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.