A senior Indian businessman and philanthropist known for his significant contributions to the pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Cyrus S. Poonawalla is the Founder and Chairman of the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers. His success story and leadership style are inspiring examples of entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Passionate about making the cheapest vaccines for the underprivileged people of the world, he exports his products to 100 different countries
BY JYOTI VERMA
Arevolutionary leader who transformed medicine in India, Dr. Cyrus S. Poonawalla not only helped India become self-reliant decades ago by manufacturing vaccines at affordable prices, but also empowered the country to serve many countries across the globe. Today, his company, Poonawalla Group includes the privately owned Serum Institute of India (SII), India’s top biotech company and the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.3 billion doses). Dr. Poonawalla’s strong belief in “No Compromise with Quality” and willful commitment in “Health for All with Affordable Vaccines” has today lead SII to earn the title. It is estimated that about 65%
of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by the Pune-based company. Notably, the SII supplied the measles vaccine to UNICEF and PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) from 1990 to 2016, preventing an estimated 22 million deaths.
Headquartered in Pune, India, the Cyrus Poonawalla Group of Companies is a diversified group with business interests that include pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, finance, clean energy, hospitality and realty and aviation with the emphasis on quality, innovation, dedication, and customer support.
BEGINNING OF A GLORIOUS JOURNEY
Dr. Poonawalla hails from a traditional Parsi family of Maharashtra. He started SII in 1966 because he wanted to diversify away from horse breeding. His family owns India’s largest stud farm—the Poonawalla Stud Farms— that was set up in 1946. Their horses have won many classics. A chance meeting with a veterinary doctor led the leader into vaccines. Then, the farm’s retired horses were donated to government-owned Haffkine Institute in Mumbai, which made vaccines from horse serum. Dr. Poonawalla soon decided to extract the serum from horses and produce vaccines on a mass scale. Horse serum is used for creating vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and scarlet fever.
Dr. Poonawalla began with a small laboratory in a corner of his stud farm. The first vaccine produced was for Tetanus Antitoxin in 1967. The major breakthrough came in the mid- 1980s when he got pre-qualified or accredited for supplying vaccines to the United Nation agencies. Thereafter, there was a meteoric rise for the company, Dr. Poonawalla said in an interview. Gradually, the SII produced a range of vaccines for DTP, measles, and snake-venom, to name a few, and became India’s largest manufacturer of vaccines in just one year. By 1998, SII was exporting its vaccines across the world and almost every second child in the world was vaccinated by one of its vaccines.
A LEADER PAR EXCELLENCE
Dr. Poonawalla’s leadership style is a blend of vision, innovation, social consciousness, and a commitment to making a positive impact on the world. His visionary thinking allowed him to anticipate future needs in the healthcare sector and invest in innovative solutions. He foresaw the demand for vaccines and positioned his company to be a global leader in vaccine production. His commitment to research and development led to the creation of effective and affordable vaccines. He encouraged innovation within his organisation and consistently sought ways to improve and expand their product portfolio.
Dr. Poonawalla was not afraid to take calculated risks. He invested significant resources into expanding his company’s manufacturing capabilities and increasing production capacity, even when faced with uncertainties. His global outlook allowed him to understand the broader healthcare challenges faced by various countries. This perspective enabled him to produce vaccines that addressed the needs of diverse populations.
“DR. CYRUS S. POONAWALLA IS PASSIONATE ABOUT MAKING THE CHEAPEST VACCINES FOR THE UNDERPRIVILEGED PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. HE BELIEVES THAT GETTING MONEY IS NOT ALL A MAN’S BUSINESS. TO CULTIVATE KINDNESS IS A VALUABLE PART OF THE BUSINESS OF LIFE“
DEDICATED TO PHILANTHROPY
Dr. Poonawalla takes equal pride in his philanthropic policies. He is passionate about making the cheapest vaccines for the underprivileged people of the world. He believes that getting money is not all a man’s business. To cultivate kindness is a valuable part of the business of life. He has followed this philosophy since beginning. He has worked with the United Nations. He exports his products to 100 different countries.
This list of Dr. Poonawalla’s humanitarian work towards his society is unending. He not only made his immense contribution through his institute, but also advanced to help the country in the sector of education and infrastructure. He has opened schools, gave funds for the construction of roads, highways, parks and rehabilitation centre for leprosy and handicapped people. He is also an Executive Council Member of Poona District Leprosy Committee, which is a charitable trust. He provided donations to organisations working towards a better future of the people as well.
To improve the lives of people of Pune, he also participated in Confederation of Indian Industries’ Program of “Zero Load Shedding” by Captive Power Generation by Private Companies. In addition, Dr. Poonawalla also organises free rubella immunisation camps for the girls of slum areas in collaboration with Rotary International.