Zahabiya Khorakiwala has a matter-of-fact approach to both success and failure. Ups and downs are inseparable aspects of running a business, shrugs the 33-year-old managing director of the Rs 253-crore (as of FY2014) Wockhardt Hospitals.
She has learnt her calm from the best. Her father Habil Khorakiwala, chairman and group CEO of Wockhardt, showed grace under pressure during his group’s troubled years. Zahabiya had a ringside view to his approach, and has displayed a similar attitude over the last six years.
It certainly helps her confidence that ever since she assumed a larger role in 2010, Wockhardt has seen the launch of its largest hospital in South Mumbai as well as the introduction of several new departments like paediatric cardiology, mother and child care, and aesthetics and plastic surgery. Simply put, there have been more ups than downs.
“We are adding new products, new hospitals… I take a lot of business decisions for the group. Our motto is to focus on what we do well,” says Zahabiya, sitting in her corner cabin on the eighth floor of Wockhardt Hospitals’ headquarters in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex. Her space is somewhat barren, apart from a table adorned with the many awards Wockhardt has won over the years.
Even though her older brothers, Huzaifa and Murtuza, were already working with their father, for Zahabiya, who joined Wockhardt Hospitals as executive director in 2010 and was promoted to managing director later in the year, joining the family business was not a given. “Because there is no sense of entitlement. My family gave me the values needed to run the business, the ideals on which to build the business. But I learnt harder things— for instance, the cost of angioplasty, recruiting doctors, legal clauses, salary structures—on the ground. The first two years were less about [me giving] inputs and largely about me taking in as much as I could,” she says. During that time, she would travel almost 15 days a month. “It was critical to get a ground understanding. People should [also] accept me the way I am. It was about building trust mutually, understanding the nuances of the business.”
Vishal Bali, who had worked with Wockhardt for almost 19 years, till 2009, also talks about how Zahabiya learnt the ropes before deep-diving into the business. “She was associated with the group even before she became managing director. She learnt things over the years; it’s not that she became MD in one day. She did a lot of background work,” says Bali, who served as the CEO of Wockhardt Hospitals until ten of its hospital were acquired by Fortis in 2009.
As her confidence grew, Khorakiwala started bringing in several changes to the family business. Wockhardt, which is known as a cardiac specialist, entered aesthetics for the first time and, in 2011, started the Wockhardt Institute of Aesthetics in Goa to cater to the growing demand for aesthetic and reconstructive procedures among both men and women. It is also the first aesthetic surgery institute accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals (NABH).
“There, the emphasis on safety is very important. The backup that a superspecialty hospital can provide is not comparable to a clinic. Intervention risks are always there,” she says. The aesthetics section has a distinct look and feel, and the entrance is also kept separate from the superspecialty hospital.
Within cardiac care too, she has identified gaps that need to be plugged, and executed the changes required. For instance, the South Mumbai hospital, which was inaugurated in 2014, hosts the Wockhardt Heart Institute, a one-of-its-kind centre that treats complex heart problems in both adults and children. This is Wockhardt’s first step into paediatric cardiology. Critical care is another area of focus for her. The flagship hospital has the Wockhardt Critical Care Institute, which has 100 critical care beds and emergency and trauma care services.
“We are moving from tertiary care to quaternary care and are introducing superspecialties,” she says. Tertiary care typically requires highly specialised equipment and expertise, and follows procedures like, say, renal or coronary artery bypass surgery and neurosurgeries. Quaternary care, on the other hand, is an extension of tertiary care but is even more specialised and highly unusual. Experimental medicine and procedures and highly uncommon, specialised surgeries fall under that category. “Thirty-five percent of our business is from cardiac care. However, we are seeing that other specialties and products, are becoming equally important. We will do liver transplantations soon,” she says. Zahabiya has also laid special emphasis on technology. Take the South Mumbai-New Age facility, which uses concepts like IntelliSpace Critical Care and Anaesthesia (ICCA) under which readings from all the equipment in the hospital are integrated. This ensures that a doctor on her rounds has direct access to the reports, and frees up nurses for patient care.
Wockhardt has also introduced bar-coding to reduce medication error—the use of wrong drugs and dosages, erroneous timing of administration, the incorrect route of administration—which can wreak havoc on a patient’s health and is the most common mistake in health care across the world.
It is for no small reason, then, that Khorakiwala feels a sense of pride in the south Mumbai hospital. The 21-storeyed, 350-bed, state-of-the-art hospital is Wockhardt’s flagship. When she joined in 2010, the construction of the hospital was stalled for various reasons, including pending permissions. “Today, the hospital is at par with global hospitals,” she says. “It sets a benchmark for us.”
Currently, Wockhardt has hospitals in Goa (1), Nashik (1), Surat (1), Rajkot (1), Mumbai (3) and Nagpur (2). Zahabiya says the group would like to dominate the western part of the country, both in metros and tier-2 cities.
Even as she continues to expand and innovate, she is cognisant of the bumps she has faced along the way. In 2013, Wockhardt Hospitals had to shut down operations in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, a five-year-old facility. “The town has a five lakh population. We wanted to create a secondary care hospital that was not available there. We believed that Bhavnagar could funnel tertiary care flow to Rajkot. But the market dynamics were different. Secondary care is different; it needs a different kind of clinical engagement,” she says. “It was a very good learning experience. While we are good in tertiary care and understand that model well, we have realised that a hub-and-spoke model doesn’t work in our business.”
They are now facing some challenges with their cardiac centre in Surat, also in Gujarat. “Surat has very attractive demographics, but we are not able to get a business model that’s sustainable for us in the long term or could get us to think of investing more capital in it,” says Zahabiya, who is exploring all possible options before taking the hard call.
Difficult decisions are part of her weekdays, and Zahabiya looks at movies as the best way to unwind. In fact, she was quite a buff who would watch every film that was released. That, however, changed about a year ago when she became a mother. Her daughter Aaida is 10 months old and “my weekends are for her now”, she says. And that is as good a stressbuster as any.
Under her aegis, Wockhardt Hospitals launched its largest flagship hospital in south Mumbai and started the aesthetics wing in Goa. Khorakiwala is adding new medical interventions like paediatric cardiology, critical care, mother and baby care and will launch facilities to start even more sophisticated surgeries, including liver.
(This story appears in the 18 March, 2016 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)