Gopal Nair is an old friend. Someone I have enormous respect for professionally and personally. Gopal’s stellar career saw him rise to Technical Director on the board of Glaxo India, responsible for operations of all plants, QA, R&D, and Engineering. He played a key role in the four mergers and acquisitions that Glaxo underwent. He is a founding member of ISPE in India and since his retirement, runs a consulting business.
Gopal is my go-to for independent advice. His incisive insights are always amazing. Briefing him about developments at Fabtech always feels good – as if one were talking to a father figure.
In reading his responses, I hope you are as struck by his straightforward, take no prisoners approach to life and work as I always am. He’s not one to mince words, and you can count on his advice to shine a clear path for you.
Who are your influences? Mentors? Why?
GN: I had many influencers and mentors over the different phases of my life and career. Some influencers, particularly in the UK, taught me who not to be! In the UK my positive influencers were colleagues, David Shelverton and Josh Southwell to name two, all of whom were English and who became good friends. They showed me how true culture does not believe in colour or culture prejudice.
I was also privileged to have some fantastic mentors like Thyagi and Humayun Dhanrajgir all through my career at Glaxo India who taught me a lot about the corporate world. After I retired, from Glaxo I started a consulting firm and did (and still do) a lot of work for the ISPE which offers educational programs for pharmaceutical professionals. One of my most profound realisations during this period was that when you stop learning, you stop living. I made a vow to learn something new every day of my life! This ‘vow’ has been a source of much wow for me and something I encourage everyone to pursue. p.
What was the best advice someone gave you and did you follow it?
GN: The best advice I ever got, although I scoffed at it the time, was from my uncle, the head of Reader’s Digest in India and a self-made man. I had just returned from the UK after my studies, and I had come into this plum job at Glaxo, a company much sought after as a place of employment. I was only 25 and had this fantastic job. When we met, my Uncle, happily brought me down several pegs, saying “If you don’t make MD at 40 you are a failure! A job in Quality Control is not going to make you MD!”. While I didn’t appreciate what he said at the time, it did get me thinking. I made a conscious decision to move my career sideways so I could move upward.
What are the lessons from your childhood that have stayed with you?
GN: I think my early adulthood in the UK had a much greater role in shaping the man I am than my early childhood which wasn’t very memorable. The six years I spent studying and working there introduced me to the world. The friends I made immersed me in a culture that taught me a lot. I learnt politeness, integrity, the importance of always doing the right thing and debating without losing one’s cool.
Did you face any struggles in your journey to where you are today?
GN: There were many. I started my corporate life in India during an era when expansion and producing more was frowned upon – we had quotas and licenses were needed to increase production. The Government had a stranglehold on business at every turn. Then there was corruption; a company that did not generate black money to pay kickbacks had a hard time. These challenges only served to make me stronger and more determined to uphold truth and integrity and my value system even more doggedly. Then there was the inevitable office politics – if you are not able to thrust and parry in the game of office politics you are dead in the water!
How did these experiences mould you as a person and as a professional?
GN: These experiences were a great learning curve for the naive person I was. They’ve helped me make the right decisions all through my career. Today I am able to spot the trouble makers from miles away, and I am decidedly particular about whom I let into my inner circle.
Which companies in your opinion are changing the world? Why?
GN: In my pharma world, we believe in Pharma 4.0 which is the fourth revolution in pharma – similar to the four revolutions Industry went through. This fourth revolution is being brought about by automation and computerisation. The way medicines are developed, made, packed and distributed, even the way they are prescribed, are all changing. So, companies that develop technology, software, algorithms, cloud computing to enable this are the world changers.
What are the most significant changes you have witnessed in your lifetime?
GN: Many over my lifetime. The most significant ones are – it’s okay to start something of your own; it’s okay to follow your passion (if you have one); and third, women can achieve anything they set their minds to.
What does success mean to you?
GN: In my corporate avatar, ‘success’ to me was getting to the top slot in my organisation. To put this in perspective, you must understand that my generation did not have the opportunities and the avenues that young people have in today’s world. In our world, success meant better perquisites (there was no cost to company) and better remuneration; which was achievable only if one progressed up the executive ladder to the topmost rung.
At what point might you feel you have met true success?
GN: True success is a life well and fully lived.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
GN: Those who know me well will be very amused by what I am reading at the moment. I am a firm believer in evolution theory and not in the Adam and Eve version. I was so impressed reading ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari that I had to read ‘Homo Deus’ (Humans as Gods). And I can’t wait to read ’21 lessons for the 21st Century’.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse