Home CommunityPeople Meet Chiranya ‘Anjie’ Prachaseri, the CEO for Southeast Asia of Cryoviva, a stem cell innovation company

Meet Chiranya ‘Anjie’ Prachaseri, the CEO for Southeast Asia of Cryoviva, a stem cell innovation company

by Aiden

Her quest to improve quality of life by stemming the tide of age and disease.

By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales

I consider myself privileged to have known all my grandparents growing up, despite having recently lost the last of them to the passage of time. I’m equally sure that if I, or indeed if most of us, were given the opportunity to extend that privilege, by stemming the tide of time and disease, we would take it without hesitation. When I met Chiranya ‘Anjie’ Prachaseri, the CEO of the stem cell innovation company, Cryoviva, she said something that struck me. She said, “somebody once gave me a very good example of how we could see the difference we could make in people’s lives in this business. Think of a grandparent who has a grandchild whose stem cells were stored, and they were able to get regenerative treatment. As a result, instead of sitting and watching their grandchildren play due to their poor health condition, they could play with them. It’s the difference between being a spectator and being part of the joy.”

Eloquent, elegant, and with a keen mind for business, it’s clear that Anjie is passionate about Cryoviva’s mission. “It’s not about existing, it’s about living,” she tells me as she explains the science behind the company, which involves harnessing, storing, and culturing stem cells from newborn children (and in some cases, from adults) to have the option to treat a host of diseases. These diseases range from auto-immune diseases, blood cancers, diabetes, and cerebral palsy; to aesthetic, pre-emptive, and preventative care for the whole family, to improve their quality of life.

Despite her wealth of knowledge on the technical aspects of Cryoviva, her expertise has been hard-won as she had to spend a great deal of time learning the science behind the business to lead it effectively. Born and brought up in Bangkok as a third-generation Thai Indian, Anjie shares that, “if you look back at the days when I grew up, women in Indian families were married and had kids not long after leaving high school. I was privileged that my parents were very enthusiastic about ensuring that their children, regardless of our sex/gender, had a good education. My father’s classic line was, ‘the only thing I can give you that nobody can take away is your education. If you want to study, the world is your oyster.’”

Because of this, Anjie was one of the few Thai Indian women of her generation to study in the US for her undergraduate and master’s degrees. She recalls how, despite growing up in a family with businesses in real estate, manufacturing, and trading, she was “essentially thrown into the deep end” after graduating. She was told to go find a job and “learn what it’s like to be an employee, understand what it takes to advance professionally from the example of others, and most importantly, how to treat people who work for you.”

Taking this advice to heart, Anjie joined a consulting company, working with clients like the Regent Group of HotelsShangri-La Hotels, and American Express. Two years later, she moved on to work in several industries including trading, finance, and manufacturing. She also served as an advisor to the Consulate General of the Republic of Kenya; worked in the family business; and worked in corporate restructuring during the Asian Financial Crisis. She joined Cryoviva in 2009, which was, in a twist of fate, an industry quite close to her heart. “A close friend of mine told me that there was a company that deals with stem cells, and they’re looking for someone to run it,” she recalls.

“My only experience with stem cells was that my younger daughter, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, had stem cell treatments shortly after her birth. We searched for ways to give her a better quality of life, and despite stem cell treatments being very novel back then, we decided to give it a shot. Lo and behold, her health improved dramatically, and I did a lot more research through the years to see how much more it would help her. So, when this opportunity came along, it was quite exciting for me.”

At the end of the day, Anjie tells me, this is what she loves about what she does. “I saw what the technology did for my daughter, and I wanted it to make that difference for other families. For me, if you can save a life or make someone’s life better, that’s worth more than money. There’s never been an industry that I’ve seen as many smiles in as I do in this one. Adding that joy to someone’s life is a completely different reason to get up in the morning.”

She speaks to Masala further about the far- reaching potential of stem cell innovation, what it’s been like being a high-powered female executive of her generation, and the importance of wellbeing and human connection.

In lay people’s terms, what are the services that Cryoviva provides?

There are different types of stem cells that are stored. We mostly focus on cells that are stored when a child is born. There are cord blood stem cells, which are from the blood that remains in the umbilical cord, cells from the cord itself, from the amniotic tissue, and the placenta. Different types of cells are used to treat different types of diseases or disorders. From cord blood stem cells alone, there are around 85 diseases which are approved for treatment. Cells from the umbilical cord tissue, or mesenchymal stem cells, can be used by other members of the family and have been used by senior family members of many clients to improve their quality of life.

