On May 15, Udit Batra became the new president and CEO of EMD Millipore. A chemical engineer by training, with degrees from the University of Delaware and Princeton University, he previously led Merck KGaA’s global consumer healthcare business. Before that, he was head of global public health and market access at Novartis’ vaccines and diagnostics division, and he worked at McKinsey. At Merck, Batra turned around the cosumer healthcare division, from one of low profitability and growth to the fastest growing division in the group, with dramatically improved profitability. He also laid out a path to brand growth based on focus and strategic, niche acquisitions. But early in his career, Batra was a university researcher who used Millipore’s filtration products in his thesis work. We spoke with him just after he had finished tours of European and U.S. customer facilities and met with teams of U.S. technical sales teams and employees. Here is some of what he had to say.
Contract Pharma: It’s probably way too early to say, but what are your short- and long-term plans for the company?
Udit Batra: It’s very early of course, but I’ve just spent my first six weeks listening and learning and meeting customers in Germany, France, and other sites across Europe, as well as in the U.S. I have also been discussing a lot with our employees.
I’ve looked closely at our portfolio (Box, p. 28), and what impressed me was the fact that out of 10 distinct segments of lab production and manufacturing-related products, we are leaders (i.e., in the first, second or third position in the market) in seven segments.
Take lab water, for instance. Anyone who has ever worked in a pharma lab has worked with water purified by Milli-Q filters. I’d like us to have a similar position in all our markets.
One example of where I see an opportunity to grow is in the biomonitoring business for pharma, as well as food and beverages, where there is a need to monitor bioburden. Our market share is currently three times larger in Europe than it is in North America or Asia, so there is definitely an opportunity.
So, in general, our goal is to increase penetration where we already have a leadership position first.
I have met with our sales representatives in the field, who bring deep technical experience and knowledge. They’re quite different from the typical pharmaceutical sales reps, in that most of them have advanced degrees and experience in laboratories. In fact, many of them are our former customers.
Most EMD Millipore reps in manufacturing markets have this expertise and inside experience. We have a sustained geographical advantage, too. The legacy Merck business is strong in Latin America and Asia, and Millipore is strong in North America.
But all that doesn’t matter if people aren’t having fun. I enjoy hearing vociferous and passionate debate. I like the fact that people at this company enjoy themselves and the work they do.
CP: The press release announcing your new role mentioned the fact that you were once a user of Millipore products. Tell us about your early career as an engineer.
UB: I started my studies in chemical engineering at the age of 16. During freshman orientation at the University of Delaware, I remember the professor telling everyone “Look to the left and to the right of you. Chances are that one or both of the people you see near you today won’t be studying this subject by the time you graduate.” Out of 122 people in the class, only 29 remained in the ChE program by the time graduation time rolled around.
I learned a lot from my engineering training. It provides intellectual and analytical rigor. It gives one the ability to face challenges without losing self-esteem. And that could be very important when, say, the highest grade in the entire class for an exam was 30 out of 100. You develop a certain amount of character.
I spent time in the labs as an undergrad researcher at the University of Delaware, where I was first exposed to the Millex 0.22 -micrometer filter. During my Ph.D. studies at Priceton, I used the 0.22-micrometer filters to separate particles greater than 200 nm so that I could detect and characterize the particles from 10-100 nm. Millex filters offered reliable separations.
This experience created a history with the company’s products for me that allows me to have some empathy for EMD Millipore customers working in the labs. It is this customer-focused experience that already drives our company’s business.
CP: Will you be launching any new customer-focused programs?
UB: We won’t be launching any new customer focus initiatives because that focus is already there. Instead, we will sustain existing approaches, truly partnering to meet customers’ evolving needs.
The products that we sell help manufacturers, so our meeting the highest quality standards helps ensure that patients have the most meaningful innovations. I believe that EMD Millipore’s quality standards are as high as those in the most exacting analytical labs, and quality is consistent across our businesses.
CP: Your company has just brought Provantage biodevelopment and clinical services to the North American market. Do you foresee a blurring of the boundary between pharma technology vendors and contract service providers in some areas? Do you think the service model could be applicable to any of EMD Millipore’s other businesses?
