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In Conversation With Pradeep Desai

Ranjani Saigal

Dr. Pradeep Desai is the CEO of Span Diagnostics Ltd, India's largest and most comprehensive manufacturer of diagnostic products.  Since its inception thirty years ago, SPAN has focused on the indigenous development and manufacture of quality diagnostic products at affordable prices to meet the needs of the clinical laboratories in India. A challenging task , that SPAN has successfully fulfilled by developing a strong manufacturing base and exclusive alliances with the world's leading diagnostic companies , has resulted in technological advancements in the field. Transcending the national boundaries, SPAN widens its vision to benchmark our capabilities and efforts, against the best in the world and eventually emerge as a globally acknowledged diagnostic company. With this as the vision, SPAN marches ahead to continually evolve through innovations, in order to achieve highest standards and utmost customer satisfaction.

The company, headquartered in Surat,  is equipped with state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. SPAN recognizes only the very highest standards in service, R & D and in the manufacturing of quality products. SPAN services end users and distributors with ready to use testing kits or customized OEM products.

You are a medical doctor. What motivated you to start a diagnostics company at a time when being an entrepreneur especially in the clinical diagnostics area was not common?

I became an entrepreneur out of necessity. After completing my training in medicine, I was a practicing clinical pathologist. In the sixties when I started my practice no one was making quality reagents in India.The license Raj of the Nehru and post-Nehruvain period put a lot of restrictions on import. In those days , all of the reagents were made in house.  The in-house process does not lend itself to the creation of quality reagents. Lack of quality reagents has a deep impact on our work as pathologists.

If you “cook” reagents on an as needed basis you cannot maintain quality control. You cannot calibrate your reagents or standardize them. I did a lot of research to understand how to create standardized reagents. Once we  were able to create quality reagents there was a demand for it in the world at large. We began selling reagents to other Pathologists. That was the beginning of Span Diagnostics.

Has the opening up of the market and the entry of multinationals into India had a impact on your company and business?

The opening of the market has been a boost for our industry. We can now import things that we cannot make and export our products as well.  The entry of big multinationals has increased the competition but for companies like ours that have been well established for long time it offers opportunities for collaboration which in turn gives us access to strong marketing networks all over the world.

It is interesting to hear about export of your products. Why do multinationals want to partner with you and share their marketing networks with you?

Companies in India can produce very high quality products at nearly 1/10th the price of what it would cost for multinationals to produce it elsewhere. We have a huge export market particular in South Asia and Africa.

Sometimes concerns are expressed on the quality of the work done by the Indian labor force. What you do at your company to ensure quality?

The secret to good quality lies in training and setting of expectations. This explains why the Indian person working at a Swiss Air counter has a completely different attitude than at an Air India counter. We received ISO certification for our company and my employees are very proud of this. They follow the procedures strictly and that creates quality control. Indian labor is very intelligent.

What kind of products are in demand in South Asia and Africa? Is AIDS something that we really need to be afraid of?

There is a lot of hype around AIDS but the real problem in that part of the world is other diseases like Malaria and TB. There is not much research being done or products being made in this area in the west. So Indian companies have a lot of opportunity in this sector. Our TB and Malaria diagnostic kits are in great demand.

Is the climate in Gujarat suitable for business? What is the political situation?

I am not a politician and I stay as far from it as possible. As an entrepreneur I must say that the current climate in Gujarat is excellent for business. The  Modi government is very efficient and has many procedures in place to get things done. The labor force is very hard working and cooperative. I would invite people to come and do business in Gujarat.

What does the future hold for you and for Span Diagnostics?

The company is rapidly expanding. I am delighted that my son is now taking over the running of the business. I am a researcher at heart and I like stepping away from the business to do what I really enjoy - which is research . I have worked with Universities and National Labs to work on interesting problems.

Any message for the our readers  in New England?

I am very impressed with all the work done by NRIs. You have made India proud. I urge you all to keep up the good work. I hope though that all of you will also explore the opportunities in India whether it is business or social entrepreneurship to come and contribute to your homeland.

Thank you for your time



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