#11 Ajeeth Kumar - Man Proposes, God Disposes

Ajeeth Kumar is the business head of a healthcare company who never officially studied Biology. An accident could have left his legs paralyzed but that didn't stop him. He tried his hand at entrepreneurship and was the star of the healthcare industry at one point but...



Right. So I was coming back from my tuition and I got run over by a car 


Aamer: That was Ajeeth Kumar, someone who hated biology but ended up working in the healthcare industry for the past 27 years. He's the business head of a medical devices and a healthcare supplies company called PBC Medicals. And this is his story.


Welcome. I'm Aamer Khan and this is the Zed Medium Podcast. A podcast that talks to people and about them, too. We take out the most significant experiences of an individual and package it in the form of a story, sharing those with you. 


We narrate people's journeys in the simplest way we can. There's a new person every episode, so do check out the previous ones. I'm sure you'll find someone to relate to. Let's start with this one, shall we? 


Ajit completed his Bachelor's in Science without taking biology. But before we get into the Why no biology debate, we love the reason he chose Bachelors in Science in the first place. 


Ajeeth: I mean, as a kid, this is what inspired most in the 1980s to have at least 1 feat in science. Okay. My father left behind a bunch of books, like the encyclopedias and a whole bunch of stuff. So we didn't have much to do in terms of social media those days. 


So the books were the only things that we had to resort to. So books, comics, whenever that was there. Star Trek was something which really inspired us. So we'd wait for Sunday mornings to catch an episode. So, yeah, science was something which that's the one realm where we could escape the moon life that we had. 


Aamer: Right? He's being modest here. He lived far from mundane life. His mom was an accountant for the Defense Estates for Northeast India, and it involved a lot of travel. He's lived in more than twelve states of India and experienced a lot of things the country had to offer. But there were struggles early on in his life. He lost his father at a very young age. 


He was about eleven years old at the time, and there weren't many friends for support either. Normally, in such situations, everyone in the family has taken a hit, and the only sensible refuge someone seeks is outside the family. But traveling to different states didn't make it easy to make friends. It was not a very easy life. Right? 


I mean, it's traumatic as well to have lost someone, and so you take some time to get used to making friends. Sometimes you don't make friends. It was not easy. It was definitely not easy at all. But then we lived through it, and that's how we managed. Difficult times make stronger people. Ajeeth was 20 when he started working, but not many know this about him. His first try at a job was actually in the real estate industry before he finally ended up in the health care business. 


Ajeeth: Took up the responsibility for a real estate company. That was the time in all these results were coming up and all the stuff we have, the packages and stuff like that. The other worshiper school was a very good friend, family friend. So he had these results and he wanted me to kind of see if anything can be done about it. I tried. 


My best friend, somebody else know to my brother was working for a health care company and he said, why don't you give this a try? I was not exactly the right candidate for anything to do with health care. I hated biology when I was in school, so I took it up and I told myself, six months is what I'm going to spend on this. 


So it's been about 27 years and I'm stuck with the portfolio. Not managed to find an escape, but that's how I started with this company called Medishvia. Marketing was based on the daily runs by a fantastic gentleman neighbor. He was instrumental in establishing a weekend, the device of choice for an infusions therapy system. So by the time I left the company before I was exposed even to interventional cardiology, they had taken up pacemakers and all sorts. The stuff of that got technical very quickly. 


Aamer: But that was his first job in a field which he neither studied nor liked. And it is amazing to see that he ended up doing what he never thought about. It wasn't like he was actively looking to avoid it, but he took a chance and he learned a lot in that job. 


And he loved learning. He read a lot of books, he watched Star Trek as a kid somewhere. The fun of learning for him always remained. And for anyone in this field, they know that learning is a neverending process. Ajit was there learning about the basics of the healthcare industry before he hopped onto another opportunity that came his way at a company called Interventional Technologies. 


Ajeeth: I was working for a company called Interventional Technologies based out of Bombay. The company was populated by Star Wars from the industry, from Atronics, from Boston Scientific, instrumental in the launch of a unique garden with stent called the Costar. This was a stent which was supposed to change the way stunting was being done worldwide. Anyone at this point confusing pharma and healthcare, they're two very different industries.


Healthcare basically refers to the activities that take place inside a hospital. Surgeries, an instrument used for those surgeries, checkups, and the medical devices used to do those checkups, treatment, et cetera. Anything that does not require any chemical composition, that's the healthcare industry. The pharma industry comes into the picture when the doctor gives out a prescription and you go on to buy a certain medicine. 


