HOW KIRAN MAZUMDAR SHAW CREATED THE BIOTECH POWERHOUSE BIOCON
Born on 23rd March 1953, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is an Indian business visionary. She is currently the managing director and chairperson of Biocon Limited, a company with a market capitalization of over $7 Billion (Dec 2020).
Kiran Mazumdar was brought up in Pune, Maharashtra by Gujarati parents. She studied at Bangalore's Bishop Cotton Girl's high school, graduating in 1968. Then, she went to Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, a ladies school offering pre-college courses as an offshoot of Bangalore University. She chose to study science and zoology from Bangalore University with a four-year certification in zoology in 1973. Mazumdar would have liked to go to medical school, but she couldn't get a scholarship.
Her dad, Rasendra Mazumdar, was the head brewmaster at United Breweries. He proposed that she study maturation science, and train to be a brewmaster, something that women generally didn't do. Mazumdar went to Ballarat College, Melbourne University in Australia to pursue malting and blending. In 1974, she was the lone lady taking a crack at the fermenting course. She procured the certificate as an expert brewer in 1975.
She worked as a learner brewer in Carlton and United Breweries, Melbourne, and as a student maltster at Barrett Brothers and Burston, Australia. She additionally worked for quite a while as a specialised advisor at Jupiter Breweries Limited, Calcutta, and as a specialised administrator at Standard Maltings Corporation, Baroda.
However, when she explored the chance of pursuing her vocation in Bangalore or Delhi,, something that she was well-qualified to do, she was informed that she would not be able to be recruited as an expert brewer since 'It's not a woman's work.' She started to search abroad for opportunities and secured a position in Scotland.
Before she could move to Scotland for her new job, a meeting with Leslie Auchincloss, founder of the biotechnology company Biocon Biochemicals altered the course of her life. She changed her plans and started working at Biocon Biochemicals, Ireland.
After working as a trainee manager at Biocon Biochemicals Limited, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw returned to India. She started Biocon India in 1978 in the garage of her rented house in Bengaluru with a seed capital of Rs. 10,000. Although it was a foreign venture, Indian laws restricted foreign ownership to only 30% of the shareholding; which meant that 70% of the company belonged to Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.
She faced credibility challenges due to her youth, gender and untested business model. She was unable to secure funding for her company in the early stages of the business. However, a chance meeting with a banker at a social event finally enabled her to secure her first financial support.
She also found it difficult to recruit people to work for the young company, as her first employee was a retired garage mechanic and her first factory was a 3,000 square-foot shed. Moreover, she faced technological challenges associated with trying to make a biotech business in a rustic setup with poor infrastructure, lack of basic facilities like uninterrupted power supply, good quality water, sterile labs, imported research equipment. On top all these challenges, there was a lack of workers with advanced scientific skills in India during that time.
The company's initial projects were the extraction of papain and isinglass. Within a year of its inception, inspite of multiple challenges, Biocon India was ready to manufacture enzymes and export them to the U.S. and Europe, the first Indian company to succeed in doing so.
Mazumdar used the earnings to purchase a 20-acre property and expand Biocon. In 1989, Biocon Biochemicals of Ireland was acquired by Unilever, which made Unilever the effective owner of 30% shares in Biocon India. The partnership with Unilever helped Biocon establish global best practices and quality systems in India.
In 1997, Unilever sold some of its businesses, including it's Biocon shareholding to Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). There was a chance that i Kiran bought back the shares from ICI, then Biocon would become totally independent. But she did not have the money to do so.
This happened around the same time as her marriage to a Scotsman named John Shaw. Since Kiran had no money to buy back those shares, John stepped in. He sold some property he owned in the U.K and then bought the shares with $2 million. According to Kiran: 'So he (John) always says that was true love and he felt that that was the best investment he made!'
After marriage, John backed, encouraged and guided Kiran Mazumdar Shaw in every possible way. He even put his life’s savings into Biocon. John is a cancer survivor and serves as the vice-chairman of Biocon. He has had a major contribution in the transformation of Biocon from a small company into a global biotech giant.
In 2004, on the advice of Narayana Murthy, the co-founder of legendary Indian company Infosys, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, decided to list Biocon on the stock market. Her expectation was to raise money to build up Biocon's research and development capabilities.
Biocon was the first biotechnology organisation in India to launch an IPO. Biocon's IPO was oversubscribed 33 times and ended its first day of trading on the stock market with a market estimation of $1.11 billion!
Since then, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw has never looked back and built Biocon into the biotech powerhouse that it is today.
Kiran Mazumzar Shaw has received numerous awards in her career, some of which are listed below:
• The World Economic Forum (an international conference for the discussion of world economic, political and social development) recognised her as a 'Technology Pioneer' in 2000.
• Ernst & Young named her best entrepreneur in the field of health care and life sciences in 2002.
• She was given the title 'Businesswoman of the year' by the Economic Times in 2004.
• In 2005 Mazumdar Shaw received the Padma Bhushan Award, one of India’s highest civilian honours, for her pioneering work in industrial biotechnology.
• She was also featured in 2010 on the Forbes '100 Most Powerful Women' list.
• She was listed in Time magazine’s '100 Most Influential People in the World'.
• In 2012 the Economic Times placed her second in India Inc.’s 'Top 10 Most Powerful Women CEOs,' and in 2006 Nature Biotechnology voted her the most influential bio-businessperson outside Europe and the United States.
• She has won two of India's highest civilian awards: the Padma Shri in 1989 and the Padma Bhushan in 2005, presented to her by the President of India for her innovative efforts in industrial biotechnology.
• In 2014 she was honoured with the Othmer Gold Medal in recognition of her pioneering development of the Indian biotechnology industry and her untiring crusade to make India a healthier place for all its inhabitants.
• In January 2020, Kiran became the fourth Indian citizen to be honoured with Australia's highest civilian honour.
Truly, the success of Kiran will continue to be an inspiration for all of us.
What did you learn from the story of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw?
A trip to Paris revealed to me parts of myself that I never knew existed