Arjun Handa, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Claris Lifesciences Limited, is aptly described by the adage, “visionary builds what dreamers imagined.”
For Arjun, leadership is a family trait. Being a second-generation entrepreneur, he believes “I have had a greater responsibility to grow upon the basic infrastructure set up by my father. Personally, I am not as motivated by scale as I am motivated by niche. As an entrepreneur, it motivates me to identify what is missing in the market compared to what is already there.”
Arjun wasted no time in meeting his family’s entrepreneurial expectations. After graduating from Gujarat University with a degree in Accounting in 1999, he set up an IT firm that was swiftly successful; he continued to run it when he moved to Boston to complete his MBA at Northeastern University. When he returned to India in 2004, his father suggested the firm should become the IT arm of Claris. Being a true-blue, techno-savvy individual, he merged the two companies and implanted a strong backbone of Claris’ IT.
On joining Claris, Arjun spent time in product development, and in learning what was driving the company’s growth before rising to a leadership position in manufacturing, where he spent four evolving years. Head of Operations from January 2006, he became Chief Operating Officer in January 2008. In September 2008, at a young age of about 29, he adorned the hat of Chief Executive Officer (CEO), which speaks volumes about his proficiency.
In the meantime, an investment of $20 million for a 14% stake in Claris from Carlyle Group helped to fuel a major global expansion; by 2009, Claris had a presence in 76 countries and had achieved a compound annual growth rate of 40% over 5 years. Wary of his lack of experience in salient functions of Finance, Sales and HR, Arjun chose to spend a year familiarising himself with those 3 functions while easing into the position. This meticulous transition accentuated his diligence and pragmatism; when it was the time to fully lead the charge, he knew the company inside out.
From his earliest days in the Claris, Arjun prompted to take the company’s biggest product, a generic version of propofol, into the USA. His father was a bit apprehensive, anticipating too many challenges as the product was patented there. “But I told myself, one day I’m going to do this,” he says. True to his word, Claris filed the product in the USA, settled the patent litigation around it, and he hopes to receive an approval soon.
Arjun has also proved his mettle in more trying circumstances, when in 2010 the company was the subject of an FDA import alert. “We had to work towards a resurrection,” he says. He changed architecture of quality systems and culture. In 2012, Claris had a successful FDA audit, and was allowed again into the USA. Currently, there are more than 35 ANDAs approved in the USA and many more are in the pipeline; and he considers this whole turnaround as a great personal achievement.
With Arjun’s foresighted direction, Claris went public in 2010. This listing at Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) brought with it greater responsibility and tougher external scrutiny, but also put Claris on a higher pedestal. Throughout the journey, he made sure that the growth of the company does not get hampered in bringing about a professional management approach. His underlying mantra behind Claris’ success story is “dream big and work hard”. Upon looking back at the history of the company, it can be testified that Claris fluently transitioned from a family-run-and-owned company to a professionally-run company to a listed company.
While the growth of the Indian pharmaceutical market had been huge over the last few years, Claris’ injectables business remained mostly export oriented. With his pilotage, Claris’ infusions business was transferred in 2013 to a Joint Venture with Japanese majors Otsuka and Mitsui.
Being an avid soccer fan, Arjun has played at school level in the Subroto Cup – inter-school football tournament in India, and later for Ahmedabad district of Gujarat, India. In his own confession, he disclosed that he imbibed many qualities through this sport such as team work, endurance, discipline, and various psychological and strategic traits. Currently, he serves as the President of Ahmedabad District Football Association (ADFA). He incessantly seeks opportunities to promote the sport, and strives actively towards tapping them.
Arjun believes in taking the less trodden path of creating ‘niche’, along with learning new things, going ahead positively, and taking people along. Holding true his thought ‘people are everything’, he has built a cohesive culture among his ‘members’ – what he calls his employees – and has played a pivotal role in Claris witnessing a significant revolution in terms of culture and people policies and practices. This inherence of cultural values and focus on people policies and practices has helped Claris achieve recognition as one of ‘India’s Best Companies to Work for’ and one of the best companies in ‘Healthcare’ industry, for 6 years on the trot, by The Economic Times and Great Place to Work® Institute, India.
Claris’ road to success has been long and arduous, but truly satisfying and fulfilling. Arjun staunchly believes in the motto that has been his mantra through the years: “The world changes view, if you change yourself. The world is changing and accordingly you must evidently change yourself, shedding the baggage of past. The Parivartan (change) should be responded with the right Niyat (intention), Parishram (hard work), and Chaturai (smartness), taking blessings from the Almighty and people around you through Prarthana (prayer).”
Arjun’s adroit knowledge of the industry and in-depth knowledge of the market, coupled with his go-getter attitude, have been instrumental in catapulting Claris to garner accolades worldwide. With plans to solidify the company’s position in the Regulated Markets such as the USA, Arjun is well on the way to securing his goal for Claris – for it to be ‘one of the most admired companies in the injectables segment.’