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Suite Talk: Success will be almost unattainable without passion, Novugen's CEO affirms

Suite Talk: Success will be almost unattainable without passion, Novugen's CEO affirms

As CEO, Rahil Mahmood believes his strong desire to excel is key to ensuring growth and progression for his organisation.

Rahil Mahmood is no stranger to the pharmaceutical industry. Having started out as a medical sales representative in the field, he learnt the ropes and gained an understanding of the core of the industry, which he says later defined a purpose in his career. "Those experiences and interactions with doctors and healthcare practitioners made me understand the crucial needs of doctors and patients as well as the solutions that are lacking today as a pharmaceutical company."

Today, with more than a decade's experience in the industry, Rahil now helms Novugen, a Selangor-headquartered company, as Chief Executive Officer since 2018. Having spent all these years in the industry, what keeps things fresh for the leader?

"What drives me to wake up every morning is the passion to make an impact on many lives. I strongly believe that this can be accomplished by bringing high quality healthcare solutions early to the market at affordable prices to serve the unmet needs of patients worldwide," he tells Lester Tan.

"This is a very noble industry, and the risks that we take every day here at Novugen help to save the lives of millions who are fighting for their last breath and improve the quality of life across the globe."

Overall, his journey has helped hone his leadership style too, he shares. "This made me hands-on and empathetic as I understand and can interact with the people who are on the field as well as production by speaking in a language they can engage with to share a common purpose."

In this interview, Rahil talks about how he, as CEO, is passionate about driving the people agenda, how he works closely with his CHRO to take it forward, the top three skills he believes C-suite leaders should be equipped with for the future of work, and more.

Interview by Lester Tan, with inputs by Priya Sunil.

Q I understand that you are passionate about the people agenda. What is your motivation behind this, and how are you bringing this passion to life through the initiatives you support?

People are the biggest asset of any company. The moment any leader understands that it is the first step of success, they are halfway there. The second step is execution. Once the motives and strategy are aligned from the C-suite right to the shop floor, the second step is accomplished. Lastly, to create a system where people are rewarded and recognised based on their contributions and given the opportunities to progress in their career, parallel to the growth of Novugen.

Q On that note, tell us about some of the people initiatives launched by the company in the past 1-2 years.

Over the past couple of years, we have started our HR transformation journey and redefined our focus to more people-centered topics through effective rewards and recognition systems, employees’ progression program and systematic performance management. This is mainly to bring Novugen employees to set the right standards in line with market best practices. We begin by building more structured talent acquisition approaches that secure the right talents through strategic selection and assessment processes.

Enhancing high performance culture is key in Novugen. We created employee engagement initiatives to recognise employees’ contributions and award them appropriately. We also focused on elevating the mindset of our current and future leaders with leadership development programs consisting a series of leadership trainings to get them up to speed as the business accelerates.

While we expect high performance from our employees, we ensure that the employees who are not performing up to standard are supported appropriately.

As Novugen grows rapidly in Malaysia and other countries, we continuously leverage on the current technologies to effectively connect more than 700 of our employees based in different regions. Recently we concluded a partnership with a HR tech partner to advance our HR management systems that introduces the best HR practices to our employees in local and global offices.

Q How are these initiatives designed for the new world of work?

Our initiatives were designed to shift the mindset of our employees to fit into the current work landscape as well as providing them with a platform to grow and excel their career with Novugen. We also placed high priority on providing seamless and effective processes in their daily operations.

Q As CEO, what has been your role in rolling these out – and what are some highlights & challenges you’ve encountered?

As CEO, my role is to work alongside my HR experts, understanding the strategies and becoming the anchor to the transformation as well as leading by example. Paving the way through the transformation, it is also crucial for me to ensure that Novugen’s senior leaders support this journey with full commitment. I believe that transformations are bound to face challenges for any company. One of the inevitable hurdles is getting buy-in. So, we would need to design structured approaches in everything we do and doing it right the first time.

Q Seeing as you have recently bolstered your HR leadership, what are some of your aspirations for the people experience in Novugen, and what projects are you most looking forward to supporting your CHRO on?

As we position Novugen stronger in the global pharmaceutical landscape, we strongly emphasise our efforts to upgrade the standards and the way we do things in Novugen. This can be seen through our initiatives of improving our current processes, driving mindset changes, and investing in technology and automation.

I support my CHRO in various areas related to our employees’ development as we drive learning culture in our organisation.

We amplify a culture that fosters a continuous evolvement in the age of digital transformation and become a learning organisation.

Q I understand Novugen is actively creating employability for Malaysians. How are you working with your partners across the ecosystem to make this possible? Feel free to add any interesting anecdotes.

In my opinion, Novugen’s sustainable community effort is reflected by our continuous initiative to meet the social needs and promoting the economic success in Malaysia. As a pioneer in the nations’ pharmaceutical R&D, we place a strong focus in building new talent pool for the emerging field in the country. Leveraging on our global standard manufacturing facilities, we create high skilled knowledge transfer to groom young local talents to be the nation’s future scientists.

I envision that five to ten years down the road these young talents will be the leaders in the pharmaceutical industry.

Q With that in mind, what are the top 3 skills you believe C-suite leaders should be equipped with for the future of work?

The first skill I believe C-suites leaders should be equipped with is agility. Being agile is crucial to boost the company’s productivity and efficiency by making quick strategic transformations to stay competitive in the market. From my point of view, being agile also means having the courage to take risks in making decisions and making them fast.

I would say that agility would not be complete without resilience. While the global market of many industries including the pharmaceutical industry is booming, challenges and adversity will follow. Leaders play a pivotal role in spearheading through this hardship with resilience while ensuring that employees can also adapt to the pressure.

Finally, success will be almost unattainable without passion. As CEO, my strong desire to excel is key to ensure growth and progression to achieve Novugen’s goals. To me, it is important to work beyond my skills, ability, and experience for something that I feel deep connection to – and while you’re at it, don’t forget to keep your day exciting, every day.

Q Last, how do you see the role of the CEO evolving?

At Novugen, I can observe that Generation Z is coming in fast into the workforce. Although there are similarities the generations before them, their thought processes are unique with heavy influence of their interactions on the digital platforms. Hence, the way that I see things is that leaders need shift our mindset to adapt to the changing employee needs. This would include the shift of mindset from pure financial numbers to being more people driven. This is how we can motivate them to go the extra mile and cultivate an emotional connection to the company that can become a strong drive to achieve the company’s goals.

Q Having founded Novugen, you might have faced some tough times on the journey – what kept you motivated through them, and what are some lessons and beliefs that still drive the person you are today?

I believe that all organisations will face different challenges, especially for a start-up company like Novugen. However, what kept not just me, but also the entire team in Novugen motivated through the tough times in our journey was the end goal. We are all united with one mission that is to challenge the status quo and provide early access to the highest quality affordable medicines to patients worldwide.

I am truly passionate to position Malaysia on the global map of pharmaceutical industry by bringing complex products to the worldwide market and I will continue to share this passion with all Novugen employees.

Diseases have no boundaries. We will remain focused and keep being resilient to ensure that we achieve our goals, despite the hurdles that we may face.

Q Just to end on a fun note: What is your craziest ideal for the Malaysian workplace 10 years down the line (no inhibitions!)

This might not be the craziest vision there is for the local workplace; but I envision Malaysia will be a global hub of a highly diverse and multicultural employers, connecting to larger demographic groups.

In Novugen, our future global expansion plan will go up to 75 countries, worldwide. While we will operate in every corner of the world – speaking different languages and having different cultures I believe that we will all be unified and carry the same values as one Novugen.

Photo / Provided

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