The 1980s were a time when India had just started looking into technological advancements in the developed world, trying to emulate it while struggling with the lack of basic amenities. When Mumbai-based pathologist Dr Sushil Shah was fed up of the mediocre facilities available for conducting medical tests in the country, he left for the US on a fellowship and studied the methods and procedures underway there. When he returned to India, he started his own pathology laboratory, ‘Dr Sushil Shah’s Laboratory,’ from his garage.
Two decades later, when it was a well-reputed firm with a steady clientele, Dr Sushil Shah’s daughter – Ameera Shah – entered the scene. India was changing, with economic liberalisation opening up more opportunities, Ameera wanted to take her father’s clinic to the next level. Still in her early 20s and armed with a Degree in Finance from University of Texas, Ameera took it up on her to build a pathology lab network with the best of facilities.
Today, she is the managing director and promoter of the single clinic which was renamed and grown across countries as Metropolis Healthcare, with more than 4000 employees and more than Rs.760 crore in revenue in FY19.
Metropolis Healthcare claims to be India’s only multinational chain of diagnostic centres with presence in over six countries - India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana and Zambia. Presently, the company has 125 labs and 2000 plus patient service centers.
Besides clinical laboratory tests and profiles used for prediction and monitoring of illnesses, it also offers analytical and support services to clinical research organizations.
Among many awards, Ameera was honoured with the Exemplary Women Leadership Award at the World Women Leadership Congress & Awards in 2014. She was also featured in the ‘Young Global Leaders’ list by the World Economic Forum in 2015, and was recognised by Forbes magazine as one among Asia’s Most Powerful Women in Business.
Despite both her parents and her only sister being doctors, Ameera was never attracted to science. Instead, she chose finance, hoping to make an impact on her country one day. She was inspired by her mother, a gynecologist who had done a lot of charity work and has travelled across the world, as well as by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his entrepreneurial venture Grameen Bank.
At 21, Ameera was working in a coveted position at Goldman Sachs in New York. But she didn't enjoy the financial services space, and quit after a while. On her return to India in 2001, her father asked her if she wanted to be an executive or an entrepreneur. “In the first, you can have a great career, prestige and money. If that's what you want to do then you should stay in the US because that's where the best opportunities are. But if you want to create impact, if you want to be the heart and soul of a company where the work you do matters, then you need to be an entrepreneur. And for that you need to come back to India,” he told her.
She chose to be an entrepreneur, with no previous work experience in India.
From ‘The Boss’s Daughter’ to ‘The Boss’
When Ameera joined her father’s clinic, Dr. Sushil Shah’s Laboratory was a thriving 1500 square feet organization in South Mumbai where it enjoyed a great reputation. But nobody beyond south Mumbai had heard of it. It operated as a sole proprietorship, with no computers, emails, systems, and processes. Ameera knew that growth of a business demanded operations at a larger scale. Aiming to transform the company, she understood the nitty-gritties by being hands-on.
Talking to MAKERS India, she recollects that as she was the boss’s daughter, initially people assumed that she was having fun, or pursuing it as a hobby.
“People assume that you're privileged, that you don't actually have to be responsible and follow any rules. But the minute you are not those things, people see it. In the first few months people realized that I was there for building a business. I was working longer hours than everybody else. I was taking standing at the front desk and talking to patients and taking the shouting and firing when necessary. I was not running away from anything or sitting in a comfortable cabin; I was willing to lead from the front.”
Soon, Ameera brought in new talent, created new departments, digitized communication systems, created SOPs and processes. Dr. Sushil Shah's Laboratory was renamed as Metropolis Healthcare, and they started tying up with existing independent laboratories to bring them under the umbrella of Metropolis. Over the years, Metropolis Healthcare has raised institutional funding from multiple external investors, and went public in April 2019.
The Biggest Achievement
When Ameera spoke to MAKERS India, nine months had passed since the IPO. Although Metropolis Healthcare was among the first ones who broke the spell of no-IPOs in India, Ameera coolly passes it off as just an event which creates liquidity.
“It's been a good ride for investors, and people have made money, and that's important. But that is definitely not my biggest achievement for sure; it is the kind of institution that we're all building together,” she says.
According to Ameera, IPO is an end point for the hard work by employees, investors, and people who believed in the organisation. “It's also the starting point for a new journey, which is of new investors, new employees, new people coming on board and new belief and hope in the company,” she adds.
On the personal front, Ameera is turning over a new leaf by embracing motherhood. It’s hard to resist the question: Can women have it all?
“I don't think anybody can have it all. Does having it all mean having a personal life and professional life, and friends and time for yourself? It's not like all men have it all either; they also have to struggle,” she opines, adding that she had now found a way to compartmentalize and do multiple things at one time without feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
“In life, if you want one thing, you have to give up something else. I think we all need to make our own definition of what is important to us, and what we're willing to trade off to get what is important to us,” Ameera concludes.
(Producer & Editor: Urmi Chatterjee)