Uma Chigurupati manages a pharma company and a vineyard with equal ease
Imagine, managing a pharma company and a vineyard, running marathons and raising three children. Overwhelmed yet? 58-year-old Uma Chigurupati has been at it for over three decades.
Born in a small town in Andhra Pradesh, she was raised on one dictum, to “study, earn and be independent”. After a “rollercoaster ride” of a life, in her words, she is today the co-founder and executive director of Granules India — a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company with a presence in over 60 countries and employing over 4,000. Last year, it posted revenue of Rs.23 billion and net profit of Rs.1.88 billion.
In 1982, after her post-graduation in botany, Chigurupati had been keen to do her PhD. But, a marriage proposal came her way, and after many protestations, she agreed to meet Krishna Prasad. She says cupid struck after three meetings. One of the first questions he asked her was how many hours of sunlight indoor plants needed. Chigurupati, who was quite conversant with her subject, was embarrassed to admit that she didn’t have an answer to that. She was drawn to his inquisitiveness and manner.
Right after their wedding, Krishna began setting up Triton Laboratories, to manufacture pharmaceutical ingredients for paracetamol. Chigurupati decided to work with him and become a co-promoter. It was not a cakewalk, though. She delivered a baby boy a year into their marriage. “Managing a baby and travelling 40 km to look for factory sites was not easy,” she says. The couple decided to wait a while before having their next child, and in 1989, they had twin daughters. At the time, the young couple was facing a financial crunch. Chigurupati remembers the delay in being discharged from the hospital after the birth of their twins because bills had to be settled, and not having enough money to buy a new house.
The choice was between investing in their personal life or in the expansion at one of the Granules India (as Triton Laboratories came to be known from 1991) factories. She decided that a home was not top priority. In retrospect, that was a smart move, since the company has only grown from strength to strength.
After the twins, Chigurupati took a sabbatical. “I needed to be with my children,” she says. During the break, she took classes in flower arrangement and landscaping. In 1996, after seven years, Chigurupati rejoined the factory floor and worked across departments, from quality control to human resources. She says she has never faced a gender barrier. “I was just being myself, that must have helped,” she reasons. Today, Chigurupati focuses on HR and CSR at Granules India, and she takes great interest in bringing children from rural areas to be trained at the company, through the Swarna Bharat Trust project.
She may come across as tender-hearted but she can be equally hard-nosed. “Krishna often jokes around the office that it is easy to convince every board member except his wife,” she says. The two share an easy camaraderie. They became the world’s first couple to cover seven half-marathons across seven continents in seven days. Besides running, the two appreciate the art of winemaking. They operate the KRSMA Estates, which has a vineyard in Hampi, and which sent out its first case of bottles in 2014.
Two of their children – Harsha and Priyanka – help in the running of the business now. The first takes care of the operations and marketing for all markets except the US, while the second is based in the Washington office overseeing business development and marketing for the US. “Now there is too much shop talk between the daughter and the father,” says Chigurupati. Meanwhile, Pragnya is a breast oncologist, making her own way in the world.
To her, it is the little things that matter, like when her husband surprises her with flowers or a new saree. “Nothing makes me happier than that,” she says.