which could potentially be game changers.
We would like to be remembered as a company which tried and succeeded in taking superior quality diagnostics to the grassroots and helped in building a healthy nation by spreading the message of a ‘Healthy India, prosperous India’. Our focus would be to promote ‘preventive health’ in true sense of the words.” In this quest, Sanjeev has the warmest support of VOH.
So what has been his biggest learning? What advice would he leave to the next generation / aspirants in his domain? Says Sanjeev, “Every new day bring to us new set of challenges. Our learning is to remain true and focussed to the cause and keep on doing the right things tenaciously. As the famous adage goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. If we want to change the landscape of India’s healthcare, we need to be committed to the cause and work diligently as it is a long road and an arduous journey.”
Being ‘empty nesters’ – both his sons are in the US – he and his wife (who is a Chartered Accountant by profession) spend a good part of their time reading voraciously. Of late, their reading time has been usurped by Netflix, but they still manage to catch up during the course of their travels. So what is his life’s ‘working philosophy’ – his ‘code’, so to speak? Shares Sanjeev, “Every day comes with new set of challenges; taking on these challenges head on gives me a high. Working with my wonderful team, challenging them at every step and resolving issues which need my attention is something I look forward to undertaking every day. I draw inspiration from my team members and those business associates who do the right things. I feel life is all about doing the right things and upholding the principles which are close to your heart.”
Any message to readers through the Voice of Healthcare Platform? “Stay happy and take good care of your health”, advises Sanjeev. A simple enough maxim, but often hard to implement. In the case of Sanjeev though, it’ll probably end up as another case-study of ‘Easier Done Than Said’ – the punchline that seems to define his life.
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