PharmaLive talked to Milan Kalawadia – Senior Vice President, Head of US Commercial Operations for Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories – about facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic; obstacles going forward for generic drug companies; customer relationships; and other industry-related topics.
PharmaLive: How would you describe your responsibilities with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories?
Milan Kalawadia: My title is Senior Vice President, Head of US Commercial Operations. To expound on that, in terms of actual responsibilities I have a primary responsibility for what we call our product management team. Essentially you can think of it as our marketing function across our three main verticals in North America. I actually would restate that and say the three main verticals in the US generics market given that Canada is also part of the North America umbrella.
Product management/marketing is all about managing the efforts and activities within the generic marketplace. For Dr. Reddy’s this comprises of our 3 verticals: 1) Retail/Wholesale Rx vertical, 2) Hospital/Institutional injectable vertical, and 3) Private label OTC vertical which is now beginning to expand into the Branded OTC and e-Commerce channels.
In addition to that, I am responsible for managing our Customer Service Team, which is based out of Shreveport, LA. This is the team that essentially interacts directly with the customers ordering teams, ensuring that we process orders on time and get the product out the door and delivered to our customers in a timely manner. Essentially, simply stated, this team is critical in ensuring that we achieve our sales targets in a given month, quarter, year. In addition to the customer service team, I also oversee the US outbound logistics activities of our 3rd Party Logistics partner ensure efficient and timely deliveries to our customers. Then, the final piece of my responsibilities is managing our US portfolio activities.
The US portfolio team manages and tracks all activities related to our development portfolio as well as ideating on new selections and new products. The product ideas are for the three divisions I mentioned earlier.
PharmaLive: It sounds like a lot of work.
Milan Kalawadia: I have the beauty of having a great team. People I’ve worked with for many years that I trust and I know will get the job done. I rely heavily on my team.
PharmaLive: How long have you been with Dr. Reddy’s and what type of different positions have you had during this time?
Milan Kalawadia: I’ve been with Dr. Reddy’s over 15 years now and in those 15 years I’ve had many roles. I started in the finance department, and spent about 2 years, focused on long-term planning. At that time, I reported to the North America CFO. I was focused on analytics and working with the Corporate Development teams, doing a lot of assessments and model building which gave me an opportunity when a position opened up to join our Corporate Development team.
After joining the corporate business development team, I worked on numerous transactions throughout the North America region which included both North America generics and the Promius division. All in all, I spent about four years in business development after which I joined the Private Label OTC division as the Head of Marketing. It was a path I was interested in pursuing as I had aspirations of getting into a formal operating role.
I spent approximately 3 years in the role of Head of Marketing before I was asked to step in and take over as head of both sales and marketing for the OTC Division.
In 2017, I added the additional responsibilities of leading the generic injectables group. Last summer we restructured the organization and as a result I took over the responsibilities for all of the marketing functions in addition to the other responsibilities referenced previously. Also, at this time, all the heads of sales across the three units were realigned directly to the CEO of North America.
Finally, for the first seven years at Dr. Reddy’s I was responsible for the North America Investor Relations activities.
PharmaLive: What do you find most rewarding in what you do?
Milan Kalawadia: Obviously, purpose and meaning has evolved over time. But where I am today, I think if you look at Dr. Reddy’s the company, Prasad and Satish, the founders, and management, everyone is focused on the concept of “good health can’t wait”. Which, if you dissect it down means to do everything you need to do as an organization to drive outcomes that will help the patient. It’s not only about the company continuing to drive sales and grow, it’s also what we do is for the greater good of society. And I think it’s important to have a purpose of such a nature. It’s something that I think attracts people to Dr. Reddy’s, it’s one of the aspects that I find rewarding, that the company has this purpose.
Prasad, Satish and the Management team really showed that in the past year with their desire to make sure we focused on all possible treatments and solution to aid in the global pandemic.
So that’s one aspect and the other thing that I find rewarding is the teams I’ve worked with over my 15 years here. We’ve got a terrific team and I take pride in the fact that I have the opportunity to work with them every day to deliver outcomes for the organization. They make every day enjoyable and a rewarding experience. Yes, we’re faced with challenges, but we always hit them head on and we work collaboratively with the rest of the organization to continue to drive outcomes.
PharmaLive: The next question pertains to the pandemic that you mentioned. What would be the biggest COVID-19 challenges you faced and what strategies did you develop to overcome them?
Milan Kalawadia: Look, I think the biggest thing was just the way of working initially. I mean it was a struggle and many of us thought the real impediment about getting the job done would be working from home, not engaging with other team members, not engaging with vendors, suppliers and more critically customers. But, I think what evolved over time was a new way of working.
Unfortunately, it’s been a ton of TEAMS meetings, video calls, conference calls. Probably the same thing you’ve heard from everyone else, nothing unique here. I think the bigger challenge was more keeping contact with the customer.
One of the key aspects that developed was that most parties had some sort of supply challenges, supply disruptions, and that was a big concern for our accounts as well. How are you going to continue to support our business and ensure continuity of our product supply? I don’t know if you call it a strategy, or just the way we should work regardless, but the fact is that every one of our teams, from sales down to marketing, every dialogue and discussion with our customers, was driven by transparent discussion and dialogue.
