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March 22, 2013

Journey of Women Entrepreneurs- Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

From facing rental problems to finding equity capital for her fledgling business, she has had more than her fair share of obstacles and controversies. Yet she has time and again deftly managed to wriggle out of all hardships she has encountered and quelled any controversy surrounding her or her enterprise.   

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw:-A globally acclaimed biotechnologist and entrepreneur

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw wears the crown as India’s most successful and richest businesswoman who has reached the zenith of her career as the Chairman and Managing Director of Biocon Ltd-the nation’s leading biotechnology enterprise. Biocon Ltd. is headquartered in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), the state capital of Karnataka. After completing her studies, she amassed sufficient experience as a trainee brewer and maltster before going on to establish Biocon in the year 1978.

She almost single-handedly steered Biocon as it grew and evolved into India’s foremost biotechnology company from a very humble beginning as a firm producing industrial enzymes. Biocon Ltd. today is not only of the world’s biggest biotech employer but is also amongst the top 20 global biotechnology entities in terms of gross annual revenues.

Kiran Mazumdar, from the time she incorporated Biocon to the present day, has been periodically feted with many awards and felicitations. The Indian government conferred her with the Padma Shri (1989) and Padma Bhushan (2005) not only because of her pioneering work as a biotechnologist but also because of her humanitarian activities for the sake of the economically and socially marginalized sections of the population.

The formative years

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who’ll be celebrating her 61stth birthday on 23rd March 2013 was born in 1953 in Pune, Maharashtra, she attended the Bishop Cotton Girl’s High School in Bangalore and cleared her secondary exams in 1968. After successfully completing her higher secondary exams, she sat for the medical entrance exams as she was very keen on pursuing a career in medicine.

But life had other plans for her. She failed to score the minimum cut-off marks for a ‘merit seat’ in a medical college. She graduated from Mount Carmel College in Bangalore majoring in Zoology. She could have chosen to do a PhD in genetics from a world-class university or complete her Masters in Zoology.

But being the sagacious woman she was, she could foresee that her future was in pursuing a professionally geared academic program that also had an industrial orientation and relevance in India of the seventies. She enrolled for a PG course in brewing and malting from Ballarat College (affiliated to Melbourne University) and was the most successful student of her class when she passed out with flying colours in 1975.

Her coming of age as an exceptionally successful entrepreneur

Kiran readily admits that her father, RI Mazumdar, and her husband, John Shaw, had a great influence on her. She owes much of her outstanding success as a prolific biotechnologist (Biocon owns the copyright for more than 100 patents) and a cutting-edge entrepreneur (indisputably, the most resourceful amongst all contemporary businesswomen) to her father and her spouse. Her father was a very coveted brewer and had a stellar role to play in developing the Kingfisher brand of beer during his stint with United India Breweries.

Kiran has on numerous occasions, gone on record, by stating that she being the daughter of a father who was employed in the liquor industry made her feel embarrassed and awkward during her growing up years. But her father compelled to reconsider her perspective and review her prejudice regarding his profession. His words ‘brewing was a science and not only about getting drunk’ still keep ringing in her ears as do the words ‘do not make judgement on things, people, and issues with half-information’.

Her father’s towering persona has loomed large over her

She was inspired by her father to seek the truth in everything she visualised and within everybody she came across. She was counselled to judge everything and everybody from an overall perspective. She still recalls those moments when her father put his foot down on giving her the capitation fees that would have put her in a frontline medical college.

Looking back in retrospection, she considers her father’s intransigent stand as a blessing in disguise because had he relented, she would not have metamorphosed into India’s most successful biotechnological entrepreneur. John Shaw, her husband who has an equal stake in Biocon Ltd. is the other man in her life who has helped her to become the persona she is today. The life and times of James Watson, the celebrated scientist and Nobel Prize winner also had a telling effect on her.  

Stepping into her tastefully decorated chamber within a 20-acre campus in Bengaluru’s Electronic City which she has designed herself, helps you to form an impression about her as an individual and as a businesswoman. The mantelpiece proudly displays the family photographs, including those of her late father and a childish sketch from her nephew.

How Biocon happened

After short stints as an apprenticed brewer and maltster in Carlton and United Breweries, and Barrett Brothers respectively in Australia, she came back to India to lay the foundations for a trailblazing career in the biotechnology industry. She worked for a while with Jupiter Breweries Ltd. in Kolkata and with Standard Maltings Corporation, Baroda before turning to producing enzymes for the food processing and brewing industries in India.

Leslie Auchincloss, proprietor of Biocon Biochemicals, encouraged her to market and sell industrial enzymes to manufacturers of textile, beer, and processed foods by going into a joint venture. And just within a year’s time, Biocon Ltd was established in the garage of her rented space in 1978. The garage space served as the office while the nearby shed was turned into a factory. ‘It was more like operating out of a kitchen sink’ she reminisces.

She was already exporting enzymes to Europe and Asia by 1979 and in less than a decade Biocon had evolved sufficiently enough to manufacture generic medicines. In 1996, Kiran along with her husband, John Shaw, repurchased a stake that was previously was under the control of Unilever. This buyback gave Kiran the head-start to surge ahead and she has never looked back since. Today, Biocon is amongst the top notch biotechnological firms in the world and has the biggest manufacturing site for oral insulin and statin.

Two subsidiaries, Syngene and Clinigene she established in 1994 and 2000 respectively are running at full capacity. She established Biocon Biopharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd. in 1990 for manufacturing a wide array of biotherapeutics. Her endeavour to forage the capital markets by releasing an IPO in 2004 was immensely successful as Biocon’s issue was oversubscribed 32 times on the very first day of its opening. The IPO garnered over $ 1 billion in public capital.

Humanitarian activities

Kiran Mazumdar incorporated the Biocon Foundation in 2004 for carrying out health programs to benefit the economically marginalized segments of the population. She also helped Dr. Devi Shetty (of Narayana Hridalaya) to set up a cancer care centre in Bangalore in 2007 that has over 1,500 beds. She also donated generously for the purpose of R&D in biotechnology in Indian School of Business.

Awards and Achievements

 As a highly enterprising biotechnologist, plaudits and awards have easily come to Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. She had been felicitated with the Nikkei Asia Prize (2009), Economic Times ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ (2004), Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Life Sciences & Healthcare (2002) and so on. She has also been awarded with honorary doctorates from Ballarat University, University of Glasgow, and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

Balancing career and family life amidst controversies

Kiran Mazumdar firmly believes that to succeed in one’s life, unstinted family co-operation and support is required, more so for woman. At a time when her friends were getting married and settling down, she was indefatigably engaged in establishing Biocon. And towards that end, she got the full-fledged support from her father and John Shaw. She got married at 44 an age when most women are past their prime. She does not regret the fact that she is childless. She likes listening to classical music in her spare time and although she’s a golfing aficionado, her busy schedule does not leave her with the time to indulge with her favourite sport.  

She has been dogged by controversies right from the beginning of her career which she dexterously managed to take in her stride. She had to face the wrath of her employees for deciding to mechanize the plant in 1985. Incidentally, most of the workers were illiterate. As a woman trying to work her position in a segment that was overly male dominated, she surely had to put up with a lot.

Tags : Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, biocon, women entrepreneurs, Indian successful women

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