4/20/2018 – Exela’s Koneru reflects about interview of former President George W. Bush

Posted on: April 20th, 2018 by admin


April 20, 2018


By Virginia Annable
(Lenoir) News-Topic


Exela Pharma Sciences CEO Phanesh Koneru went from Lenoir to Chicago with the daunting assignment of interviewing former President George W. Bush at a health care conference, but Bush flipped the roles.


“How great is it that someone who grew up in a small village in India can come to the U.S., be successful and be interviewing the president of the United States of America. How great a country is this?” Bush said, then rose to his feet in applause, prompting all 4,000 in the audience to their feet, applauding Koneru.


Koneru said, “It was overwhelming. I was floored. That really speaks to his character.”


Koneru started Exela in Lenoir in 2008 with a handful of employees in a 5,000-square-foot building, and it has been one of the area’s fastest-growing companies. It manufactures 19 high-quality, sterile, injectable pharmaceutical products in its state-of-the-art laboratories. Its products include medicines to control blood pressure during surgery, to seal heart valve defects in neonatal premature babies, and to fight infection in patients with severely compromised immune systems.


Koneru interviewed Bush for an hour at the ninth annual Becker’s Hospital Review conference — which brings together hospital business and strategy leaders to discuss how to improve hospital operations — as part of Exela’s sponsorship of the event. The pair spoke about health care and international trade, as well as leadership and even painting, but what Koneru remembers most is Bush’s candor.


“He’s very personable, he’s got a great energy, very positive. I mean, he looks at you as a person,” Koneru said. “And he’s very witty.”


In big easy chairs with a coffee table between them, the interview was more like a late night talk show than a news segment, and that made it a great experience, Koneru said.


“I was a little nervous, but once we were on stage and started talking, he made me feel very comfortable,” he said.


The interview bounced back and forth, with plenty of conversation, quick wit and in-depth answers. Bush was up-to-date on news — trade with China, war in Syria and tensions with North Korea — but was relaxed and personable.


“He was very on-point with current events and on top of things, but, I mean, the most striking thing was his candor,” Koneru said.


Bush said during the interview that the two qualities a leader needs to have are humility and honesty, which made Koneru wonder what working for the president must have been like.


“When I was sitting there listening to him speak, all I was thinking was what it would have been like to work for him, report to him — with his candor and honesty, his wanting to do everything right — and I thought how enriched my life would have been,” Koneru said.


Koneru said the chance to interview a U.S. president was unexpected, but it lines up with much of what he’s done: When an opportunity arises, he grabs it.


“I started in a small village in India, and I took things as they came, that’s how I ended up in the U.S., starting Exela, and how I ended up in Lenoir,” Koneru said. “I take things as they come.”


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