Managing things with common sense and foolish courage: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

A premier entrepreneur, an innovator, and India's second richest woman, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a woman with an immense entrepreneurial spirit who started a biotechnology company, Biocon, and changed the Indian pharma industry.


Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is an Indian billionaire, businesswoman and Chairman-CEO of Biocon Limited, a biotechnology company based in Bangalore. She was born on March 23, 1953, in Pune, India. In 1968, she finished high-school at the Bishop’s Cotton Girl’s High School. 

With a childhood dream of becoming a doctor, she took a different path to the world of medicine. She went on to graduate from the University of Bangalore with Honors in Bachelor of Science in 1973. Her father, Rasendra Mazumdar, was the head brewmaster at United Breweries. He suggested that she study fermentation science and train to be a brewmaster, a very non-traditional field for women. 

Two years later, she completed her post-graduate studies from Ballarat College, Melbourne University, qualifying as a master brewer. 

Starting the Career- The Not So Easy Journey

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s career began as an in-house winemaker at Carlton & United Beverages. After working there for four years, she transferred her position to Biocon Biochemicals Limited, an Irish biochemical company. In the same year, she began Biocon in India with a start-up capital of Rs 10,000.

As she faced a severe lack of funds, establishing the business was not easy. All the banks she turned to for help, hesitated in offering the aid as India’s knowledge of biotechnology was not well established in the 1970s. Of course, her being a woman was a critical deciding factor. To persuade banks and investors to invest in businesses run by women was a tremendously difficult task, and sadly it still is for many. 

An enterprising woman was a scarce idea for Indians, and a woman who had the goals of introducing a whole new domain was even more unsettling for them. Her gender identity made her journey so difficult that she even struggled to hire people to work for her.

‘‘

One of my objectives when I started Biocon was to make sure that I create a company for women scientists to pursue a vocation.
- Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

Turning the odds in her favour- a Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw speciality

Despite the mounting challenges, Shaw was not discouraged by the lack of support. Instead, she did her best to build what is now considered one of the best Indian companies and a top biopharmaceutical company globally. Her hard work eventually paid off, and Biocon got big investors and brains behind it. 

After Biocon’s IPO in 2004, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw became the richest woman in India. Between 2005 and 2010, under her leadership, Biocon signed over 2,000 high-quality R&D license agreements.

Through acquisitions, licenses and partnerships, Biocon became a globally renowned company and open to the market. In 2007, Med Ad News named Biocon as one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies and the seventh-largest biotechnology company in the world. 

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is credited with the innovative ability, the global reliability and the global influence of Biocon’s marketing and production processes. She founded a charity, the Biocon Foundation, to develop environmental and health programs for supporting disadvantaged people in society.

Awards and Honours that Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has under her belt

Kiran Majumdar-Shaw has received numerous awards and accolades for her professional achievements. She received Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Life Sciences & Healthcare in 2002. 

In 2004, she was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Economic Times. In 2009, she received the prestigious Nikkei Asia Prize for Regional Growth and Express Pharmaceutical Leadership Summit Award for Dynamic Entrepreneur. 

She is also the former president of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM-B). She was ranked 80th on Forbes‘ “100 Most Powerful Women” list (2012). In 2014, Shaw received the Othmer Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to science and chemistry advancement. In 2019, Forbes ranked her as the 68th most powerful woman in the world. She was Ernst & Young’s “Global Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2020.

Kiran Majumdar-Shaw’s life and journey in making it big in a world full of difficulties is truly exemplary for new and budding entrepreneurs. In following her ethos and abiding by the principles she has set in Indian and at the global business stage, it would undoubtedly be more comfortable for new entrepreneurs to establish themselves as serious business personalities.

Aakash Sharma
Aakash Sharma
Aakash writes on Startup Ecosystem, Policies, Legal and Regulatory aspects of business planning. An alumnus of Delhi University, he is assistant editor at Dutch Uncles.

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