An interview with Sanjay Ganvir, Partner at Green Light Pharmacy

by Bee Heller
June 12, 2017

I recently met up with Sanjay Ganvir, Professional Services Director at Green Light Pharmacy. Founded 18 years ago with their first pharmacy in Euston, Green Light is a pioneer of patient centred healthcare and employee ownership structures within the healthcare industry. I chatted to Sanjay about what he thinks makes the culture of Green Light Pharmacy special and how they’re setting themselves up for long term sustainable success.

Bee Heller: Why was Green Light originally set up?

Sanjay Ganvir: Twenty years ago the pharmacy contracts with the NHS were changing. Green Light’s founders had a vision for a different kind of pharmacy care – a service that was built around the community, focused solely on healthcare and centred around the patient.

Pharmacists are the final safety check in ensuring patients receive medicines safely. Pharmacists are there to “hold people’s hands” and to help them understand their medicines and health. The founders of Green Light successfully pitched this concept and 18 years ago opened up a community pharmacy in Euston. I joined Green Light 10 years ago, inspired by their vision and different way of doing things.

BH: What’s your proudest achievement to date?

SG: From the beginning Green Light has been employee owned. The founders read an Oxfam report that highlighted that 99% of the world’s wealth is owned by just 1% of the world’s population. They wanted to do something that would help people on moderate and low incomes to own assets and hence build up their own wealth. They wanted to be more than just good employers, but an engine for social change. Offering employees shares in the company seemed an obvious way to achieve this. 

One of our first employees started putting £5 a week into our share scheme. Living in social housing and earning a moderate salary while supporting a family, this was all she could afford. However she was determined to save something to invest in her children’s future. While she appears disinterested in the actual monetary value of  her shares, she was so excited to discover that she can now afford to pay for her daughters to go to university, something no one in her family has ever been able to do before.

The transformation we’ve been able to support in our employees’ life opportunities, is something I am hugely proud of. 

BH: How would you describe the culture of Green Light Pharmacy?

SG: We strive to be socially responsible. We believe in trying our hardest to have a positive effect on our little bit of the world. If we do this we can change people’s lives. 

We are patient centred. We believe in engaging properly with people. 60% of medicines are not taken as prescribed. 8% of people end up being admitted to hospital as a result of issues with their medicines. Good pharmacy care can significantly impact on these stark statistics. We believe the starting point for good healthcare is to understand and respect our patients’ own health beliefs and support them from there. Our role is to provide expert advice and care so they can make the best decisions about their own health.

We are community focused. We employ locally. We engage with local charities and provide services that our community needs, often ones that are not classically commissioned by the NHS from pharmacies.

A story that I think illustrates our culture demonstrates how we are constantly thinking about how we can support the healthcare needs of our local communities…

One of the biggest challenges in an ageing society is loneliness. Evidence shows that as well as impacting on peoples emotional health, loneliness and social isolation impacts on peoples physical health. This is particularly prevalent among women, who are statistically likely to outlive their husbands and become widows. With lots of widows using our services for regular prescriptions, one of our pharmacies wanted to do something that would help with the loneliness and social isolation many of these women were experiencing. They decided to set up a weekly walking group. It wasn’t something we could support on an ongoing basis but we recognised we could use our network to let people know about the group and get the first walk up and running. This is exactly what we did. The initial walks were led by our staff, but we encouraged one of the walkers to train as a health lead and the group became self-sustaining. The ladies continue to meet at our pharmacy at the same time and head out together each week. We’re able to recommend the group to patients but don’t have to invest anymore time in keeping it going.

Our connections with the local community mean we can be a catalyst for lots of things like this making a really positive contribution to people’s lives and the local community.

BH: How do your people make a difference to your success?

SG: Without a doubt our best ideas come from our people. We have regular big strategy day meetings. Two people come from each one of our seven pharmacies, one of whom must not be a pharmacist (so one of the people attending is always a non graduate). This ensures we hear from diverse perspectives and encourages novel ideas. 

BH: What’s your biggest people management challenge as you grow?

SG: Continuing to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard is very important to us. The more people we have the harder this becomes.

The other challenge we have is getting people used to our culture after we’ve recruited them. Everyone is really excited about joining us but the way we work can still be quite a culture shock for people. It usually takes a couple of months for people to settle in and embrace our flat structure and the fact that we value everyone’s opinions equally. 

BH: What’s the most innovative people management practice you’ve implemented?

SG: We were determined to break out of the traditional way of operating a pharmacy where the pharmacist is in charge and everything they say goes. Everyday we have a 5 minute huddle where the whole store team discusses how they’re doing to do things. Everyone is encouraged to contribute and can make any suggestion for doing things differently – even including how the day is going to run. 

BH: Have you ever had difficult times and how have you dealt with them?

SG: We pay our staff higher than average for our industry but we also have a much smaller difference between our highest and lowest earners and this is important to our ethos. However, of course we’re aware we’re a commercial company and we need to make a profit. There can be a lot of pressure when you have just one client, i.e. the NHS. If the NHS makes a change to our contract with them this can have a massive impact on our business. In 2008, like many others, we got wrapped up in the global financial troubles with loan interest rates rising dramatically. We had to sell a pharmacy and times were really tough. However, our strength through this time was our people. Employees rallied round the company. As owners of the company they were determined to see it succeed, as they believed in the underlying strength of the business. People invested to get us through a difficult time, often only small amounts, but what they could afford. As it happens they have now seen really strong return on their investment

This experience has made us much more robust moving forward. We’ve diversified our services beyond traditional pharmacy services. We now partner with University College London to deliver education and training services. We also develop and support a network of GP based pharmacists. We’re buying two new pharmacies and are more prepared as NHS contracts continue to change in the environment of NHS austerity we are currently in. Our reputation means we’re also in a position to influence and shape future pharmacy and healthcare services.

BH: What’s your most successful approach to people management?

SG: We instil a culture of: “this is your company”. This means people are really open. People aren’t afraid to question why we do things a certain way. People will put forward suggestions for new ways of doing things from both day to day practices right through to financial and strategic decisions. 

BH: What will Green Light be like as a place to work in 3 years time?

SG: I hope we’ll still be fun and innovative. I have no doubt that we’ll be doing things that we haven’t even thought about yet. I hope we’re continuing to change people’s lives and give them opportunities they would not otherwise have had.

BH: What do you want your patients to be saying about you in 10 years time?

SG: If people are still saying: “you’re the first person that’s listened to me about how I feel about my health and medicines ” (as someone did the other day), then we’re still succeeding in delivering the patient experience that’s so important to us now. Our approach is to shut up and listen. We want to share our knowledge and expertise in a way that respects where the patient is currently at. 

BH: What’s this about your 100 year business plan?!

SG: Yes, we have a 100 year business plan! We want to be the John Lewis of the healthcare sector but even more radical! We’re a business with social responsibility at our core. We want to grow as a healthcare organisation but also inspire and influence the way people do business. We strive to create an organisation where our people are happy, we have a positive impact on the local community and we are economically sustainable. If we can demonstrate a business paradigm where companies can be financially successful while also being socially responsible engines of change in local communities, then I think we’ll have achieved something positive.

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