Now technology has moved ahead, so you can even save your own fat cells. In the process of liposuction, you can extract tissue which contains stem cells that can be used for degenerative conditions or for cosmetic/aesthetic purposes. Fat or adipose cells can be used in combination, or in replacement of, fillers and Botox, except they’re better as you’re repairing yourself from the inside out rather than just filling in what’s lost.

Another area that the company is exploring is the treatment of cancer using stem cell technology. This is technology that has been around for a few years, but as a policy, we don’t normally give a service until we see that it’s been in the market for a while and that it’s been proven to be effective.

Cryoviva celebrates its 15th year of operations this year and has set a high standard for the stem cell industry in Thailand. What makes it unique, and how did you leverage that when you transitioned into helming a medical company?

I’m not a scientist, but I had a lot of interest in the company. I felt it had a lot of potential as it was poised in a very cutting-edge industry. For the first 3-6 months, I spent 12-16 hours a day just learning the business and reading up on the science behind stem cells. It was quite tough during the first couple of years as there was a lot of learning to do and credibility to earn, but I had a fabulous team behind me.

I did a lot of internal restructuring of the teams we had, how we positioned the services and marketed them. We took a very close-to- heart approach, in the sense that we marketed quality of life rather than purely science – the company had a wonderful tagline back in the day, we aimed to be “a lifeline for a lifetime” for our clients. This was something that fit right into the marketing strategy that was implemented.

The main hurdle was and still is educating people about stem cells. However, the younger generation now is more aware of its potential and more families are now storing them as an insurance for future good health rather than just as a trend; a way to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

Today, with a lot of pride, we can say that we’re the only group in Southeast Asia that’s accredited for the processes of collecting and culturing cells. We work with some of the best hospitals and clinics in the region for all services related to stem cells, whether it be the collection process or the use for treatment, and we also have a network of medical professionals who can provide advice on medical options beyond just banking the cells.

Many new parents may have concerns about this technology – from hesitations about how cutting edge it is, to the price point, to a lack of understanding about its importance. How would you address those concerns?

In the scientific community, there are new trials happening almost every day, and the results are very encouraging. It is safe to say that certain treatments using stem cells that may have been questionable 20 years ago are a reality today. Having said that, the key is how to distinguish between the true potential of stem cells and the claims that it is a miracle cure. You need to be discerning.

In your experience, has this technology been embraced by many in the Thai Indian community? Why, or why not, and do you notice a difference in which couples are more willing to invest in it?

Though there is a significant increase in the number of Indian families who have stored their children’s stem cells with Cryoviva, there is still little knowledge of its potential use in treating diseases. And since the opportunity to store your child’s stem cells is only at birth, many are missing out on the chance of ensuring the future good health and wellness of their families.

Aside from changing the perception of stem cells and educating people, what was the biggest challenge that you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge, thus my biggest accomplishment, has been leading a business in the medical field without a medical background. The personal time that I put in to educate myself helped, but the key to my success is that I work alongside a group of people who are both professionally qualified in their fields and possess a deep passion for what they do. This is what Cryoviva is about: creating a positive impact on every client that meets us, and to contribute positively to their decision to insure their family’s future good health.

You’ve mentioned that you grew up at a time when expectations for women were different, and even now we still deal with the glass ceiling, among other things. How did you shape your own expectations as a woman in your generation who has had a high- powered career for decades?

I’ll be honest with you; I was extremely lucky. From a young age, I had an interest in business and my parents encouraged me and permitted me to spend time in their office and sit in on their meetings.

I’ve found that, if you don’t have the belief, it’s very difficult. Yes, there may be a lot of resistance, there may be a lot of people around you who say, “if you’re a woman in a high- powered career, how are you going to balance work, life, family, and everything else?” The answer is, irrespective of sex or gender, we all must make compromises to succeed.

You must be willing to put in the effort, and commit, because nothing comes at no cost, and sometimes that cost is postponing certain life milestones. My career has not come without regret. It’s easy to say, “be a high-powered executive, you’re doing well, it’s great that people recognise you”. It’s come at the cost of my kids growing up without their mother, a lot of time on the road, and no time for myself. So, there are those pitfalls, and you must be ready to understand that you can’t go in halfheartedly. If you’re looking for a high-powered career, you need a very good support system, especially if you want to have a family. I have been extremely fortunate with great family support: my parents and siblings have encouraged me to chase my dreams and understood that my goals are important to me.

In your experience do you think companies would benefit from having more women at the top, and how do you embody that?

