Ameera Shah is the managing director and promoter of Metropolis Healthcare Ltd., which is a chain of pathology labs boasting of a loyal customer base in India, South Africa, and Africa. Currently, the company enjoys a ranking among the top 1% of pathology labs worldwide for its excellent systems and quality protocols. Under her leadership, the company has also had a successful listing at the stock exchanges in April 2019, with a 9% premium, despite the challenges in the market.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ameera Shah also took Metropolis Healthcare into the frontlines of testing in India. She also collaborated with the Indian government, “advising and engaging,” with them as they formulated a response plan to the pandemic. Today, the company has established five COVID-19 labs across India, which are all audited and approved, and which also test thousands of people every day.
For over 20 years, Ameera Shah “has focused on delivering sustained growth, built, and led corporate functions, including finance, strategy, business process optimization, innovation, investor relations,” among others. Thanks to her guidance, Metropolis has also “raised the bar of diagnostic accuracy, technological equipment, customer experience, and research-driven, empathetic service.”
In recognition of her work, Fortune India has named Ameera Shah among the “Fifty Most Powerful Women in Business” for three years in a row, from 2017 to 2019. Business Today also put her in their ‘Fifty Most Powerful Women in Business” list in 2018 and 2019.
Check out more interviews with medical industry executives here.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Ameera Shah: In the year 1981, my father, a renowned pathologist in Mumbai set up Dr. Sushil Shah’s path lab in Gamdevi, Mumbai. The lab was well known in South Bombay and other parts of the city for its quality services, customer orientation, and its specialized test menu. It was a single lab operating as a doctor’s practice with a small team of over 30–35 people (technical team for sample collection and conducting tests). Growing up with doctor-parents and seeing them always walking the extra mile for patients meant that from early on I was constantly aware of the impact that they were having on people’s lives. So, the idea of wanting to make a positive difference was imbibed from early on.
Return to India: Driven by a sense of patriotism, purpose and the desire to build something meaningful.
In 2001, after completing a business degree in finance from the university of Texas, I had the choice of either pursuing a corporate career in the United states or to return to India to build my father’s pathology lab in to a sustainable business. Personally, I have been hugely inspired by Muhammed Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner who changed the lives of thousands of people through his idea of Grameen Bank. In my own way, I wanted to do something for my country and thus started my journey with Metropolis in the year 2001. It was a sense of patriotism that brought me back to the country and the sense of purpose in healthcare where there is a huge opportunity to positively impact the lives of people.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Ameera Shah: In India, navigating the complex intricacies of the healthcare industry that is still rooted in the traditional way of functioning posed several challenges. In addition, being a young women entrepreneur with no medical background added to the complexities. Access to capital had been a challenge as investors would ask ‘’but how long would you run the company, what about when you get married.?” In India, it was difficult for investors to fathom that a woman may continue to run her businesses in the same way irrespective of whether she got married or had babies. Of course, as we built scale and demonstrated growth, we had marquee private equity investors (ICICI India Venture Fund, Warburg Pincus, Carlyle) investing in our growth story and making 3–4x return on their capital.
While there have been a lot of ups and downs in my journey of building Metropolis, there has never been a question of giving up. From very early on, I have always been comfortable stepping out of my comfort zone, pushing my own boundaries, taking risks, and executing these risks with caution. These personality traits kind of helped me through the difficult and challenging phases of building Metropolis.
My early days were like building a start-up: corporatizing the lab by bringing in people, systems, and protocols. My earliest experience also includes building partnerships with good quality pathology labs across the country. This meant, as a young businesswoman in my early twenties with no medical background, I was sitting across the table with doctor-pathologists to discuss acquisitions. One day, I was the customer facing executive and the next day I was out on the field to study a new market for expansion. Within 3–4 years of my entry, we had all the basics in place, completed a few acquisitions and Metropolis was ready for the next leap of expansion.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Ameera Shah: When I was about 11–12 years old, I used to go to my dad’s lab during the summer holidays (Dr Sushil Shah’s path lab at Gamdevi, Mumbai). I used to be at the lab from eight in the morning to eight in the evening. One of my jobs during that time apart from manning the phone or drawing up customer receipts was to give a lab tour to the guests. At that time, we had a room called the serum collection room. Serum, as we know is a part of blood and is used for certain tests. At that time, these medical words confused me and at one point during a lab tour referred to it as the semen collection room, much to the amusement of everyone in the room.
At 20, when I returned to India to build the business, one thing was clear. If I was going to be in the healthcare space, I needed to understand the medical terminologies, take time to understand laboratory concepts so that it is easier to deal with people around you and also earn their respect.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
Being aware that the organization is a reflection of its leader:
A company and its people quickly imbibe the values of its leader and therefore it is important to know that you are being watched every step of the way. Therefore, as a leader one needs to be aware of their own personality reflecting on the brand. A bold leader inspires their team to be bold, an honest leader inspires their team to be honest. Great companies are made by great leaders.
As a leader, I have been always conscious of the effect that my leadership, conduct and decisions have on my team. Our brand ethos is built on empathy, integrity, and transparency and this has been possible because from day one I have been clear on how we need the company to be run.
