Curiosity and courage is the foundation of Merck from the time our company was established more than 350 years ago. We have faced various challenges over time and have continued to emerge stronger due to our deep-rooted sense of purpose. This coupled with our core values is the force that steers us ahead. The focus on understanding customer needs, the changing trends, and driving innovation have helped us evolve into a vibrant science and technology leader.
Our purpose in the Life Science business is to solve the toughest problems in life science by collaborating with the global scientific community. We focus on empowering science by creating solutions that enable scientists to accelerate research. Covid-19 pandemic is one of the biggest challenges of our times. Merck has played a very critical role in providing the research tools, components and production materials that help develop and manufacture diagnostic testing kits, vaccines, and therapeutics. This is at the core of who we are and our purpose is the guiding factor
Our relentless focus and investment in R&D coupled with the strategic acquisition of Millipore, Sigma Aldrich, and other technologies have successfully transformed our business into a global leader in Life Science.
In the early phase of my career, I started in product development and then moved to manufacturing. Soon I realized this is not what I wanted to do forever. My best career moments until then were in the product development role when I got to meet customers and develop solutions to address their problems. This realization led me into pursuing a career in the commercial. Realizing the need to strengthen my foundation in business I also did my MBA.
My move to the life science sector happened when Merck presented an opportunity to set up a new business in process filtration in India. This was an exciting new world for me. The sector offered immense potential and I was excited to see the part we could play in the breakthrough technological advancements that were happening in life sciences. As an engineer the focus has always been on applied sciences and how to build systems to solve problems. Life sciences offered a new way of looking at things. In nature, there already exists molecular machines that have been working for billions of years and keep adapting to change. Life science focuses on understanding these basics functions at the molecular level which when understood can be modified or replicated to solve real-world problems for humanity. It was a steep learning curve, but the excitement of being part of an industry that made a positive impact on human life and our planet through technological advancements was very enriching. I found purpose, intellectual stimulation, and amazing colleagues to work with. I began enjoying what I did and stuck to it. When you engage in an industry that is at the forefront of technology, growth is the only way forward.
I received a very prudent advise from my parents early on in my career that if we focus our efforts in the pursuit of excellence and not in the pursuit of success, we will not only enjoy the journey but success will also knock on our doors.
At Merck, we have a strong people development focus and a culture that encourages innovation and risk-taking. It is also a great place for those who aspire to build an international career. While managing the business in India I got to lead different businesses and fairly large teams which also helped shape my interest in pursuing a general management career track. Close collaboration with customers and global teams also exposed me to customer journeys and technology trends, which in turn helped me build a robust foundation in life science.
My first international move at Merck was as Head of Strategy & Business Development for Drug Discovery in Asia. My manager, who was also a great coach and mentor, placed his trust in me, to turn around the performance of this business segment. Looking back, this was probably one of the most challenging assignments to date. After leading large teams, I now had to learn to drive the business in a matrix structure with no direct reports. I had to learn to influence others by building trust through delivering value in solving problems, nurturing networks both within and outside the organization, as well as engaging the country teams in strategy development and diligent execution. We made great progress and strengthened our capabilities in the drug discovery space.
Soon thereafter, I moved to the US to head our life science business in Latin America, another exciting opportunity but with a new set of challenges. Latin America was that faraway continent that I only saw on a map and never imagined that one day I would work there. The team in LATAM was talented and passionate, and they wanted to make a difference. I went in with an open mind and looked at the business through a fresh pair of lenses. However, it blew me away when I saw the potential opportunity before us but also the ground we need to cover to maximize it. Working out of the US gave me a broader view of the life science business and taught me how I could leverage the global teams to bring in best practices and invest in capabilities to help us drive our transformation successfully. This stint I consider to be the most gratifying experience in my career where I was also fortunate to build friendships and bonds that I will cherish forever.
