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Abbott India: A Clean Bill Of Health

On his watch, Abbott India, has gone from strength to strength. Today, Abbott’s diversified operations in India have crossed $1 billion

After almost three decades of work experience in companies such as Voltas, Johnson & Johnson, Aventis and Bristol Myers Squibb, Rajiv Sonalker, a chartered accountant by qualification, joined Abbott India, one of India’s fastest growing pharmaceutical companies. Later this year, he completes a decade in Abbott India where he joined as director finance in November 2006.

On his watch, Abbott India, a healthcare company with products spanning across diagnostics, devices, nutrition and pharmaceutical therapies, has gone from strength to strength. In a way, Abbott India’s success is intertwined with Sonalker’s professional growth; the company’s diversification and expansion overlaps with Sonalker’s ongoing stint with the company.

“Since I joined Abbott, our presence in India has steadily expanded over the years. Today, Abbott’s diversified operations in India have crossed $1 billion. In 2010, Abbott celebrated its 100 years’ presence in the country and our mission is still relevant: To help people live better lives through good health,” he says.

Sonalker recounts that some significant global and local acquisitions favourably impacted Abbott in India during the last few years.

“It was of paramount importance to ensure that not only were these acquisitions seamlessly transitioned at the back end and business did not suffer a single-day loss, but also that no controls were dropped,” he says.

Convergence And Collaboration
This meant intensive collaboration of the finance teams with the IT and business counterparts. Sonalker says that a very important aspect of his work is the convergence of the finance teams from all businesses so as to maintain an efficient and service-oriented unit.

The high standards in compliance and accounting led to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India awarding Abbott India with the coveted Silver Shield for Excellence in Financial Reporting in 2015, he says.

Sonalker believes the decision to invest in additional resources in risk management and internal control helped his finance team stay focussed on supporting the business and also in standardising processes even as close monitoring of risks and control aspects were handled in parallel. In order to increase internal transparency, Sonalker and his team introduced dashboards that measure activities against mutually-agreed service level agreements.

“The dashboards are created for various internal finance teams. This move from perception to measurement dramatically changed the focus of the issue and improved overall process and discipline,” he says, describing one of his key decisions that has made a difference to Abbott India.

Challenges Ahead
When asked about some of the challenges that CFOs working in his space face, Sonalker says: “The many changes in the regulatory requirements, the inflationary pressures and currency volatility are some of the biggest challenges. A CFO is held responsible by stakeholders for ensuring high forecast accuracy and so should ensure that mitigation strategies are planned.”

Sonalker terms cyber security as an area of high importance in the current digital age. “Leveraging technology for improving operational efficiency across the enterprise is essential. However, this also heightens the need for ensuring protection against cyber fraud,” he says.

Expanding on the good work Abbott India has been undertaking as part of its CSR initiative, Sonalker says: “Abbott India was involved in CSR initiatives much before the 2 per cent mandate on CSR spending among profitable listed companies came up. In partnership with PATH, Abbott scientists have successfully improved PATH’s Ultra Rice fortification technology in ways that reduce production costs while improving the nutritional value of rice,” he says. Grants from the Abbott Fund, which is $1.5 million, have also helped build local production capacity in India and low-cost quality assurance tools.

ashish.sinha@businessworld.in @ashish_BW



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