Wonder Women of Healthcare 15

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Ameera Shah Managing Director and CEO, Metropolis Healthcare

Leading an Empire

A young blood, who ventured into the diagnostic industry fairly inexperienced and with no background in healthcare, Ameera Shah’s success story is inspiration. She has transformed her father’s sole 1500 square feet laboratory in South Mumbai into an INR 2000 crore international diagnostic empire, Metropolis Healthcare. Under her able leadership, the single lab with revenue of $1.5 million and about 40 employees has expanded into a multinational chain of 130 with $90 million in revenue and 4,500 employees.

Her father Dr. Sushil Shah’s diagnostic laboratory was a reputed one with a steady clientele for over 25 years. It was his dream to expand pan-India. Ameera made his dream come true. Ameera graduated from University of Texas and landed a job at the coveted Goldman Sach’s in New York. However, that did not satisfy her. She tried her hand in a start-up. That too was not fulfilling. On her father’s advice, she joined his business in 2001. Starting at a position in customer care, she gradually climbed many ranks. This was a learning experience as it made her aware of the ground realities. She realised systems and process were lacking in the laboratory operations. Thus, she created standard operating procedures, recruited quality talent and digitalized all systems, which has been the pivotal for Metropolis’s success and efficiency. To expand Metropolis beyond South Mumbai, she tied up with existing independent laboratories to bring it under the umbrella of Metropolis. She was also able to get many investors on board to fund her venture.

As young female executive, Ameera was a victim of the cliche gender bias. Often people mistook her as her father’s secretary only because of her gender. However, she persevered and let her work speak for itself. Today, her work has been recognized by numerous organizations around the world. An international and National award winner, she was conferred with ‘The Young entrepreneur of the Year Award’ by GE in 2006 and ‘The Young Achiever of the Year Award’ at the CMO Asia Awards in 2011. She was also the recipient of the prestigious ‘Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award’ in 2011 organized by Entrepreneur India and Bloomberg. She has been honored with ‘Exemplary Women Leadership award’ at the World Women Leadership and Congress awards 2014. She has been chosen as one of the most respected leaders under 40 years by Economic Times & Spencer Stuart (2014). Recently, Forbes Asia listed Ms. Shah in the Asia’s Power Business Women 2015 for powering the rise of Metropolis Healthcare and bringing a significant shift in the diagnostics industry. She is one among the only 12 Indian Women to be featured in this globally acclaimed list. Ameera has also been featured in the acclaimed ‘Young Global Leader’ list brought out by the prestigious ‘World Economic Forum’ in 2015.

We asked her about her success mantra and her advice for woman entrepreneurs in an interview.

What inspired you to venture into the healthcare industry?

After completing my graduation at University of Texas, I landed a coveted job with Goldman Sachs, but did not enjoy the number crunching and soon realized that I was happier working in smaller teams where the decisions you make can make an impact to the organization. The passion to give something back to the society was very strong and I decided that there could be no better place than India. My dad already had a laboratory but it was a one man show. I decided to join him and make it a professionally-run organization and after about a decade and half we are present across 7 countries with over 130 laboratories and 1000 collection centers. We still have a long way to go and many more milestones to achieve.

What was the turning moment in your life which leap frogged your career?

I had joined Metropolis in the year 2000 and worked very hard to make it a professional organization, setting up process and hand picked the entire team and built the organization from a proprietary concern to a professional company, but the real flip came in with ICICI Ventures investing in Metropolis in 2006 for a minority stake. It really boosted my confidence and that of my team in my leadership. There has been no looking back and we have only grown bigger and better.

Healthcare is a male dominated industry. How easy or difficult was it for you to break the glass ceiling effect that exists in workplaces?

I had to deal with a fair amount of prejudice in the male-dominated diagnostics profession. It was terrible during my starting days people use to see me and assume that I may be the secretary and not the boss. But, over the years I have signed 25 partners and expanded Metropolis’ presence across India and in seven other countries. I think for me the challenge has always been on two fronts: gender and age. On the gender front, the challenge has always been people questioning my decision to work.  My partners would ask, ‘Are you going to work part time or full-time? Yet another problem in the healthcare industry is if you are not a doctor then you are automatically looked at as a novice. But building a business needs different skillset than a doctor and that realization was not upon the industry 15 years back.

Put aside the thoughts of gender and age so that they don’t become excuses or justifications for not succeeding

Ameera Shah, Taming the diagnostic industry

What are some key qualities essential to sustain a career in Healthcare?

Empathy, time management, positive attitude, flexibility are the skills that can impact your career prospects, your job performance and many other activities in life. Employers are increasingly looking for softer skills in addition to qualifications; in fact in a number of professions your soft skills may be more important to your career progression than your technical skills.

How can we encourage women in healthcare to take up leadership roles?

Today, the unfortunate part is we talk about women leaders in India but we see very few entrepreneurs. We see a lot of professionals; we see a lot of the banks run by women leaders. But we don’t see many entrepreneurs. As a female leader, you operate in a structure that has already got the culture of expertise and knowledge. I tell this to women business leaders who are growing in their businesses: ‘Put aside the thoughts of gender and age so that they don’t become excuses or justifications for not succeeding. Put them aside and say, this is how it is and how can I find my way to still get what I want?’ I think we will see many woman entrepreneurs then, because the capability is there, the will is there, it’s just the support system that’s lacking.

What advice do you have for women healthcare entrepreneurs?

I would rather not want to give any advice to women entrepreneurs as every business or enterprise has its own challenges and opportunities. My belief is that do not hesitate to take wrong decisions, as one learns from mistakes, but today there is lot of help around, but you just need to ask in the right fashion and knock at the right door. With e-commerce and the recently announced Startup Policy by Indian government, I would say it is a step forward to empower all entrepreneurs and especially women. A woman can manage any business successfully and should not get disheartened with short term failures, but should have a clear direction and a smart Goal with high standards. Perseverance is the key to win.

What are the three things you would want to change about the delivery of Indian healthcare?

  • Rural V/s urban divide: While the opportunity to enter the market is very ripe, India still spends only around 4.2 percent of its national GDP towards healthcare goods and services (compared to 18 percent by the US). Additionally, there are wide gaps between the rural and urban populations in its healthcare system which further complicates the problem
  • Public private collaborations: The Public Private Partnership model can do wonders to the healthcare sector, but we seldom encourage them. There have been a few pilot projects which have been very successful, but none of them have scaled to the level, that would be an answer to India’s healthcare challenges. If we could make a concrete policy frame to encourage PPP, I think it could really be a game changer
  • Need for effective payment mechanisms: Besides the rural-urban divide, another key driver of India’s healthcare landscape is the high out-of-pocket expenditure (roughly 70%). Coming to the regulatory side, the Indian government plays an important role in running several safety net health insurance programmes for the high-risk population and actively regulates the private insurance markets. Currently there are a handful of such programmes