Vitamin King

Vitamin King

On his early life and his foray interest in Vitamin technology

I was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1931. After partition, my family moved to India. In Pakistan, my father ran one of the biggest wholesale and retail pharmacies of the time. In 1956, after my B.Pharm, I left the Indian shores and went to London for higher education. There I acquired a post-graduate degree in pharmacy before proceeding to Germany for my doctorate in Medicinal Chemistry. After a brief stint in Germany where I worked as a professor, I returned to India, got married to a medical doctor and worked with the AIIMS as a research scientist for two years before returning to London where I joined a pharma publication in an editorial position. It was a journal that published a compilation of abstracts of world patents in medicine. Almost all major pharma companies in the world were subscribers.

As a young research scientist at AIIMS Delhi, I observed anomalies in the administration of some of the most basic vitamins and minerals. The iron administered to patients at AIIMS was at least seven to eight times more than the recommended dosage. I decided to study this subject further and that’s when my interest in Vitamins and Nutrients developed.

On how he set it up Vitabiotics

During the late sixties, I suffered from persistent mouth ulcers. I had tried lots of medicines, but nothing had worked. Finally, after having suffered for about five years, I had decided to find a cure himself – after all I was a qualified pharmacist. I invented a medicine which worked wonders – used it a few times, after which my mouth ulcers vanished completely never to return again. I applied for a British patent for this new cure for mouth ulcers and got it. Then, I tried to sell the patent but did not find a buyer. So I decided to manufacture and distribute the product myself.

Having studied pharmacy locally, I was familiar with the local market. I also knew that people often relied on pharmacists for such common ailments as headaches and ulcers. So I packed a dozen units of Oralcer in neat boxes and sent them to all the local chemists along with a letter and a return stamp and address. I said in the letter: "You know that nothing works for ulcers. This is the first treatment in the world that will work. If you’re happy, you sell the product, and if not, you may return the box. Only ten per cent of the boxes came back. The rest of them sent repeat orders." This was the beginning of Vitabiotics. Then, when I visited Nigeria, I noticed that there was a market for multivitamin brand there and decided to introduce a multivitamin supplement. I developed an attractive packaging for the brand and called it Omega-H3. Today, Omega H3 is the largest selling nutritional supplement in several countries around the world.

On his awards and his source of delight

I have received four awards in the year 2003. The first among the awards was The Queen’s Award for Enterprise bestowed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in recognition of the company’s remarkable contribution to International Trade. Then there was the Asian Achiever’s Award for Trade and Industry followed by Entrepreneur of the Year in UK sponsored by British Telecom and GG2. And most recently in December 2003, I received the Asian of the Year 2003-2004, awarded by the Asian Who’s Who.

I was reluctant to accept the Asian of the Year award this year as I thought that it would be one award too many in a single year. Yet I was persuaded to receive it this year itself. Awards are fine…however, my true source of delight is the positive feedback I receive from the thousands of users of my products from across the world about how the medicines are benefiting them.

I remember an incident of a young girl who attempted suicide because her mouth ulcers were so bad that she felt that "life was not liveable." Her desperate attempt came after nothing had cured her. Then she was given Oralcer, and her condition improved immediately and gradually she was permanently cured. These and many other episodes are what make me really happy.

On his conviction in the power of nutrients

There are countless instances of our products working where traditional formulations have failed. I truly believe that natural ingredients like vitamins and minerals can prevent and cure of a range of health issues, from common ailments to lethal ones like AIDS. Combined in accurate quantities, they can cure as well as, and sometimes even better than, traditional medicine.

Not only that – our formulations are very safe as they are made from natural products, whereas most traditional medicines have counter effects. Take for instance Menopace, a pioneering product we developed – the first non-HRT remedy for menopausal women, which is today a market leader in UK. Today HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) is under serious clout. Doctors and scientists across the globe are questioning the use of HRT remedies.

What drives him…

Certainly not profitability – we sacrifice a lot even today. We don’t jump into something simply because of a fad. It’s true that success would have come to me quicker if I was more businesslike. But that’s not been my philosophy. If I am not satisfied, if I am not sure that a product will truly benefit people, I will not get involved in it, even if trends suggest that it would be profitable to do so.

I voluntarily price my product low in the developing countries. And I simply do not distinguish between nationalities when it comes to charity, social service or financial assistance of any kind. I donate money and help needy people wherever they are.

About two years ago, a young English man aged about 24 years, came to Kulu Manali for an adventure trek. While paragliding, he was lost. His mother was a nurse and father was school teacher. The boy’s parents contacted the British High Commission for assistance who in turn contacted the Indian High Commission. They were told that the search operation would cost them a lot of money, which they could not afford. When I read about this in the newspapers, I instructed my secretary to locate the hassled parents and then sponsored the entire search operation for two days. Although the search did not yield the desired results (the boy was unfortunately never found), at least the parents were satisfied that a serious attempt had been made.

On his lifestyle

I live a simple life. Nothing extravagant. I love the old and the historic. I am fascinated by antiques and ancient works of art such as ivories, furniture and paintings. This (pointing to a painting on the rear wall behind) was a jackpot! She is Gayatri Devi painted by Augustus John. I bought it at an auction in the UK some twenty five years ago. Nobody there seemed to know who she was – they referred to her as "some Indian princess". Augustus John was one of the best-known English portrait painters during the early part of the 20th century. He painted many wealthy and important people and Her Highness Gayatri Devi was certainly one such person.

I’ve also got a collection of historical books, with some amazing insights into times gone by, illustrated with beautiful sketches. These days I am co-writing a book about the role of British in the history of India.

On his children

The success of my children makes me a proud. My eldest son, Ajit Lalwanii, who is a medical doctor at the Oxford, has achieved a rare distinction of inventing a test for tuberculosis which has 99 per cent accuracy with the results being available on the same day displacing a hundred year old test that required six days for a result and has an accuracy of only 80 per cent. You see, TB was not a disease of the developed world, so multinationals never took it seriously. My younger son is now the head of marketing at Vitabiotics a
nd is doing very well.

His vision for India

I think that India’s future can be bright if only our literacy rates could go up. With a population like ours, if every earning Indian would set aside only one day’s income for a charitable purpose like education, India could attain hundred per cent literacy in five years.

Any regrets in life?

None at all. I am 72 now and I have lived a good, contended life. But I have dreams that I’d like to see coming true in my lifetime. Like Vitabiotics becoming a major International player and India’s rate of literacy nearing 100 per cent.

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