The next significant step was when I moved as Head of Europe for Lab Business and was able to join the Global Executive Leadership team. The experience of working closely with senior leaders and top strategic minds of the company was a great learning and prepared me for the future journey. It was during this period that Merck acquired Sigma Aldrich, and with that came the next opportunity of integrating the businesses of Merck and Sigma Aldrich in Asia. I moved to Singapore as Head of Asia Pacific for the Research & Applied business.
The international career gave me and my family much more than what I expected. It is not just the opportunity to develop one professionally, it opened my eyes to different cultures and allowed me to see the world. The biggest benefits are the experiences and relationships that change you at the core and is a very humbling experience. It shapes who you are for the rest of your life.
Many a time we only speak about our career journey but the key team players who make it possible for us to pursue our dream are the family. Settling a family in a foreign country comes with its own set of challenges but together you can make it happen. When taking up an international assignment, settling in the family to the new surroundings also becomes integral to your professional success. No matter how competent you are, if you don’t succeed in settling as a family, it will most likely be the last posting.
I have completed 26 years at Merck and when I look back at the key drivers for this long and engaging journey, it can be summarized into 3 points:
1. Curiosity: A keen interest in understanding how things work coupled with an engaged passion for learning new things.
2. Value Creation: Focus on enhancing value at every touchpoint; be it an employee or customer interaction. Leveraging technology to drive excellence. It is not just what we do but how we make them feel.
3. Teamwork: Engaging and challenging myself and the team, collaborating beyond boundaries, piloting new ideas, acquiring and building new capabilities, and investing in people to make them successful.
The valuable assets are the guidance and support from leaders and colleagues alike that helped me shape my career. Merck’s focus on people development offers a terrific opportunity for those interested to build an international career.
Digital and Life Sciences are two of the top emerging sectors for the future. Within life science, there are various career paths one could pursue. On a broad level, the roles in Life Science can be classified as Specialist, Project Management and General Management.
For a career in general management, it is important to acquire a robust understanding of Drug Discovery and Life Science. With the advent of digital technologies, it is also important to invest in acquiring Data Analytics and Digital skills. Ensure you gain experience in different roles even if it means moving to a role laterally and not always growing vertically. Focus relentlessly on experimenting and learning.
What we all do finally is to focus on these few things:
– Purpose: Why (communicating the why so that its well understood by all stakeholders)
– Process: What, How, When (focus on continuous process improvement and execution)
– People: Who (Invest in the most important asset; our people are the ones who make magic happen)
A strategy helps to leverage these key elements to build a distinctive competitive advantage.
When you look at history, there are moments in time when an industry is faced with seemingly unsurmountable challenges but when everyone comes together, it drives closer collaboration and unprecedented innovation which transform the industry forever. Covid-19 was this Y2K (Year 2000) moment for the life science industry. We have never seen such pathbreaking research outcomes, new modalities like mRNA which is a potentially transformational platform for the future and unprecedented collaboration across the industry to develop vaccines in less than 18 months. The life science industry is one that is exciting and purposeful, and there is no better time to pursue a career in this industry than now.
Rajeev Nair has over 30 years of sales, leadership and general management experience in the Life Science industry. Currently, Nair is Senior Vice President and Head of Asia Pacific, Research Solutions for Merck Life Science. In this role, he oversees the development and execution of a customer-centric, go-to-market commercial strategy by leveraging sales, tactical marketing, customer excellence and field service to deliver a best-in-class customer experience.
With over 20 years with Merck and Millipore, Nair has held leadership positions in various businesses within Merck Millipore and has worked in different countries across Asia, Europe, US and Latin America. His responsibilities included building and driving the strategy to build a sustainable growth trajectory for the businesses he was responsible for in the different regions.
Prior to his appointment to lead Latin America, Nair was Director of Strategy and Business Development – International at Millipore Asia in Singapore. Previous employers include Bajaj Electricals, Dunlop India, Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers and Electrohms Group (Raychem International).
Nair holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Calicut, India, and a Masters in Management from the International Management Institute, India. He has also completed an Advanced Management Program from the Harvard Business School.