Shilpa Jain: Why is being financially independent important to you?

Neelambaree Prasad: Being financially independent means to have the ability to make a living and sustain oneself as well as those dependent on you. So, it is equally important for men and women. Everyone’s reason is different and frankly, the same person can have a different reason at different points in life i.e. sense of self-worth, contributing to family income, mere happiness. This has been the case with me. 

SJ: What are the various career options available for someone who wants to pursue pharmacy?

NP: An undergraduate or bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy gives a good basic training to choose options / sub-fields to specialize in and study further. I could do a whole other session on this but broadly – Medicinal / Physical / Organic Chemistry and Pharmaceutics would take you closer to the R&D labs and manufacturing plants that develop and make drugs commercially; whereas, Physiology / Pharmacology (study of what the drug does to the body and how the body responds to the drug)/Microbiology and some others would take you closer to research in cell or tissue based models or animal models. Then there are several options in the clinical trial world with Biostatistics, Clinical trial management, etc. In addition, there are completely different subfields such as Intellectual Property, Business Development and Sales and Marketing when talking of the commercial aspects. 

SJ: Can you explain to our young women what does your work profile entail at Piramal, UK?  Is this same profile available at Indian pharmaceutical companies?

NP: My work entails business development and post-M&A integrations. Both of these are geography agnostic especially in today’s global and virtual environment. The pharmaceutical industry has one of the highest number of mergers and acquisitions every year, so the opportunities are plenty. 

SJ: Is it difficult to find talent in the pharmaceutical industry?  And is there a healthy diversity ratio in the industry?

NP: It is such a vast sector that it is hard to give one answer to this question. For certain skills, it can be difficult but generally, it is not too difficult. Also, don’t forget that for manufacturing plants, chemical engineers are widely recruited and for sales and marketing for instance, people with MBAs easily get in. As for the gender ratio, at entry level, especially in India, it isn’t bad but as you go higher and finally at the top, it is predominantly men.  


SJ: Which are the high paying jobs in the pharma industry?

NP: Beyond Sales and Marketing which is open to all MBAs and these folks may or may not have a basic pharmacy degree, Regulatory Affairs as a specialised field in pharmaceuticals, is quite well paying. Generally, at entry levels, especially in India, the salaries are not great. They become better and more comparable to, for instance, the IT sector after having spent 5-10 years. 

SJ: What are some of the challenges you faced in the path to your professional growth & success?

NP: I have been fortunate to have had good mentors thus far. Without them, I would have been lost. 

I am quite direct in my communication and have had to learn how not to lose that and at the same time, not be misunderstood for that style or be mistaken to be arrogant, especially in the Indian context. 

SJ: Would you like to share a message for the members of Aspire For Her? 

NP: I would say two things to the mentees – 1)  be inquisitive and push yourself to ask a lot of questions about everything and everywhere, including asking yourself hard questions. That’s the best way to learn. 2)  please make use of all the mentors you have at AFH. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or ideas you want to bounce off. Do not wait for events to be scheduled. 

Message for AFH – I consider myself fortunate to be a part of this community. A much needed effort to build the stepping stones for young women and for us to share whatever little bit we have learnt.

SJ: Is there space for individual innovation and creativity in the industry or is the day to day business more operational in nature?

NP: Yes, of course there is space for innovation. In fact, the pharma world survives and thrives on innovation. Creativity is another matter and while one can be creative in the way one does things and interacts with people, it also needs to be kept in mind that the pharmaceutical industry is highly data and science driven. 

Question: One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with 

Answer: Barack Obama 

 Question: A book on your career field that you would recommend to or readers

Answer: Most of the books are highly technical so I would recommend general reading for life sciences and data-driven decisions that are fundamental to the pharma industry – anything by Atul Gawande, Factfulness by Hans Rosling.

Interviewed by: Shilpa Jain
Executive Director, Indusion Consulting Services(ex-banker, now a head-hunter)