Tak­ing Charge

Metropolis Health­care MD, Ameera Shah on her plans to trans­form the frag­mented di­ag­nos­tic sec­tor in In­dia.


When I was nine or ten- years- old I would get dressed up in my nicest clothes and go to work at my dad’s lab. I’d stand at the re­cep­tion, write re­ceipts, ap­ply ban­dages and track sam­ples,” says Ameera Shah, 33, smil­ing fondly at the mem­ory. It’s no sur­prise then that 23 years later, she is to­day the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Metropolis Health­care and has come a long way from her fa­ther’s one- lab ven­ture in Gamdevi, Mum­bai. To­day, un­der her lead­er­ship, there are over a hun­dred Metropolis path- labs across the coun­try which pro­vide over 4,500 tests. Over the years the firm has gone from a Rs 8 crore prac­tice to a global en­tity that has a turnover of Rs 350 crore and a pres­ence in a to­tal of five coun­tries in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing mar­kets like Kenya and South Africa.

Shah says her par­ents have al­ways been her role mod­els. “My dad has al­ways driven home one point— whether you want to be a bar­ber or a ja­madar or what­ever it is you want to do, you bet­ter be the best at it. And my mom’s fo­cus was al­ways that I should be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent,” she says. Shah says as a re­sult she grew up to be­come head­strong and fo­cused be­cause she saw her par­ents “live their mes­sages”. In busi­ness, her fa­ther in­spired her to take

risks. “De­spite be­ing a doc­tor he was will­ing to take a risk and start a busi­ness. That is why to­day if you com­pare him to his col­leagues who are five years older or younger to him, he’s in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent place.” Her abil­ity to ig­nore the easy way out and in­stead take the longer, and per­haps, more dif­fi­cult route comes sim­ply from hav­ing an ap­petite for risk. Some­thing her fa­ther demon­strated all those years ago.

Af­ter she grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Austin in 2001, Shah took up a job with Gold­man Sachs and then worked at a cou­ple of start- ups, but she ad­mits she “al­ways wanted to be the big fish in a small pond”. So the closet pa­triot re­turned to In­dia and her fa­ther’s busi­ness. Am­bi­tious, fo­cussed and dis­ci­plined Shah ap­pears noth­ing like the pro­to­type of the typ­i­cal In­dian heiress who has in­her­ited daddy’s busi­ness. “In my case, it wasn’t about me tak­ing over the fam­ily busi­ness, be­cause it wasn’t a busi­ness when I came back to In­dia, it was sim­ply a doc­tor’s prac­tice,” she ex­plains.

While all her friends and col­leagues went on to pur­sue well- pay­ing jobs, Shah started with a salary of Rs 15,000 a month and turned Metropolis into a busi­ness from a sole pro­pri­etor­ship. She in­tro­duced ele­ments as ba­sic as the In­ter­net and an HR team be­fore forg­ing part­ner­ships and ex­pan­sion plans. “In 2003, we de­cided that we’ve got to grow. We iden­ti­fied a pathol­ogy lab­o­ra­tory in Chen­nai and we bought 50 per cent share­hold­ing us­ing our in­ter­nal ac­cru­als into this lab,” Shah says. Fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar busi­ness model, over the years Shah ac­quired sev­eral labs across In­dia and sub­se­quently in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

In keep­ing with chang­ing times and pri­or­i­ties, Shah has trans­formed Metropolis from be­ing a tra­di­tional pathol­ogy lab­o­ra­tory to be­com­ing a path- lab- com­pany and fi­nally to a path- lab- com­pany that pro­vides what doc­tors, pa­tients, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies need in to­day’s en­vi­ron­ment. Along the way, she grew to un­der­stand the many is­sues that plague the health­care sec­tor in the In­dia.

“A pa­tient walks in to a lab and as­sumes that some­one is check­ing what the per­son is do­ing at the back­end but that’s a com­plete fal­lacy be­cause no­body’s check­ing,” she says, ex­plain­ing, “If you go and give a urine sam­ple and they take it and pour it down the sink, the only per­son who will know this will be god and the owner of that lab. Sadly that’s the sit­u­a­tion of path- labs in In­dia to­day.”

Not sur­pris­ingly be­sides run­ning her di­ag­nos­tic em­pire, Shah is cru­sad­ing to bring about reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards within the in­dus­try. As the chair­man of the Di­ag­nos­tics Com­mit­tee in FICCI, she is work­ing to­wards new ad­vance­ments and cre­at­ing qual­ity aware­ness in In­dia.

“I’m com­mit­ted to fig­ur­ing out a

way in which we can take di­ag­nos­tics from an ur­ban set­ting to ru­ral ar­eas,” she says. In In­dia, the health­care in­dus­try is grow­ing at a rapid pace. A re­cent re­port by KPMG states that the med­i­cal de­vice con­sumer base is con­sti­tuted by ap­prox­i­mately 90 mil­lion peo­ple ( mid­dle class and elite classes). This seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to grow by 17 per cent an­nu­ally in the next seven years, and will ex­ceed 268 mil­lion by 2015. Un­for­tu­nately, while the di­ag­nos­tics busi­ness surges ahead with the pa­tron­age of the up­per and mid­dle classes, ru­ral In­dia still strug­gles with prob­lems of high ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity, in­ef­fi­cient health­care cen­tres and cor­rup­tion. Shah ex­plains, “We’ve tried to take di­ag­nos­tics to the masses through or­gan­is­ing mo­bile phle­botomists. The cost can be sub­sidised but it can’t be free be­cause pro­vid­ing ser­vices in ru­ral In­dia is very ex­pen­sive.” She adds, “This is re­ally the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the govern­ment but they don’t do it. Pri­vate play­ers try but it’s ex­tremely ex­pen­sive and you don’t make even a quar­ter of the money you’d make in ur­ban In­dia.”

Be­ing a young woman work­ing in a field that’s not par­tic­u­larly glamorous must be hard work and pose sev­eral chal­lenges. “Yes, I think sex­ism ex­ists in In­dia and is a re­al­ity,” she as­serts. She re­calls an in­ci­dent where she was in­tro­duced be­fore a speech at a FICCI con­fer­ence not as “Ameera Shah, MD and pro­moter of Metropolis Health­care”, but as “some­body very young, very spe­cial, a very beau­ti­ful young lady, Ameera Shah” fol­lowed by her des­ig­na­tion as an af­ter­thought. She says she tack­les th­ese prob­lems by adapt­ing to sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple and cir­cum­stances. “I can crack the whip pretty hard when I need to. I can also be soft when I need to. I can be per­sua­sive and I can be a bully. And this abil­ity is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates a good leader from a bad one.” she says.

I can crack the whip pretty hard when I need to. I can also be soft when I need to. I can be per­sua­sive and I can be a bully. And this abil­ity is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates a good leader from a bad one.”

As Metropolis con­tin­ues to grow, Shah says she is en­joy­ing the chal­lenges of set­ting up shop in emerg­ing mar­kets like Africa. “There’s noth­ing there. We’d be the first chain of branded labs that are stan­dard­ised. It’s new, it’s dif­fer­ent, you don’t know the way and the thrill lies in fig­ur­ing it all out,” says Shah.

When she’s not work­ing Shah says she has lots to keep her busy. A trained Kathak dancer, she has re­cently re­sumed dance classes and re­veals she is all set to head off for a week­end trek soon. “I’m just try­ing to find the right bal­ance be­tween spend­ing enough time nur­tur­ing close re­la­tion­ships and run­ning a great busi­ness,” she says.

Shah has taken Metropolis Health­care from a pro­pri­etor­ship to a multi- crore busi­ness.

Ameera Shah

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