When I last met HR Srinivasan, the founder and vice-chairman of TAKE Solutions, the company was the leading provider of supply chain management solutions for the international market and was getting into life sciences. That was in 2011, and TAKE Solutions, which was set up in 2001, had won many awards under various categories of excellence in 2010. Srinivasan had also received the Tamil Nadu Emerging Entrepreneurs Award that year. In fact, honours had been coming regularly to TAKE Solutions and its promoter Srinivasan for several years.
Today, TAKE Solutions has emerged as a major player in life sciences—it wants to put the logistics business on the block and work towards building half-a-billion dollar life sciences company by 2021. How did this transformation happen?
Srinivasan, who lives in the US and commutes constantly, suggests a Sunday morning breakfast meeting. We decide on Sangeetha Restaurant, a unit of a popular vegetarian chain in Chennai. It is a great place to binge on carbs. We meet at 8:00 in the morning, a time that suits a lot of Chennai-based businessmen. We start with hot idlis, three different types of chutney and sambar. The idlis are accompanied by freshly made medu vada and the mandatory filter coffee.
“We began as a software products company focused on the supply chain, making products that generic ERP software could not match. In 2004, our CEO Ram Yeleswarapu sensed an opportunity in life sciences. After the 2008 global crisis, one of our clients, a pharmaceutical major, asked us to make regulatory submissions on its behalf. We realised it was recession-proof business. By 2010, we recognised the kind of value this business was bringing. We are now big in life sciences and do core clinical research, among other things.” TAKE Solutions is the only company in India that has successfully entered this highly technical niche. “Even in Europe, there are not many working on this business.”
TAKE Solutions’ life sciences brand is called Navitas Life Sciences—it provides end-to-end services across the various stages of the drug development life cycle, starting right from clinical trials to filing regulatory submissions. “It is a convergence of R&D and the market. We have helped bring over 330 drugs to the market,” says Srinivasan. The company works on biosimilars, which are biologic drugs made using living cells that treat diseases, usually by genetically modifying cells. “Biosimilars are similar to, but not an exact copy of, a biologic drug. Biosimilars are to biologics what generics drugs are to innovator drugs,” explains Srinivasan. “We are working on 20 molecules and very few companies do these kind of numbers.”
It all began when the research director of one of the companies, which TAKE Solutions was working with, asked them to make a regulatory submission for them. “That was our first services engagement. We did a very good job for our customer, who is a big name in the industry. Incidentally, we now do close to 50% of that company’s regulatory submissions across 40 countries. This company ignited a spark in us, which led us to make mid-course corrections to move up the value chain. We have progressed from work in the regulatory arena to clinical area to safety. When a sponsor company wants to launch a drug, we do all the regulatory submissions, work on clinical trials and bring the drug to the market.” The company has dedicated life science professionals operating in North America, Europe, Asia and South America. “We have worked with nine of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies.”
The friendly staff tells us that rava dosas are now available. We yield to temptation and order both rava dosas which are thin and crisp and ghee-soaked pongal filled with cashew nuts. “We have made more than 100,000 regulatory submissions. Our audience is research directors. We have put together a team that has a proven track record. We have doctors, PhDs and biostatisticians working for us. They consist 22% of our staff. A large part of the global pharma biotech market is in the US, Europe and Japan, and 97% of TAKE Solutions’ revenue comes from the US and Europe, mostly the US. We are not yet present in Japan. We have grown very well in our existing markets. One day we have to enter Japan. Japan will remain an ambition till we find the right partner.”
We ask for more filter coffee, which is served in the traditional way, in small steel tumblers. I ask Srinivasan about his involvement in sports. He is passionate about golf and has worked on bringing more visibility to sports. “I accepted the challenge of running the Indian segment of the annual World Corporate Golf Challenge that involves over 40 Commonwealth countries. We have managed to bring a lot of youngsters who were unknown to the international arena. One of our boys represented India at the Olympics.” He also has a cricket team, Dindigul Dragons, playing in the highly successful Tamil Nadu Premier League matches. “My colleagues are super-excited about cricket. The skills of young players, the way the matches are conducted are all of high quality. It is a lot of fun and here too I believe in creating opportunities for the unknown young sports persons.”
As we trek back towards our cars (the restaurant hardly has any parking space), I ask him about his logistics business. “Margins in this area are about or below 10%. In life sciences, margins are much higher and this is where we want to invest our capital. Our compounded quarterly growth rate for life sciences has been 9% in the last 14-16 quarters. Our turnover was Rs 1,000 crore last year and we will end FY17 with Rs 1,350 crore. We are a highly innovative unit, front-ending work in the US, which is why I live there. My role now is to update teams constantly to make them move higher up the value chain. The activity is dynamic. We are no longer a small outsourcing shop.”