An astute businesswoman, Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a stalwart of Indian industry and the Executive Chairperson of Biocon Group. Under her leadership, Biocon – Asia’s leading biopharmaceutical enterprise – has evolved from manufacturing pharmaceuticals to discovering, developing and producing biologics to treat chronic diseases. With Biocon consistently ranked as one of the highest R&D spenders in India, she has maintained for long that the nation’s future and growth are inescapably linked to its ability to undertake research and focus on innovation
BY JYOTI VERMA
Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw holds an honours degree in Zoology from Bengaluru University and a Masters in Brewing Technology from Ballarat University, Australia. In addition to a number of Honorary Doctorates from many esteemed international universities for her exceptional contribution in the field of biotechnology, she adorns the coveted chair of Karnataka’s Vision Group on Biotechnology. Her role in integrating and bringing the government, the industrial organisations and academicians together, to elicit appreciable growth in the field of biotechnology, has been widely acclaimed and acknowledged.
SCRIPTING A SUCCESS STORY
In 1975, a pivotal year in Dr. Shaw’s life, she had just completed her brewing education in Australia. Upon her return to India, brimming with aspirations of becoming a master brewer, she encountered a harsh reality. Despite her extensive knowledge and skills, the brewing industry seemed reluctant to accept a woman in this role. However, undaunted by these obstacles, she resolved to establish her own enterprise, determined to shatter the gender stereotypes that had hindered her and demonstrate that women should never be underestimated or denied opportunities based solely on their gender. After a few years of consultancy assignments, she was invited by an Irish corporator, Leslie Auchincloss, Founder of Biocon Biochemicals, who foresaw her potential and zeal in the field, as a partner in the new venture Biocon India to produce enzymes used in paper manufacturing, production of alcohol and other such products, which soon earned business in the lucrative markets of the United States and Europe.
In a significant turn of events, the ownership stake in the company, once held by Leslie Auchincloss, transitioned to Unilever in 1989, then to Imperial Chemical Industries in 1997, and ultimately found its way into the hands of Dr. Shaw’s husband. His involvement in the management proved to be a turning point in her entrepreneurial journey.
A FIRST-GENERATION ENTREPRENEUR
The first-generation entrepreneur, global business leader and billionaire, in a recent interview, opened up about the struggles she faced and the “foolish courage” that led her to start the biotech company. She was only 25, had no business experience, and only INR 10,000 in her bank account. She was high risk in the eyes of everyone that she had to meet, starting with bankers. She just wanted a credit line and in those days, there was no venture funding; it was debt finance. She wanted a loan and a credit line, making things impossible for her. Then, bankers wanted her father to step in as a guarantor.
Once the finances were sorted, Dr. Shaw faced problems in hiring people, as people did not want to work for a woman. Her first two employees were retired tractor mechanics who needed a job desperately. Things began to change soon and a few years later she was able to hire some of her best talents.Today, Biocon has become one of the largest employers in the region, with an 11,000-plus workforce, and is a pioneer of Bengaluru’s technology hub, and Dr. Shaw’s name has become synonymous with the biotech industry in India. When the banks refused to lend her money, she developed a business model based on revenues and profits, rather than venture capital. This model gave her the cash flow to fund the research and production of pharmaceutical drugs.
Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Shaw, Biocon has transformed into a well-grown, comprehensive pharmaceutical venture from its initial status of an industrial enzymes manufacturer in 1978. She was quick to spot the tremendous potential for growth in the field of biotechnology, and focused on research, particularly on diabetes, oncology and auto-immune diseases along with sale of products and rendering services. Biocon has earned the approval from the US Food & Drug Administration for the production of cholesterol-lowering molecules.
Within years, Biocon has become one of the prominent producers of orally consumed insulin globally. It has Asia’s largest insulin factory in Malaysia’s Johor region. In February 2022, Biocon Biologics inked a deal to acquire the biosimilars business of Viatris, an American healthcare firm, for $3.3 billion. In April 2023, vaccine billionaire Dr. Cyrus S. Poonawalla’s Serum Institute of Life Sciences doubled its investment in Biocon Biologics to $300 million.
Today, Dr. Shaw is more than just an business leader; she is recognised as a global thought leader and a change maker. Throughout Biocon’s incredible growth, she has been driven by her ambition to create a business that would leverage science for the benefit of society. Biocon is leading efforts to provide affordable insulin for patients around the world.
She has received two of India’s highest civilian honours. In 2023, she became a member of the Court of Regents at Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, which has several active Regents and several Emeritus Regents. The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh is a prestigious Scottish medical association and the oldest Surgical Colleges in the world with nearly 30,000 members in 100 countries.