Philips to invest Rs 300 crore, hire 1,500 people in India, says global CEO Frans Van Houten

Health technology and consumer durables company Philips plans to invest more than Rs 300 crore and hire 1,500 people in India over the next one or two years, its global CEO Frans Van Houten told ET’s Teena Thacker in an interview. Edited excerpts:

What kind of impact did Philips see on its business during the pandemic?

It was a very interesting roller coaster. Last year in Q1, we took action to respond to the pandemic and we massively increased production of critical care equipment such as monitors and ventilators, some diagnostic equipment, and IT solutions. On one hand, we saw critical and acute care rise rapidly, on the other, we saw the more conventional business for elective procedures go down. This year we see the opposite effect because now the regular care is coming back.

What are the key products Philips delivered in India during the pandemic?

In India the pattern was different. The pandemic hit later and the impact to the businesses was also timed in a different way. We know the country well and we were also deeply concerned about health and wellbeing as the Indian people went through the second wave. We were proud to be able to step up and provide Covid support – ventilators, oxygen concentrators, diagnostic equipment, and intensive care equipment.

Your oxygen concentrators were particularly high in demand during the second wave. Did you face any challenges in bringing your products to India?

The Indian government was very responsive. The civil aviation minister in a couple of days organised flights to ship our concentrators. Customs clearance, which you know normally takes days, took a couple of hours from the time the concentrators landed to the time they were made available to hospitals and patients. I think the government was very quick in reacting and supporting us in our initiative.

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What kind of challenges do you see when you are introducing a new innovative product in India?

Medical innovations cost money. So, affordability of healthcare remains an issue despite the introduction of the insurance scheme. Access to care is something that has to be developed further. Also, getting in infrastructure that can cater for diseases at this kind of scale remains a challenge. But you know, India is not unique in this. It is the same issue elsewhere. Access to care, affordability of healthcare is a theme that all governments in the world are worried about.

How do you aim to collaborate with private and public parties in India?

Private-public collaboration can actually help to innovate healthcare and to make this affordable and accessible. Telehealth is a way people can get access to care and doctors through their smart phones. At the same time, by manufacturing and innovating more in India, we can work together to develop products at a cost price that is affordable for the Indian market.

Governments can help there by creating a conducive environment for investment and also by adopting slightly different regulations. For example, repurposing of used healthcare equipment is still not possible in India. In most countries in the world, also from a secularity point of view, we are able to give healthcare equipment a second life, extending their lifetime many years. But in India, that is not permitted. Why, you can fly with an aircraft for 30 years and every five years you upgrade. But in medical equipment that is not allowed. It is just not right.

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What is your vision for India in terms of future investments, expansion plans, and R&D?

We are focused on India as a growth opportunity. We think India is a great market to be in. There is a lot of talent in India that we make very good use of. We will see more local manufacturing coming to India because the market is important and there is a good workforce. So, we are expanding our Pune facilities and bringing more manufacturing there.

I would mention the importance of our Innovation Centre in Bengaluru, where most of our software resources reside. We are also expanding our Global Business Services Hub in Chennai, so overall employment for Philips in India is strong. We have a current plan to expand employment by at least 1,500 people.



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