UB: When customers require us to be close to our products. we will do it. For instance, in lab water, we do this with our Milli-Q system and cartridges. We’ve done this for a long time. It’s not a new trend.
Services are also generally needed with single-use bioprocess equipment, which requires a deep understanding of the technology and the process engineering behind it. Our customers want us to explain the systems, and this connection is very valuable.
However, at this point, I’m not looking to build in more services as a corporate strategy; only where it makes sense and when customers need or ask for it.
CP: There’s a major trend toward patient empowerment in the industry, not only in new auto-delivery forms, but also in over-the-counter medicines. How is that influencing your business?
UB: Without a doubt, one of the best examples is in our pharma chemical sales. For instance, we supply APIs and excipients for use in controlled release and other formulations. One such API is the folic acid metabolite that is used to ensure an adequate supply of maternal folic acid for good neural development in the fetus.
This week, I visited our facilities in Darmstadt Germany, including inorganic salts plants. We pack many of our products in double bags, in sterile environments, so that, when the customer receives the outer bag in a non-sterile environment, the inner bag maintains product sterility.
CP: At Merck’s consumer medicines business, you made a lot of investments in emerging pharma markets, and grew businesses there. Do you have any similar plans for EMD Millipore in the “pharmerging markets?”
UB: It’s too early to tell. There is clear demand in emerging markets for our lab and process solutions products. We see definite opportunities for growth of our bioprocessing business in Brazil and China.
CP: At Novartis, you were Head of Global Public Health and Market Access. How does that inform your work today, as pharma sees dramatic growth in emerging markets, but also criticism that its products are not affordable to most people in the world. Do you see technology providers playing some role in helping to change this picture?
UB: Access to medicine is very important throughout the world. Nowhere is that more evident than in vaccines. Increased access to pediatric vaccines has been the pharmaceutical industry’s single greatest achievement in improving access to medicines, and that work has largely been a public-private sector collaborative process. Therein lies the next step. It is the role of industry to do what we do, and do it well, to support that work. However, in my view, the answer to improving access is not as simple as donations. Improvement in public health relies on sustained increase in access, and one has to look at the root cause
CP: What made you choose your career path, and can you point to any examples or mentors who have inspired you along the way?
UB: I’m fortunate to have a family that has supported me, and sacrificed for me. For instance, my wife gave up a high profile job when I moved to Basel to work for Novartis. I’ve found inspiration from my wife and from my parents.
One of the most important lessons my family taught me was to stay optimistic while things are in flux.
At work, I am inspired by colleagues and mentors. There are too many to name.
When I was an undergraduate, I never would have believed that I’d have pursued this career path. I don’t dwell too much on the long term at first, but keep a simple focus on actions and what’s in front of me, and work from there.
CP: Are there any hobbies or interests outside work, or issues that you feel passionate about?
UB: I have two sons, ages 10 and 6, who are very active, and I love it when they beat me in soccer. I also run for at least a half hour a day.
On Sundays, I teach Hindi as a volunteer for a cultural educational program. I typically teach via storytelling and song. I also enjoy reading, and have read and enjoyed the entire Harry Potter series, but also enjoy works of philosophy and spiritual works such as the Bhagavad Gita.
In general, it’s my wife who keeps me in line. Thursday’s the day I take out the trash.
EMD’s main business areas are biosciences, lab solutions and process solutions and its main markets are North America, Europe, Emerging Markets and the “Rest of the World.” (EMD Millipore is the Life Sciences division of Merck KGaA, and operates as Merck Millipore outside of the U.S. and Canada).
1. Lab Water
2. Lab Essentials
4. OEM Business
5. BioPharma Processing
6. Integrated Pharma
7. Pharma Chemicals
8. Research Content
9. Separation and Preparation
Overall, Merck Millipore sales increased by 3.7% during the first quarter of 2014. Process Solutions grew by 6.6%, while Lab Solutions grew by 2.9%. The bioscience business declined 2.5%, due to the U.S. budget sequester and R&D cuts in general.