Knowing how to deal with failures:
Often, we are not motivated to take risks because we are too scared of failures and outcomes of a decision that we make. In a great company, there is a lot of trust and open communication at the table so that teams are comfortable with the risks that they take and know how to handle failures.
I have always been bold in my decisions and have taken my fair share of risks while building Metropolis; be it entering markets like Africa, the 22 acquisitions that we have completed in the last 15 years, going public in uncertain market conditions when even the most reputed companies put their listing plans on hold. These risks have been calculated and executed with a lot of caution taking in to considering the worst possible outcome and having a plan to navigate those outcomes. I have learnt to deal with successes and failures and as a leader, have been able to replicate these qualities in my core team.
The best leaders are constant learners
To stay relevant, effective and to adapt to changing times, it is important for leaders to never stop the pursuit of learning. If we are not learning, then we are not keeping up. I have chosen to be on board of other reputed companies (Marico Kaya, Shoppers Stop, Torrent Pharmaceuticals) and get exposure on how companies are governed and implement these learnings in my own company. I also pursued the Harvard Owner President Program to evolve my thinking and my association with YPO since 2013 has helped me bring many new perspectives to the table. Idea of constantly learning and getting exposed to new thoughts and ideas, new ways of doing things is the only way to be a step ahead from the rest.
Transparency at its core
Great organizations are built on good governance and a strong ethical framework. Transparency is a way of functioning at such organizations. Businesses that have integrity at its core will always stay true to all its stakeholders and earn their trust and respect.
Metropolis had a stellar listing in April 2019 and Today, Metropolis is valued at 1.25 billion dollars, up from a valuation of a half a billion dollar at the time of the IPO in April 2019. domestic investors by posting industry leading performance every quarter since listing. Our focused efforts in enhancing operating parameters backed by best in class disclosures and good governance practices have been recognized by capital markets which has resulted in the stock delivering over 100% returns since IPO in April 2019.
Great company is made by great teams
People make a company great. An organization that constantly invests in the well-being of its employees, truly taking care of their needs and making the workplace a stimulating environment and giving a sense of purpose and fulfilment through their work is very important. Today, Metropolis is a 4500-member strong and happy family. The true test for all of us at Metropolis was when the pandemic hit, and our teams had to work from the frontlines putting their own lives and that of their families at work. It is of utmost pride to me that our teams really put their best foot forward with a strong sense of purpose to alleviate patient fear and anxiety. Our brand purpose has truly shone in this pandemic more than ever.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Ameera Shah: Purpose driven businesses stay relevant even as times change. In times of crisis, the single most binding thing is a common purpose, and not a balance sheet or the business product. Especially in healthcare, an industry where the scale is much lower but emotional investment and the sheer number of hours that one puts in is higher compared to other industries.
In healthcare, the ability and desire to want to take care of other people is important. We have also witnessed that when a lot of people in an institution come together and are aligned with a unique purpose, they can together achieve great things because decision making is far more balanced. It is not just about risk taking to create good financial outcome, but decisions are based on creating value for all stakeholders.
Our egos are diluted in comparison to the common greater purpose and this is very important because ego is known to break and crash the largest of institutions.
Therefore, having a business purpose can truly propel a company forward where purpose driven employees become brand ambassadors, there is increased customer loyalty and research also suggests that purpose fuels financial growth too.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Ameera Shah: Every brand makes a promise to the customer; be it giving a reliable diagnostic report that will decide the treatment outcomes for a patient or something as simple as a box of crayons. Knowing what your customer needs, offering a seamless experience, reassuring your customer that you are always available for any resolution is very important to earn life-long customers. Brand loyalty is not a single visit or a sale but a set of positive experiences and making the customer feel important, cared for and respected and this can be earned only by giving the absolute best experience. Therefore, empathy is a critical quality that every customer facing organization, product and business need to have ingrained in their operations deeply.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Ameera Shah: There are multiple aspects to becoming a respected, loved and a trusted brand. First and foremost is delivering on your brand promise every single day and being empathetic to your customer’s needs. For example: if one of our patients need an urgent report for their health needs, no matter how challenging the circumstance is, we will figure out a way to do it for the customer. Trusted and loved brands go out of their way and that is what makes them truly stand apart. When you keep doing this day in and out, you become a place that people go to, your customers love you, they recommend you to their family and friends etc. It may be easy to become a trusted brand but to keep that trust and not losing the sense of your purpose as you grow and attain scale is very important.
During the last six months in this pandemic, a lot of customers reached out to me personally out of sheer anxiety of not getting report in a time they anticipated, concern around their report or unable to get a visit because of surge and demand in tests. These complaints may seem miniscule when you look at the myriad challenges that a company may be facing during a difficult time, but for the customer, these complaints were very important because it was the health of their loved ones at stake. Immediately responding to these queries, listening to their problems, and solving these problems truly made Metropolis stand out as a brand that cares even during the most challenging circumstances.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
The post Meet Ameera Shah, Managing Director of Metropolis Healthcare appeared first on tekrati.