Dr. Sujata Dhanuka, Head of Operations, Lupin Diagnostics shares her journey of transformation from being a pathologist to becoming an agile industry leader working in the diagnostics industry. Sujata is an alumnus of the PGP Co 2010.
On her current work and profession
An MD in Pathology by qualification, a natural choice for me after ISB was to effectively apply the management skills and learnings in the multistakeholder business environment of the rapidly growing diagnostics industry. At Lupin, we are setting up a chain of pathology laboratories across various geographies in India. We are in a very exciting phase in this journey where we are building a service model that uses digitisation and technology to identify the need gaps and pain points of patients and doctors in diagnostics and deliver the best-in-class customer experience.
The diagnostics industry is a critical component of healthcare delivery and has emerged as an attractive segment in India’s growing healthcare sector. My medical knowledge of pathology and the business and management skills I acquired at ISB have helped me get a holistic understanding of this industry and contribute in a meaningful way to improve healthcare outcomes and make a positive impact on patients’ lives.
On the turning point in her career
The turning point in my career was my decision to enrol in the Post Graduate Programme at ISB. After my MD, I had a fulfilling career for eight years across various organisations, including a charitable hospital and later as one of the founding members of a startup diagnostic centre. However, after launching the laboratory there, I realised my medical education and years of clinical practice had not prepared me to find ways to scale up the operations of the laboratory or understand the nuances of business in this industry. It prompted me to take up formal management education.
ISB transformed me as a person and my career in an unimaginable way – from being a pathologist where my world was restricted to microscopes and patients were mere ‘samples’ to a confident medical and management professional ready to get out of my comfort zone and take up leadership positions in corporate healthcare organisations.
On taking up management education
Coming from a family of management professionals – my sister and brother-in-law are both Chartered Accountants and ISB alumni – I was always in awe of their perspectives on various real-life and business situations. Ironically, though the medical practice has everything to do with communication, empathy and service, there is negligible formal training on these aspects in medical schools. My family always encouraged me to take up formal management education not only for understanding finance and business but, more importantly, to experience a world outside the medical realm and to be able to work alongside talented professionals from other industries thereby enriching my professional and personal life in the process.
In 2008, when I was preparing to apply for admission to the PGP at ISB, medical professionals enrolling for an MBA programme was practically unheard of. With the help of my sister and through ISB, I was able to connect with a few alumni who were medical professionals and understood their take on why doctors needed an MBA education. Each of their stories was so inspiring that I finally decided to take the plunge.
On opportunities post PGP
When I graduated from ISB in 2010, there were only a handful of corporate hospital chains or diagnostic lab chains. Many of these were headed by medical professionals who donned both the hats – that of a medical practitioner as well as an administrator. In trying to strike a balance between the two, it was the ‘administration’ that often took a hit. There was a dearth of doctors with a formal management education. To add to it, the healthcare industry being a service industry and the medical profession being a ‘noble profession’, many doctors were averse to the idea of associating medicine with ’business’.
The diagnostics industry in India, while largely fragmented, saw some consolidation and newer lab chains started emerging. Armed with my ISB education and learnings, I found myself perfectly positioned to take on leadership roles in corporate lab chains. I have had the opportunity to work in operations and marketing roles in some of these, in India and Sri Lanka, effectively using the knowledge acquired at ISB to successfully deliver projects such as cost optimisation and EBITDA growth, technological advancement, and clinical education.
How learnings from ISB have helped her design Covid responses
When the pandemic struck in 2020, laboratories suddenly found themselves at the centre of patient and disease outcomes. As one of the members of the Covid task force team of the hospital, I was required to set up molecular diagnostic testing (PCR testing) services, rapidly scale up operations during the peaks, manage inventory and supplies, and most importantly ensuring the emotional wellbeing of employees who were tirelessly working to churn out results in the fastest possible time while maintaining quality. All this needed to be done with superhuman agility!
My ISB education helped me apply the learnings of crisis management, staying focussed amid adversity, strengthening the communication with employees and leaders, and changing our course of action based on the need of the hour. The lessons from the Operations Management course helped me take the correct investment decisions for scaling up the lab testing capability during the Covid surge.