Kiran Mazumdar – Shaw, a woman of her own will, talent and passion, is a Founder, Chairperson and Managing Director of a multibillion dollar biopharmaceutical company named Biocon, first established in Bangalore and now in various countries. Today, Biocon is India’s largest biotech and biopharmaceutical company. Her journey of leading this giant of a company, in a field that wasn’t much tapped into, and becoming the richest self-made woman must’ve been fun yet not without upheavals.
Let’s look at her story from a seat closer to draw inspiration and insight.
Kiran Mazumdar was born to unorthodox and prosperous Gujarati parents, then living in Pune, from whom she inherited the qualities like being self-reliant, liberal, compassionate toward society and so on. She did her schooling from Bishop Cotton Girl’s High School in Bangalore, where her father worked as a head brewmaster at United Breweries, overseeing each processes involved in beer production, from selecting the ingredients to maintaining its temperature and finally tasting it. She completed her college from the much esteemed and prominent Mount Carmel College, Bangalore. With much aspirations to enter medicine to become a doctor, she studied zoology and biology.
However, she couldn’t get through the entrance exam to pursue medicine as her main career, which left her quite dejected. Though, her father, aware of her love for science, suggested her to learn fermentation science much like himself and get into the brewing industry. Even as recent as in 2020, there are many gender prejudices around the brewing industry and so, in early 1970s she had quite the correct notion of the industry being predominantly controlled by men, thus, making her skeptical to choose that career path.
After a good deal of insistence by her father, Kiran Mazumdar agreed to go overseas to learn brewing and malting from Ballarat College in Melbourne, Australia. Then, in Australia, she was not only the sole woman in her batch but, in fact, she topped her class, acquired her master brewer’s degree, worked as a trainee under multiple breweries and was ready to head back to her homeland to work as a master brewer.
Little did she know, that when once in Australia, she was validated, self assured and celebrated for her excellent qualifications and abilities as a brewer, would be outright denied for the brewmaster’s job in her own homeland, with a petty excuse of it being a man’s job. However, she still worked in Indian breweries but as a consultant or technical manager. After realizing that she had far limited scopes in the Indian brewing industry, she planned to go abroad again. For what could be called as a pivotal coincidence, her meeting with an Irish entrepreneur and founder of Biocon Biochemical Ltd., Leslie Auchincloss, made her stay back and start her journey towards becoming a billionaire.
In 1978, Mazumdar led to the inception of the Indian subsidiary of the larger Biocon Biochemical Ltd. in her garage. After strenuous efforts to recruit people for her company, she, at last, hired two retiring garage mechanics to help her produce enzymes. The company started off with getting bulk supplies of papayas to extract papain to make enzymes that could be used in brewing, food and textile industries. Within their foundational year, they became the first Indian company to export enzymes to America and Europe. Mazumdar spent all of her profits, and smartly so, in buying a whole 20 acres land to enlarge the company.
There was no looking back from here. She expanded the company in a breakneck speed, turning it into a full fledged mega biopharmaceutical brand with a dedicated research wing that mainly concerns diabetes, oncology and autoimmune diseases. Further, in order to enable development of novel enzymes and exploration in proprietary technology, Narayanan Vaghul of ICICI Ventures/Bank helped with raising a venture capital of about $250,000. Thus, the year 1987 saw one of the major leapfrog for Biocon India.
Unilever, in 1989, acquired the parent company, Biocon Biochemical of Ireland only to be later sold to Imperial Chemical Industries. While to save the Biocon India, John Shaw, Mazumdar’s then fiancée, raised $2 million to acquire all of it’s shares from ICI. Thus, incorporating it as Biocon Biopharmaceutical Private Limited.
In the year 2004, Mazumdar-Shaw planned to enter the stock market as first of it’s kind. Here, they received an overwhelming response by being listed as the 2nd Indian company to go beyond $1 billion mark on their first day.
Among other major charity projects, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw signed in The Giving Pledge, in 2015, assuring half of her wealth would go in to philanthropy.
For her excellent contribution to the field of biotechnology and biopharmaceutical, Indian Government conferred her with the esteemed Padma Shri (1987) and Padma Bushan in the year 2005.
Her philosophy of ‘compassionate capitalism’ that believes in benefiting all their shareholders especially the consumers, has drove her to the top most tier.