That medicine from the composition to the packaging to the distribution, basically everything that happens outside a hospital is part of the pharmaceutical industry. Again, these are very brief descriptions, so I would suggest doing your own research. And on that note, we'll continue with the story. This is an interesting point in his journey because it takes courage and honesty to be accepting of your mistakes. He was a star at Interventional Technologies. 


At his peak, whatever he touched was turning to gold. But that's when you have to be the most careful because you never know what's going to happen next. And Ajeeth made the mistake of overestimating his abilities or underestimating the market.


Ajeeth: I was given the responsibility for selling a large amount of products. And as any other salesman, we try to kind of overcompensate and we try to exceed the markets reality and we pitch ahead without taking into consideration what the market realities are. So that ends up with you having huge amounts of stock and not having sold. So that causes losses to the company. So yes, I have had that one particular experience where the losses were quite big. I didn't get the reason why the market is all about and you'll have to understand the selling marketing, you'll have to understand the ground realities of what you're trying to do.


If you are going to go ahead and move without having to take into consideration an objective view, there's one thing that you really want to do something. So that's a very subjective view. You're influenced by your will and your desire. But the objective view, the ground reality is something which we should never lose sight of. 


And I lost sight of that situation. And to compensate for the lack of vision or the lack of grasp of reality, we tend to compensate that by trying to go overboard with our selling practices. I wouldn't want to go. Selling practices involved getting a customer's confidence, and trying to influence them. So those are areas where you tend to kind of overcompensate. And I accepted the entire debacle because at that point in time I was one of the darling of the industry. 


The people were looking up to me every meeting. I was given the best performer and this and that and all that stuff. But that's one single mistake where I overestimated my ability to perform and did not take into account the reality of the market. And then when the harsh realtor dawned on me, I try to overcompensate that by trying to do everything that is not in the book to get the business up and running. 


That is where I feel. 


Aamer: Things ended on a sour note with Interventional Technologies, something he wished he could change when he looks back at the situation. But not everything is in our control, really. So Ajeeth controlled what he could and that was his next step. He wanted to do something different. He had been working for someone else for far too long now and he needed a change in the managerial environment. He had he had made all the necessary connections in the industry and decided to partner up with a doctor to start his own venture.

Ajeeth: Yes. Then I left and I tried my hand with the doctor. We started our own organization, which we call Needs Hospital Solutions. I tried my hand at being an entrepreneur. That was very nice. What we used to do was I made friends with all these doctors at that time. And we came up with the idea that there were so many utilized resources lying with the hospitals. So we approached these clinics and we told them, look, what give us space? 


And we'll set up an ICU, and we'll get the doctors and we'll get the medical equipment, and the patients will continue to be your patients. The idea was to stabilize and transfer to a larger telecommuting center if possible. The idea was all acute. In my case, my patients, the ones suffering from heart attacks and stuff like that, would be transferred to major corporate hospitals. Or we had an understanding of these hospitals. 


So the patients would be transferred to the hospitals, and then they will conduct the procedure, and then we transfer the patient back to the ICU. A pretty good business model and it was going well. They had roped in some schools where they could put beds in certain classrooms where the patients could be treated during summer vacations only, or else you risk traumatizing. 


Children at that age, grew and grew way too quickly for their liking of the business, not the children. The number of patients started increasing. The space for them started decreasing. The schedule of doctors was haywire. There was no administration to keep a track of everything. And thus that resulted in a lot of problems for the startup. 


So every time doctor would not be nice to you, we had critical patients coming in. We had promised support. We were failing similarly in the school, that one school would get set up. They were paying exorbitantly high rates for us. We were failing them. So we came to a point where we had no other option but to say, you know what? This is not working out. That doesn't mean they stop the business entirely. It still runs in India, but they gave it away to people who are more equipped in handling it. 


Kind of people with more resources at their disposal. Now every time there is an important junction in Ajith's life, he's look for something different. And this time it was a more informed decision because of the kind of market that was shaping up in the healthcare industry in India at that time. 


There was a lot of issues with the ecology industry, which I would not want to go deep into. But it was not a healthy trend that was happening in the market at that time. And I was informed that in the Middle East you have a better option in terms of exploring opportunities for intervention, cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, and so on. 


