A healthy dose of optimism
DouglasHamilton reveals howit all went so right for Glasgow-based entrepreneur Rabinder Buttar, whohasbuilt ClinTec International into aworldwide leader in clinical research
IN the late 1990s, when Rabinder Buttar was running ClinTec from her house while looking after her two young sons, she could hardly have imagined that it would eventually be a global leader in clinical research.
Today, the Glasgow-based business, nowknownasClinTec International, employs a global staff of around 270 people, provides specialist clinical consultancy in areas such as cancer, rheumatism, asthma and multiple sclerosis to pharmaceutical and biotech companies in 40 countries and is on track to report £20 million in sales this year.
Last month Elephant Capital, an AIM-listed private equity firm, announced that it was investing £8m to acquire an equity stake in the company.
Born in India and brought up in Glasgow, Buttar is the firm’s president and chief executive and one of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs. ShewasrecentlynamedDirector of the Year by the Institute of Directors in Scotland. She is also the recipient of a host of other awards including Scots Businesswoman of the Year for 2008 and was honoured as one of Britain’s top 100 Entrepreneurial Women. In June of this year, she was given the Ernst & Young Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year Award in a ceremony at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.
She is an honorary fellow of ICR UK, a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, a member of the Londonbased Institute of Directors and a graduate in management studies from Reading University.
She has more than 20 years’ clinical research experience, having held key positions at major pharmaceutical companies including Wellcome (now GSK), WyethandFujisawa(nowAstellas). She has also undertaken consulting assignments, supporting management in Novartis, Bayer and Takeda.
Buttar, who also holds degrees from Glasgow and Strathclyde universities, came to Scotland from the Punjab region of India when she was five years old. She moved to Germany after her university years and worked for a Japanese pharma- ceutical company in Munich, helping to bring important new drugs to market.
She later went to Dinslaken, a city of nearly 69,000 people near Dusseldorf, with her dentist husband. Located in the state of North RhineWestphalia. Dinslaken is best known for its medieval parish church, St Vincentius, which was rebuilt after the Second World War, and its wealthy neighbourhoods Hiesfeld and Obrighoven.
It was in the industrial powerhouse of westernGermanywheretheideaof ClintTec took root. Buttar, a petite womanwithamaneofebonyhairand aninfectious smile, wentintobusiness on her own, taking advantage of contacts she had made over the years with big pharmaceutical companies. She worked from home while raising a toddler and a new-born.
“I was really client-focused,” she said, explaining her early success.
She spent 14 years in Germany, not always in happy circumstances. Germans, she said, looked down on Asians, whom they considered to be on the same low level as Turks – the “guest workers” whodomenial jobs in German factories, clean the streets, drive taxis and collect the rubbish for local authorities.
“Germans told methey were afraid that their houses would be burned down (by extreme rightists) because Asians lived in the area,” said Buttar in a wide-ranging interview.
Thepeople of Dinslaken, she stated, wereastonished that an Asian woman like herself would earn enough money to own a BMW car. She also said the conservative German banking system threw up barriers that made business difficult. “It was a problem just changing a bank account from Dinslaken to Dusseldorf,” she stated.
Putting their time in Germany behind them, Buttar and her family returned to the UK, settling first in southern England and then moving back to Scotland.
Sheset upClinTec world headquarters in Glasgow, supported by a Regional Selective Assistance Grantof £1,343,000 from the Scottish Government. “Since we set up the Glasgow headquarters, ClinTec has gone from strength to strength,” Buttar stated.
ClinTec’s growth has been fuelled by the massive restructuring of larger pharmaceutical companies. As a result, these organisations are now outsourcing more of the costly research and development work to companies like ClinTec.
She said: “The pharmaceutical industry globally is currently looking for new ways to outsource its business, and our model of being able to provide flexible resourcing anywhere in the world really works for them.”
Buttar insisted that the secret of her success is simple. “It begins with really trying to understand the needs of our customers and providing a solution that they really want. Also, making sure we understand our industry and how it’s evolving, then shaping and growing my organisation to exactly fit with the industry.
“I’m always looking at new areas for growth and seizing the opportunity before other people have – an exampleofthisis going into the emerging markets of clinical research and becoming the world leader in the Middle East and North Africa.
There are opportunities out there for everyone but it’s a matter of how many people are entrepreneurial and actually seize the opportunity.”
Thecompanystarted off with a staff of just two people but grew steadily as new business was secured. ClinTec now employs 45 people in Glasgow, manyofthemgraduates from the local universities and other institutions of higher learning.
Buttar said she recruits the best people possible from universities and is looking to hire more people at a time when many companies are shedding staff amid tough economic conditions.
“I am absolutely proud of the Glasgow staff,” Buttar said.
“They are a very comitted team. Scottish people haveaspecial talent for getting on with the job and I am really proud of the people in the office.”
About 90% of the Glasgow-based staff are from Scotland while the rest hail from other parts of the UK and Europe. “This is a company that people want to work for,” Buttar said.
Asked what what the Scottish Government should be doing to help those in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, she replied: “There’s a lot of restructuring going on in the sector so training schemes need to be put in place where juniors can get positions within the industry. Someof these schemes could be sponsored by the Scottish Government because there are a lot of graduates without jobs. Manycompaniesarenot willing to take on people who are not experienced.”
ClinTec attends many trade fairs where it acts as an ambassador for Scottish business. “We heavily promote Scotland across the globe,” Buttar said with considerable pride – adding that Scots are popular in many parts of the world. “Americans just love kilts and whisky,” she declared with a laugh.
The company is also notable for placing women in regional mangerial positions, particularly in the Middle East and Africa – areas not always noted for high regard for women in business situations.
Buttar said she has no written-instone policy on hiring women for particular posts. “It just happened that way,” she said.
“Women like to work here because the company is run by a woman with children.”
In recent years, ClinTec has moved into emerging markets such as Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific region with a focus on India. As one of the first Western clinical research companies to set up in Bangalore around the turn of the decade, ClinTec heavily markets its subcontinental links to would-be client companies in the West.
“We have strong links with India,” said Buttar, who once went on a trade mission to the subcontinent with former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. A picture of Buttar and Darling in India adorns the wall of ClinTec’s boardroom in an office building in Glasgow’s Finnieston district, not far from the iconic Clydeport crane – a reminder of the days when Glasgow was a thriving shipping centre.
“I really encourage collaboration between Britain and India,” she stated, adding that “India should never be considered to be just a back office operation”.
Prime Minister David Cameron made a similar pitch during his recent trip to India with UKbusiness leaders. ClinTecalsohasofficesinDubai, Lebanon, and Egypt and recently set up in Singapore. It has a staff of two in New York to run its imporant North American acitivities and operates its Latin American business out of Mexico City.
Buttar said a lot of hard work is needed to set up a business; it’s not something you can doin six months or a year. Asked if a budding entrepreneur in Scotland needs any special qualities, Buttar paused for a moment, and said: “Sheer determination”.
ClinTec International chief executive Rabinder Buttar says that setting up headquarters in Glasgow has been key to the company’s growth