K Anji Reddy: "I want to build a company that'd last 500 years"

As clichéd as it may sound, passing away of K Anji Reddy marks the end of an era. Along with YK Hamied and Bhai Mohan Singh, Dr Reddy defined and built the Indian pharmaceutical industry that we know today.

K Anji Reddy, founder of Dr Reddy's Laboratories

K Anji Reddy, founder of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories

“He was a rare combination of a great scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and a humanitarian. Passionate about science, compassionate to the core and a true practitioner of giving,” says Dr GN Rao, founder of LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, whose own philanthropic efforts at LVP was touched and amplified by Dr Reddy’s help.

A first-generation entrepreneur who left a public sector job to start Dr Reddy’s Laboratories in 1984, Anji Reddy took the word “Laboratories” very seriously and pursued his passion of drug discovery till the end. He had set up a lab in his “grape-garden” and would tend to it every day. “Drug discovery is like an addiction…everyday something doesn’t happen but the day you have a dramatic result, you feel that there’s something that could change the way people live. That gives you the real kick,” he said.

The last I spoke to Dr Reddy was in October 2012. I was writing this story on Cipla’s YK Hamied and wanted his perspective since he had started his business with projects from Cipla and had shared a relationship with Hamied that lasted 35 years. Even though he wasn’t keeping too well he agreed to chat. “Talking about Hamied is like having tonic, I feel good,” he said, with a hearty laugh. In fact, there was even a tinge of regret – Hamied was older than him but in much better health. “When we recently invited Dr Hamied to inaugurate our R&D Lab in Cambridge, he himself drove down from London…he is so healthy,” he said.

Dr Reddy had a fascination for drug discovery. In 1993, DRL became the first company to set up a dedicated R&D center and he recalled how within first 2-3 years he licensed three molecules to big pharma. Several years later and even after stepping down as chairman of the company, he remained passionate. “Making one more generic drug doesn’t give me any kick,” he said.

Once when he was traveling to London, cine star Amitabh Bachchan was in the same flight, who incidentally had a co-passenger who snored. The next morning, Bachchan came up to him and said,  “Dr Reddy, why don’t you discover a drug for snoring.” Dr Reddy, who was moved by Bachchan’s performance as an Alzheimer’s patient in the movie Black, said, “I don’t have a drug for snoring but I am working on a drug for Alzheimer’s.”

Dr Reddy put “his personal money” behind this drug research. It was supposed to enter phase I trial two weeks later. We hope the drug trial marches ahead but even if it fails, it’d fulfill his dream of “failing gloriously”.

“He was indeed very passionate about drug discovery and very proud of the many projects that the company had,” says Dr Rao.  “He always told us that scientists should never have to face resource constraints. He is one of the few Indian philanthropists who supported research with his personal funds.”

Perhaps Dr Reddy understood that a solid R&D foundation can sustain a company for several generations by continually adding new products to the pipeline. He admired the book, “Built to Last” and wanted to nurture his company just like the American family built Merck.  “I want to build a company that’d last 500 years, Merck is 640 years old,” he said. So serious was he about following Merck that when DRL struck a deal with the multinational for a monoclonal antibody, Dr Reddy hosted the head of the family of the 13th generation and got his own family to know the history of Merck’s family organization.

In many ways, with DRL, Naandi Foundation and other charitable activities, Dr Reddy has left an enduring legacy. He was anguished by the muddled regulatory and legislative environment — from clinical trials to price controls. “The industry that has brought so much recognition to the country is threatened every day…”

For an entrepreneur who “wanted to create a Merck in this country”, we hope the industry tribulations are just a passing phase!

14 comments to “K Anji Reddy: "I want to build a company that'd last 500 years"”

You can leave a reply or Trackback this post.
  1. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says: -#1

    Dr.Anji Reddy was a giant among giants in Pharma Industry.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  2. T Krishna Muthy says: -#1

    Nobody can fill the vaccuum created by his death.

    Pharma Gaint passed away. His soul rest in peace..

  3. Raja Tadvai says: -#1

    Sir Dr Padmasri Anji Reddy Polly pill his one of the dream,it cures many with one medicine, In 1992-94 R&D Rs 10 crores now in 2012-13 almost Rs 700 crores Top 5 in Private Research spenders list,Rs 25 Laks invested in 1984 to start Dr Reddys now Rs 2500 IPO value above Rs 45 laks , company market value almost Rs 30,000 crores ,by 2020 it will become Rs 90,000 crore market cap,he is director to my MBA college and urged studies must be at low cost,he is angry at our college indirectly,voice on Glenmark I never forget,he wished one fine day small company like Glenmark will be the first innovator in drug discovery,now it is happening next year,he likes movie director K Vishwanath movies like Swathimuthyam Mr Kamal Hasan acted,also with same team in Sagara Sangamam,his soul rest in peace.

  4. b.venkata reddy says: -#1

    I am lucky to work for Dr Reddy for an agrochemical project which he wanted to start to help the farmers of the country by producing the syntheticpyrethroids mostly used in cotton fields.Market was good.But technology required was to get from Japan.They were not interested to sell the tehnology.Dr Reddy was upset.Importance of R&D for technology development to produce chemicals in drug and agroindustries was recognised at Standard Organics Ltd by Dr Reddy and his team.It was in 1983.Dr Reddy was a visionery,dreamer,planner and very quick to make decisions.He inspired many young entrepreneurs of the country in many fields.

  5. Sandeep Nair says: -#1

    SALUTE Dr.Reddy
    Thanks for writing this Seema…Good Job…Keep it up 🙂

  6. His spirit and nature so nicely captured! Thanks Seema.

  7. A great loss to the nation and the DRL Employees, nobody can fill the vaccuum created by his death.

  8. Dr Reddy, a great philantrophist to the core, indeed a very kind human being, Dr Anji Reddy Sir, Kindness Personified

  9. Rohit Khanna says: -#1

    A great loss to science and humanity….

  10. SUNIL HEMNANI says: -#1

    True a legend in the pharma industry i had the privilege of meeting .He was always so confident of his people ,it was known widely in the industry that he cultivated a very positive culture .This is not something very common in the industry another feather in his hat. Really a company India should be proud about .

  11. sucharita dharani says: -#1

    Dr.Reddy,a marvellous person of the century

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published.