We kind of stayed pat, we didn’t change the way we operate. It was more of just managing the challenges and hiccups that developed in the first six to eight weeks. But, once we got into a rhythm and routine we were able to drive to a very successful outcome in my opinion.
For our fiscal 2021 we had pretty lofty sales targets, but even despite the challenges, which were most felt in our injectables hospital division, we were on budget and so given COVID and given how everything transpired globally, we had a phenomenal year.
PharmaLive: Have there been any changes in the way you interact with pharmacies over the past few years?
Milan Kalawadia: Our customer base has evolved and we all have the same group of players that we’re dealing with. You’re probably familiar with the fact that over the past 10 years the new concept of buying groups has emerged. Over the years, more and more of these groups have started to pop up so we’ve got a smaller subset of customers to work with as a result of this. We’re still talking with the same pharmacies, we’re still strategizing with the same pharmacies, but when it comes to the decision-making process we’re working with these buying groups.
So, we need to understand the unique needs of these new arrangements. It’s been an interesting dynamic and it’s made it ever so critical to drive your broader strategies of launching products on time. And, having sufficient supplies on day one to be able to address your market.
PharmaLive: How has Dr. Reddy’s focused on maintaining and improving the company’s relationship with customers?
Milan Kalawadia: The one thing that I’m proud of which I didn’t mention before is that we’ve got very strong relationships with all of our key accounts and that’s from having worked closely with them for a number of years. That’s the way we do business.
So, I did mention earlier that we continue to try and work towards being transparent with our customers. We meet with them on a regular basis although during the COVID world we couldn’t get face to face meetings, so we had numerous video calls. We’d share insights on our portfolio strategy, meaning our upcoming launch calendars and continued to build and forge those strong relationships. However, it ultimately comes down to three key aspects, quality of product, your ability to supply the product on time and being competitive with your price points on the product.
So, those will always continue to be the three pillars. However, I think the relationships that we’ve built over the years and the transparency that we continue to show our customers are two other key aspects of the strong relationships that we have with customers, and that I expect us to continue to build with our customers.
PharmaLive: Where do you see the challenges going forward for generic drug companies in general?
Milan Kalawadia: Building on a comment I made earlier it’s a very competitive marketplace. While we may feel that we’re doing something unique from a product selection standpoint, or that we have a unique capability, the reality is that if you look across the competitors that are out there, somebody is doing what we’re doing. I think one of the big challenges is you need to continue to be quick to the market with products. You’ve got to continue to innovate, select the right products to develop, and quickly come up with strategies where you can try and differentiate your products.
And, by the way, you also need to make sure that you are as cost competitive as possible because the market dynamics are quite competitive and change rapidly. If you are late to market, you’re going to struggle to get market share. And, if you’re not cost competitive, you will not succeed in a particular product and then hence the long-term viability of an asset may or may not exist. On top of that, we are going to continue to grow and build our portfolio to have a very robust offering to compete with the key players in the market. The top competitors will continue to have large portfolio offerings and will need to continue to ensure that we have that value-added offering.
PharmaLive: Is this the way that customers operate now?
Milan Kalawadia: That’s the norm now, best pricing, lowest pricing is a key and it’s going to have an impact on margin profiles, but at the same time it’s a generic industry. So, the key to success is increasing the number of new products we launch every year and to be first to market. That’s going to be a critical aspect and I’m sure all generic players are focused on improving their portfolio offerings year on year.
PharmaLive: Why was Dr. Reddy’s Direct formed and what do you hope to accomplish with that platform?
Milan Kalawadia: Yes, so Dr. Reddy’s Direct is a home-grown platform. The idea behind it is that we see society moving towards digitalizing and digital engagement across the board. What I mean by that is Amazon and others have changed the way we operate and so we had been ideating this concept of how we provide a service that would be beneficial to our customers and help us be more efficient and effective in how we do business with customers. The Dr. Reddy’s Direct platform was specifically ideated and developed to service the hospital segment of our business.
Currently we have 15 sales reps focused on the hospital channel. However, there are 6,000+ hospitals around the U.S. It’s near impossible to call on every hospital in the marketplace.
The idea behind Dr. Reddy’s Direct was we could put our products on a platform and make them available to the hospital community for direct purchasing, thereby allowing us to process them and ship direct to the specific hospital or distribution network in the hospital area. So, the platform went live earlier this year, actually in June, and we are now in the process of securing our first orders and starting to ship product out. The concept was to create a unique platform for our customers to be able to order and receive goods and help streamline some of the efforts involved in that.
About Milan Kalawadia
Milan Kalawadia has spent the past 15-plus years with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories. He is currently Senior Vice President, Head of US Commercial Operations. Before joining Dr. Reddy’s, Kalawadia was a Senior Financial Analyst at Merck. Kalawadia graduated from Rutgers University with a BS in Management Science and Information Systems and received an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. He can be reached at [email protected]