I write on India's well-established entrepreneurs and corporate houses, covering a range of sectors. In a nutshell, I'm the Jack of all business news beats. In addition, I am the go-to reporter for aviation news at Forbes India.
In December 1992, music channel MTV aired a music video titled ‘Hitting It Harder’, sung by Ahmedabad-based rock band Hammersmith. It had taken the band 10 years to get such a big break, with guitarist Philipe Haydon, 31, spending Rs 2 lakh of his savings to get the music video produced. That was not the only high point for Hammersmith. “We had a recording contract with Sony,” says Haydon. “We were about to sign on the dotted line and that’s when my dad [stepfather Hoshang Firoze] said that I had to figure out what I wanted to do because it would be tough to have a job and be a working musician.” And Haydon did have a job: He was a senior sales executive with Bengaluru-based Himalaya Drug Company, and had been promoted to zonal manager (in charge of two big markets, Karnataka and Kerala) from his previous role as regional manager of Gujarat.
“I never wanted to be a pharmaceutical guy,” says Haydon, now the president and CEO of the company for which he quit his band. “Fortunately, I listened to my dad and chose Himalaya, and it has been good.” Starting out as the company’s youngest medical representative, he has spent 37 years with the company, becoming the youngest regional manager, zonal manager, sales manager, general manager and CEO. “I’m now gunning to be the oldest guy on campus and the oldest serving [employee],” laughs the 53-year-old.
Haydon, however, did manage to get his own way with music as well: He is the vocalist and guitarist of the well-known blues-rock band Ministry of Blues since it was formed in 2006, and claims to be on a sabbatical for the last four months; up until last year, he managed to do around three gigs (performed on weekends) a month. But his alter ego had largely remained a secret to the company’s 7,000 employees, with only six people aware of it. His chairman, Meraj Manal, 70, has given him close to half the 20-odd guitars he owns as birthday gifts. “I have always had a bit of a split personality—a musician and a very serious business person. I believe in taking my work seriously and not myself,” says Haydon. He dedicates his personal time to practise music, which involves “discipline” and “sacrifice”, but adds, “It’s the same with my job at Himalaya. We cannot dream of perfection unless we work hard for it.”
In December 1979, Haydon, who was then a science student at St Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, had got a job with Himalaya Drug Company as a medical representative, with some help from his stepfather, who was a senior manager in the company. The company’s then national sales head, who had trained his stepfather, would go on to train Haydon. He took up the job only to earn money and pursue his passion—playing the guitar.
At that time, Himalaya sold around 25 drugs in India; it’s most notable one being (and continuing to be) Liv.52, which was launched in 1955 for treating liver disorders. However, the company was better known for its other drug Serpina, believed to be the world’s first antihypertensive drug, launched in 1934, four years after the company was founded by Mohammed Manal, Meraj’s father.
A few months into his job, Haydon began to feel the pressure of being the representative of an ayurvedic drug maker that was trying to make its mark in the world of allopathic medicines. In early 1980, he went to meet a senior urologist at Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital, Ahmedabad, to promote Cystone, which helps dissolve kidney stones. The urologist had agreed to meet Haydon because he mistook him to be British.
“The doctor had one question for me: ‘If this product actually dissolves a stone, then why does it not dissolve the kidney?’” recalls Haydon. The question left Haydon tongue-tied and embarrassed as a group of “young foreign-educated doctors” burst out laughing at his plight. “I went home and told my dad that I wanted to quit.” But Haydon’s stepfather, who eventually retired from the company as general manager in 2000-01, said: “Ask the urologist what he prescribes to a patient with indigestion? He will, most definitely, say, ‘I give enzymes’. Tell him that enzymes aid in the digestion of food and not the stomach wall itself.” This answer, says Haydon, “left me armed with a new-found enthusiasm.” The next 27 years saw him steadily rise in rank within the company.
In 2002, the Himalaya Drug Company underwent a major rebranding exercise—it moved away from its yellow-brown packaging to a teal-and-orange colour scheme. The company’s logo changed from ‘HD’ to ‘Himalaya Since 1930’.
In 1999, the company had launched a brand called Ayurvedic Concepts to tap into the personal care market. However, consumers were not able to associate Himalaya with Ayurvedic Concepts. “The launch of Ayurvedic Concepts is what triggered the umbrella branding under which there would be many business verticals,” says Haydon. This decision gave the company a first-mover advantage in a sector that is fast gaining traction.
Today, the concept of ayurveda is present across different product categories, following a clear shift among consumers towards it. “These products typically command a premium over traditional FMCG products,” explains Garg of o3 Capital. “It’s a high-margin niche segment that is being created in almost every FMCG category.” Anil Talreja, partner, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, believes there is a positive perception about herbal products. “This is one reason why companies that manufacture or trade in these products are on a positive growth trajectory,” he says.
Gaurav Narang, co-founder of Medybiz Pharma, a specialty pharmaceutical distributor, says well-educated people are also willing to experiment with ayurveda. “However, it is for specific types of ailments,” he says. He adds that people mostly prefer allopathic medicines for quick relief or life-threatening ailments and estimates that for every 100 people taking allopathic medicines, 10 are moving towards ayurveda.
But despite its achievements, Himalaya faces several challenges. For one, allopathic doctors are still not comfortable with non-allopathic medicines. Dr M Udaya Kumar Maiya, medical director of home health care service provider Portea Medical, says, “Personally, my experience with Liv.52 is that I don’t know if it works. But, whenever a patient asks me if they can take it, I say go ahead. I know in the best of cases it does nothing, and in the worst of cases it does nothing.” Maiya, however, admits that most allopathic doctors are not conversant with ayurveda medicines. That said, today, more than 4 lakh doctors across India recommend or prescribe Himalaya Drug Company products, which are in fact not prescription-based, according to the company.
“Their greatest challenge now would be the emerging ayurvedic industry driven by Patanjali Ayurved of Baba Ramdev and other ashrams, including Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s group,” says Dr Ranjan R Pai, MD and CEO, Manipal Education and Medical Group.
Hayden believes the entry of new players would help grow the market, but says, “Our core differentiator is our focus on research.” The company has over 290 multidisciplinary research scientists working on product formulations, combining the traditional wisdom of ayurveda with modern scientific research. On an average, it takes the company three to four years to launch a personal care product.
Over the next three to four years, Himalaya plans to evolve into a multi-specialty company that targets the entire wellness spectrum, using ayurveda. Currently, the wellness market in India is estimated to be worth Rs 1 lakh crore, growing at 15 to 17 percent per annum; at least half of this market caters to personal care products. In recent months, Himalaya has expanded its personal care offerings with a new range of premium lip balms and moisturising creams. Haydon claims they have a robust pipeline of “more than 60” in the wellness category. “We are defining the wellness space through head-to-heel products that will touch every life stage of a consumer,” says Manal.
The company is also planning to expand its reach—offline and online. It has 169 exclusive Himalaya stores, which have grown by 20 percent in five years. After having launched its own ecommerce portal in 2008, Himalaya launched a mobile app in May this year. Already 25 percent of online sales are coming through the app. The company is working towards its ecommerce vertical clocking Rs 100 crore in sales by 2018.
For the musician-cum-C-suite executive, taking Himalaya Drug Company to the next level is an “obsession” now. He wants to be around when the company becomes a billion-dollar entity, which he is hopeful about in the next five years. On a more philosophical note, he says, “Music has taught me to be more empathetic and has given me the patience to manage different temperaments.”