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7 Questions on Leadership with Akash Mathur

Name: Akash Mathur

Title: CEO and Executive Director

Organisation: Stellence Pharmscience Pvt. Ltd.

Akash Mathur is currently the CEO and Executive Director of the pharma manufacturing company, Stellence Pharmscience Pvt. Ltd. India, and is a part of the founding team of four other startups - Akaal Tech and Agro, Australia, an agriculture chemistry company; Hb-022 Inc, Tx, USA, a formulations and drug development company, Peptyde Tx a peptide chemistry-based company and Svashmi, a molecular diagnostics company. Previously Akash has been a part of founding teams of biotech/pharma startups in the USA and Canada and has led Business Development for divisions of large corporates like TATA and Merck KGaA. His approach is value creation for all stakeholders and increased efficiency by forming independently operating and higher efficiency teams.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Akash's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

In my opinion, managing and executing long-term changes is the most challenging task for a leader. A process or system will require changes only when (a) it is not efficient or is holding the company back and (b) has become a part of the practice or culture of the company. This needs to be done subtly, but surely and quickly to plug in the bleed. Any abrupt change will topple the apple cart and lead to slipping deeper, if change is too slow it will continue to simmer and spread. These problems therefore are the most interesting challenges and normally land on the table of the business leaders.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

The blueprint of a leader is created in childhood. In India, this is done by grandparents and parents. It is the reaction to the situation/s around a person that brings out the leadership. When I was about to complete MBA from Olin School, WashU, USA I was working in the R&D of a very successful biotech company, which decided to shut down the lab and the plant. Being at a B School, and having being exposed to very nice R&D applications, I joined hands with a few friends and approached the company to license the technology we were working on and do a startup around it. With a few negotiations and term sheet asking for performance, we were able to get the technology. It was supported very generously in strategy and ideation and even partly funded by a few faculty and other members of the Midwestern US Angels. Lucky for all of us, it did well and was acquired by a large European pharmaceutical company in a short stint. I believe the reaction to a given situation creates a leader.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I start the morning about a half hour before sunrise with a meditation class that I teach, followed by an advanced meditation session with my teachers. Next, I review the progress on critical tasks for the week. This is the time most of my team receives emails on the next steps, meeting requests to discuss updates, etc. By 8 AM the strategic part of the work is completed. Workday I like spending about half addressing matters and the other half meeting with different teams. Meetings are not just work, but chances for everyone to open up. Teams bring the best ideas for efficiency and value creation. Evenings I like to spend a couple of hours with family whenever possible for everyone's schedule and read something retiring for the next morning.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

I keep reminding myself of an interview with a very popular movie director. When asked why he has not done an animated movie, he responded "I imagine the best scene and brief the actors, but when a Sean Connery or Harrison Ford comes in front of the camera, what they do nobody has imagined earlier"

I believe that bench workers and mid-level managers have answers to most of the questions faced by the organization. They do not share it mainly because they are not empowered and are not given ownership. Once the team realizes the management trusts them to solve the problems and is willing to accept their ideas, they shock everyone with the value they bring out.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

One Minute Manager. Ken Blanchard. Clarity of thought, brevity of instructions, and measurable outputs - everyone likes these. The organization becomes crisp and ROI increases as a culture.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Spend an hour each week analyzing the company that is You. Focus on your assets - the most important ones being your health, peace of mind, and network. These are not balance sheet items but create the most critical part of it.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Our first startup was built on a technology that the large biotech company was shelving. Peptyde Tx was created by inviting some very smart peptide chemistry scientists and setting up a small lab space that was not occupied. Another company was created using unexploited patents and quickly gained intellectual property and value.

What I have learned is that companies have a lot of non-core assets that prove to be very valuable if exploited correctly. Each such opportunity has to be packaged in the right business plan and pursued.

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