Absolutely. I think it’s time that the world starts to see that women have the potential to be just as successful as men. Today, so many inspirational women have dominated in their respective fields: Serena Williams in sports, Beyoncé in music, Indra Nooyi in business, and Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister. Traditionally, a man’s world is a lot about strength, power and authority and women have been seen to bring a softer side to business, one of empathy and compassion which brings a different approach to leading a company. It has always been perceived as disadvantageous, yet we don’t realise that this approach has its own effectiveness. Having said that, I’d like to say that I bring a combination of both to my approach as CEO: I am demanding when it comes to the performance of my team, but I consider it of utmost importance to ensure their overall wellbeing because people who feel better, perform better.

My time at Cryoviva has allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the importance of good health and what we can do to maintain it. As a result, I am currently involved in the Wellness Corporate Nation Building Programme of Thailand’s Nation Building Institute: an initiative to take wellness into companies nationwide so they can implement policies that will vitalise employee wellness, thus positively contributing to their overall success.

You’re a big supporter of women in businesses – can you tell us about that, and how we as women can support each other more in our organisations?

I really believe that there’s very little sharing, especially amongst Asians. People don’t share the negative in fear of shame and judgement, but it’s important for us to learn from each other’s, and our own, mistakes. The key is, you must set aside your ego and be able to openly say, this is where I am, and this is where I want to get to. Ask yourself, “What can I do to get there?” There’s never any shame in asking for help. The last thing we need is for women to downplay each other as it doesn’t help whatsoever. Instead, it’s important for us to lend a hand to each other when we need to and help in whatever way we can to get to where we want to be.

In addition to my professional role, I’m the Regional President for the Mekong Region and Singapore for the Association for Businesswomen in Commerce and Industry. This Association is about bringing businesswomen together so we can share our ideas, push initiatives, and provide support to each other in the areas of knowledge, networking and in some cases, financial support. We’ve got exceptional women in over 20 countries who are acting right now on this project right now and we expect swift growth of territorial penetration in the next two years.

I’m also a motivational coach to individuals who are in middle and senior management. My main goal with this is to support others free of cost. We’ll meet, and I will do my best to share my thoughts and shed some light to their concerns. I feel it’s important to pay forward the support I have received over the years.

Tell us about the people who’ve inspired you over the years and helped you become the inspirational woman you are today.

My mother was a career woman, running a business with thousands of people under her, and she was one of the first career women here in her generation. She worked until the day she passed. When you grow up with that, there’s not much that holds you back.

Another woman who truly inspires me is a woman who, from a housewife, became a high-powered executive, and who’s made her mark globally in an industry that is dominated by men, and that is Mrs. Suchitra Lohia of Indorama Ventures (Public) Co., Ltd.

Indra Nooyi, who led Pepsi, is another woman I have followed for many years. Her latest book is one that I think every woman who wants to do business should read as it acknowledges the compromises that you make on your professional journey to the top. Hopefully one day I’ll meet her!

These women have proved that it doesn’t matter who you are. Anything is possible, if you have that belief, support and are willing to put in the effort. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of sitting down with those around you and narrating your dreams to them. A lot of the time, we try to go about things without talking about it. How is someone supposed to understand your journey? If you can share it, they can understand how to support you.

You’ve mentioned the sacrifices you’ve made along the way. What have those been, and how do you maintain a good work/life balance now?

I think I’m one of the worst examples of work/life balance. I enjoy what I do, and I think that my kids and my family have been supportive in terms of what I believe in, and what brings me joy. Although my career has given me very little personal and family time, it’s been worth the ride. For my kids, they have seen another side of me. They’ve seen the effort it takes to gain respect as a woman in business as well as the sacrifices I have made to get here.

But throughout, what I feel is important is that I’ve maintained the relationships that mattered. I still meet regularly with a lot of friends, and family is key to me. My world revolves around that. I think the passing of my mother a few years ago was a wakeup call. Since then, I’ve refocused and prioritised a bit more. I’m still not exactly where I should be, but like I said, if you try to continuously improve, I consider that progress. Now I take out time for that vacation. Work can wait a bit, sometimes.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders, especially to the next generation of women looking to follow in your footsteps?

What I see today in this new-age world of the Metaverse and technological advances, is that we’re losing the humanness in us. That connectivity is a very different connectivity. It’s okay to be part of that technological world, but if our human side starts to disappear, it’s going to be a very scary place to raise our children.

Some of the old things are still good – the interaction that goes into deep conversations, into doing things together. And if you want to succeed, and be in the high-powered world, you’ll be way ahead of many if you have empathy, compassion and the ability to make genuine, real connections with the people around you.

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