Aamer: And so he left for Dubai to start looking for more opportunities. He landed in UAE only to realize that the information he had received was misguided. He didn't find a lucrative market there. It was still growing and landing in Dubai in the early 2000s. It was not the same Dubai we see today. 


It was close to nothing. There had been no development yet and no one at the time knew how Dubai was going to turn out. But let's hear it from Ajeeth. 


Ajeeth: I mean, a couple of months after I arrived here, once I got my driving license, stuff like that, I immediately drove off to Aman. 


And there were not many opportunities in Dubai at that point in time in terms of trading, because it is a new market for me. I had to learn the entire market, my own plans. So I made big grand plans. But I've always had my plans up ended. 


And I don't regret, I mean, today if someone were to ask me if I were to go back in time and change anything, maybe, except for the fact that I would love to not lose my father at that age, but besides that, I would not change anything else to happen in my life. Because whatever I am today, whatever I know today, and my values and knowledge that I carry my brain today, it will not have happened. 


Not for the challenges that I had to face and for the good people that I've been associated with. So I would want to miss them. And the challenges he faced were many, especially the travel and the business between Dubai and Oman. He was always in similar industries. 


And the beauty about being in Dubai at that time was the melting pot it was becoming. Meeting people of different cultures, age, nationalities, gave him a lot of exposure and he took a lot of different things from the different kind of people he worked for over that period of time. I've not had a mentor in the sense, in the classical sense, but I picked up stuff from the books that I read. I picked up stuff from the people that I've worked with. 


Right now I work with Mr. Bidhan of PPC Medical Medicine. He's a fantastic person. In him I see a drive and aggression which I have not seen in many other people. But I also see clarity of thought and an integrity without compromising his integrity. That's something which is inspiring. Similarly, while I was working with Mr. Asif, of course I'm still associated with Mr. Asif in a big way. 


So he was someone in cancellation of larger than life personality with an equally substantial amount of knowledge and application of his knowledge. It doesn't matter how much you know, it doesn't matter how you apply what you know. And he applies everything that he knows into his business and he lives for his business. 


So that was inspirational. Likewise, Mr. Costam was inspirational at that age. When I was working, I think he was around 80 at that time, 75 years at that time. But he was a workover again. He was instrumental in making interventional cardiology or whatever it is today in the country. He's now working at PBC Medical and is doing some great work there. 


Aamer: He's associated with amazing people and has found the rhythm he was looking for, for a major part of his life. He wants to continue doing the same in the future and we wish him all the best for it. But as we came to the end of the conversation, he started talking about health being in this industry for far too long. That's what he feared, staying healthy for as long as he lived. And that stemmed from what he went through at the age of 16 or 17. At what age did the accident happened? 


Ajeeth: That happened when, 16 or 17. Right. So I was coming back from my tuition and I got run over by a car. The guy was I think he has some night blind that I don't know. So he had these quaint little cars that time and then he came and ran away. And fortunately, you know what, this was the Dolphin car. I don't believe these are those cars that had three wheels. So one wheel in the front and two wheels. It was yellow and one of the few ones in Silong. I don't think they had many cars. 


So fortunately for me, the car was not very heavy. So while it ran over me, I managed to survive the impact and it caused some issues to my back landing me requiring surgery because I didn't care about it, right?


 So I started like any other growing-up guy. I started working out exercise and stuff like that and I ended up with slipped discs and ended up requiring surgery sometime in 2003. 


Aamer: It wasn't his fault, but he had to endure the pain for a long time before he eventually got to having surgery. The aftereffects of the accident only started showing when he was about 28, 29, and 30, and that's because he ignored it for a very long time. 


Early care for his injury would have led to much better results later on, which is now. He didn't pay much attention to it. He started gyming and forgot entirely about it. But his body did not, which may go to show biology may not have liked him either.


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Next up, Naeem Maniar, an Irish resident who built a multimillion-dollar business from the ground up without ever having attended high school. 


And then what happened was, again, around that same time, Mrs. Gandhi got assassinated. So, India was in the news nonstop. And there was a computer science course starting in two months time in one of the colleges in Dublin in January. So my uncle just said, look, you're already over here. Why don't you do this course for six months, see if you like it? And you know what? I said, I'm 15. What the hell? I'll be in college in India. Let's just see what life is like over an island. Because I was beginning to enjoy the interactions. It also gave me an opportunity to be out of India. 


Find out more about him in the next one. Stay tuned, and goodbye for now. Bye.