Throughout her childhood, Zareen Karim watched her father work in an industry that had the power to transform people’s lives, and she knew what she wanted to do then and there.
“From when I was three years old, I wanted to be here,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “We have an opportunity and scope to give people a better life, a healthier life. This is where I wanted to be.”
Zareen joined Orion as soon as she completed her Master’s in Marketing Management, but it wasn’t easy to be a marketing expert in a field that requires expertise in pharmaceutical products. “I’m not a pharmacist, but I study a lot. I have a good team of pharmacists and I learn from them,” she explains. “My father, Orion Founder and Chair Mohammad Obaidul Karim, is there to guide us every day. He has been a mentor to me.”
Zareen has seen plenty of change in the industry since she joined Orion two decades ago. “The market size has changed a lot,” she says. “At the moment, the local market size is US$3.64 billion, which is huge for a country like Bangladesh. I feel the pharma sector is going to be the second-highest revenue generating sector in Bangladesh after the ready-made garments sector.”
She also feels that alongside the increase in market size, there has been a noticeable improvement in the quality of products, and the emergence of state-of-the-art factories.
Quality has always been an important yardstick of performance at Orion, and Zareen believes in focusing on the excellence of not just products, but also of people.
“My focus is on people because we deal with quality of life. I believe in teamwork, integrity and sustainability,” she says. It is this teamwork, she believes, that has helped achieve Orion’s ‘A-class products’.
Future plans for Orion are impressive. “We have built a state-of-the-art building with a huge area of over 30 acres [12.1 hectares], which we call the Orion Pharma Park. We plan to invest US$500 million in this. I have already invested US$250 million and, by January 2025, I intend to start operations for all the units, after which, my target is not only the local market,” she says.
“I am working in parallel with teams who can help us get United States Food and Drug Administration [FDA] approval or United Kingdom Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency [MHRA] approval, because I want to focus on the international market as well, especially for oncology and supplements.”
Being a marketing major, Zareen believes perfect product placement and building the brand are crucial to the pharmaceutical industry. “There are many pharmacists working in this sector who deal with each product as if it is their own child,” she says.
“However, establishing the brand name of the product among the doctors and in the community is a challenge. Promoting the right product at the right time in the right way, and with the right promotional tools, is the key to success.”
To achieve this, she has a personal approach towards the people involved with Orion, be it the employees or the suppliers.
“Our suppliers have been with us since we started operations two decades back. They have developed and they have grown with us at the same pace. Though I have an excellent team, my doors are always open for them; I know them personally and they know me personally,” she says.
“There is no alternative to working hard. Focus on your goals, be patient and you will achieve.”
Along with building the physical infrastructure needed for Orion’s healthy growth, Zareen is committed to building human resources, too. “Hierarchies are small now. I feel that things cannot only belong to the family,” she explains. “People are going to be valued for their knowledge, their capabilities, their experience and their work style. It cannot be my show all the time. Teamwork is important in every stage.”
Zareen is clear about her vision for Orion. “In two-to-three years, I should be able to say that we are one of the biggest pharmaceuticals in Bangladesh, with state-of-the-art buildings, with the quality of our people and our products,” she says.
Orion already has a global presence, with its products being sold in 30 countries. Zareen wishes to expand this reach to the European and American markets, but she acknowledges that that is no easy feat.
“The major challenge is in getting the regulatory approvals. If I don’t have FDA or MHRA approval, I will not be able to cater to the European or United States markets,” she says.
And the approval process for these certification is lengthy, with a lot of documentation. “Even if I start today, it’s going to take three-to-four years,” she says. “That’s where I need my patience, that’s where I need to be steadfast, that’s where I want to be.”
However, while it’s time-consuming, it’s not impossible. “Once you’re through, you’re through.”