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If the morning newspaper headline rattled the Juneja family, Rajeev Juneja didn’t show it. India’s fastest growing pharma company was in talks to sell 25% stakes, reported the largest English daily on 31 October, setting the cat among the (investor) pigeons. “It’s exaggerated, it doesn’t make sense,” said the chief executive and the younger of the two co-founding Juneja brothers of Mankind Pharma.

The family will offload some equity but in low single-digit percentage. The $3 billion valuation figure quoted in the newspaper doesn’t cut much ice home, and the family is in no hurry. If the private equity plays hardball, there’s always the public market. Incidentally, it was also the day the company, popular for marketing blitzkriegs, unveiled its new brand ambassador—film star Amitabh Bachchan.

“You could say this is great timing or preparation for an IPO, but we thought of Amitabh Bachchan 9-10 months ago when we said there should be someone in the market to tell the philosophy of Mankind,” says Juneja as Bachchan’s baritone fills the room through a 30-second video on his phone.

For most of its 22 years, Mankind’s philosophy has been to sell drugs in smaller towns and rural India, priced lower than most others. That’s changing. Mankind is “trying to be smart”, even though it garners the largest number of prescriptions generated in the country. In the quarter ending September, Mankind grew 11.5%—fastest among the top 10 pharma companies in India. It closed FY17 at Rs 4403 crore and expects to clock in ~Rs 5000 crore in FY18.

Even a low single-digit stake sale today will bring in much cash to the company and the owners. When ChrysCapital convinced Mankind to take investor money for the first time in 2007, the Junejas didn’t even fully understand Ebitda. Eight years later when ChrysCapital exited, it made 13X return and Mankind was valued at over $1.8 billion. The next round of private equity infusion, if it happens, could have its role defined. “We are always hungry [to learn]. We may be the fastest growing, but we are not the #1 company,” says Juneja, a marketing maven who evidently values ranking.

A Meerut-company that pushed contraception out of closets and on to loud television ads, Mankind is now entering new therapies and big cities, where selling drugs requires the seduction of not just the patients but also the doctors. Specifically, the country’s top 5-10% doctors. The stage is set for Mankind 2.0. Crucially, at a time when Indian pharma is in a period of interregnum—between certainties of rapid growth and market conditions and uncertainties of the old ways of doing things no longer working very well. The average revenue growth of top five pharma companies was around 30% between FY13-FY15. It’s down to 10.5% for FY16 and FY17.

 

Rajeev Juneja, CEO, Mankind Pharma

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Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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