Muhammed Majeed has brought a scientific perspective to
Ayurvedic herbal practice, and is making and marketing these
products in the US with success, says Nasima H Khan.
When Muhammed Majeed left his Kerala home for USA more
than 20 years ago, he wasn’t sure of what he wanted
to do. Now Majeed, who picked up a Ph.D. in industrial pharmacy
from St John’s University on his way up, owns two
pharmaceutical companies that cash in on ancient Indian
Sabinsa Corporation, set up in 1988 and headquartered at
Piscataway, New Jersey, is a raw material supplier of standardised
Ayurvedic herbal extracts to American industry.
“Ayurveda is thousands of years old,” says
Majeed. “But my approach is to bring a scientific
perspective to this ancient herbal practice.”
Though the company now boasts a turnover of $14-15 million,
the beginning was never easy. “I learnt the hard way,”
says Majeed who had 15 years of research experience behind
him but none in business or marketing.
Earlier, he had been working for a doctor, researching
medicines that could be of use to his patients. He also
worked as a product developer for such pharmaceutical giants
as Carter-Wallace, Pfizer and Paco Research. After several
years of that, however, he decided to beat off on his own.
What he was doing for his employer, he could very well do
for himself, he reasoned. That was the beginning of the
concept of Sabinsa.
Majeed worked hard, learning to run his own company. “Initially,
I used to concentrate a lot on my lab work,” he says.
“It took me two years to realise that this was not
how to make my company a success. Then I began to concentrate
That paid off, because in 1990, loss-making Sabinsa turned
around and has not looked back since. The company employs
24 people, 2 of whom are of Indian origin, and markets pharmaceuticals,
phytochemicals, fine chemicals and herbal extracts and has
been highly successful in its efforts.
So much so that Majeed puckered up his courage and flew
over to India to set up a second unit. His first attempt
was at Bombay. “But everyone tries to cheat you of
your money there. You have to be so careful.” His
second thoughts about the location led him to settle for
In 1991, he set up Sami Chemicals and Extracts in the Garden
City. This plant was essentially meant to be a research
and manufacturing group, “to supply to our marketing
unit in the USA,” says Majeed referring to Sabinsa.
“Now, we have a good marketing unit there and what
we export from here is in demand in USA.”
Elaborating on the type of products made by Sami, Majeed
says 90 per cent of them are being made in India for the
very first time. And the major advantage is that much of
the raw material for Sami’s products are to be located
Citrin is perhaps the best known extract market by Sabinsa.
It is a popular natural weight loss aid extracted from garcinia
cambogia, used frequently in Kerala fish recipes and better
known as Malabar tamarind. In fact, it is the recent success
of Citrin that has contributed significantly to the company’s
growth – sales were up a whopping 400 per cent for
the first quarter of 1995!
Significant products are Boswellin with anti-arthritic
action, Gugulipid for cholesterol reduction and Picroliv
for anti-asthmatic activity, among others. Although their
names sometimes sound strange, the Ayurvedic herbs Sabinsa
sells are fast becoming familiar to health conscious consumers,
claims Majeed. He believes that the understanding for Ayurvedic
herbs is increasing in the US. “The key to that is
going to be documentation and dissemination of literature,”
Meanwhile, Sami is on the right track supplying the needs
of its mother company. In 1991, the year of its institution,
Sami saw exports worth Rs 45 lakhs. These rose to Rs 18
crore worth of exports in 1995. And to boot, last year Sami
bagged a reputed quality award for basic drugs.
Says Majeed, “The Sami plant is set up according
to US standards, because that’s the only standard
Sami employs 85 people, 25 of who are exclusively for research
and development. And Majeed prefers to pick up fresh science
doctorates from universities rather than experienced people.
“Then I teach them my philosophy. And they learn to
work without feeling intimidated by their boss,” comments
Does he have plans to market his ‘no side effects,
wonder drugs’ in India too? Yes, says he and put the
tentative year as 1997. And he has already taken US patents
for products in both firms.
Despite his keen supervision of both his companies and
frequent travel between India and America for the purpose,
Majeed is very attached to his family and likes to spend
time with his wife, two daughters and a son. His affection
is especially apparent in that he chose to name Sabinsa
after his wife and Sami after his eldest daughter who recently