Episode 4: Eliminate needless blindness. Globally, from India
This week, Rahul is in conversation with RD Sriram, a humble entrepreneurial leader to take inspiration from. Sriram had an unusual career, entirely spent with deep passion and love at just one organisation – Aurolab, where he is the CEO now. Aurolab’s mission is to eliminate needless blindness globally. It is doing that from a remote corner in India, from a small town called Madurai (you can hear birds chirping in the background of the episode!). Today, Aurolab has a presence in 160+ countries and exports 18 mn+ products annually. We asked Sriram about his learnings in building a global product from India, as well as the challenges Aurolab is currently working on. We also asked how entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals and students could collaborate with Aurolab, to contribute to its mission as well as potentially benefit from working together. Listen not only to get cues on habits for growth, but also for collaboration possibilities!
Aurolab and RD Sriram’s journey of eliminating needless blindness. Globally.
RD Sriram, the Managing Director of Aurolab, is unique in multiple ways. He has spent his entire career of 28 years in just one organisation. Then he is on a unique mission – eliminate needless blindness globally – by operating from a remote corner of India. And he has been very successful in doing so. Today, Aurolab has presence in 160+ countries, it exported 18 mn products in 2019 and it is a global leader in multiple product segments of presence. Even then, Sriram is an epitome of leading with humility. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation that had birds chirping in the tranquil environment of Madurai:
A world class product can be made and global impact created from India. Aurolab did this when ‘Build local, Sell global’ wasn’t even a theme by the government. It did have support of a strong brand of its parent, the Aravind Eye Care System, yet it was a non-profit that had to create its own success. Without the luxury of internet, it did that from a remote corner of India – Madurai, proving that manufacturing success for global markets can indeed be created.
Sriram gives a lot of credit for success to 3 themes. One, a powerful mission statement (eliminate needless blindness globally). Two, focus on high quality products that were made by reverse engineering existing technology. Three, very high affordability – Aurolab priced the products at 80-90% discount of the best-in-class competitors. Sriram asserts that a combination of high quality product and high affordability grows the entire market significantly.
A particular highlight to be noted is how Aurolab focused on innovating on business model and price, by using what already existed. History has told over and over again that almost all innovators improved upon the work of others. Makers, creators and entrepreneurs often take on a more difficult task of creating for the thrill of creating. Aurolab is a fine example of creative problem solving, innovation and entrepreneurial leadership.
With scale and massive missions come challenges. Today, Aurolab has succeeded in its initial mission and is now looking at taking its offerings to developed markets. It is also looking at introducing new products in existing markets. For that, it is looking for collaboration on multiple fronts – after-sales service in North America or Europe and R&D outsourcing or partnerships (e.g., Optical Design) to name a few.
The habits that Sriram stacked up for Aurolab over a long period of nearly 3 decades is now resulting in the domino effect impact. When it started, blindness was common as surgeries were not affordable. Single-handedly and by driving affordability, Aurolab has enabled an 800% increase in ophthalmic surgeries in India, made the use of Intraocular lenses mandatory in cataract surgeries and has become only one of the 4 (and the only one in developing countries) manufacturers of ophthalmic sutures in the world.
About 30 years back, when the journey started, it was like most other journeys. A tall mission and multiple challenges. Like other achievers, Sriram and his team focused largely on never breaking the execution chain. It’s a theme that keeps repeating. Set up an ambitious goal that inspires. Then forget about it and just focus on creating success in the form of daily execution and completion. That’s how success compounds over time!