Google ‘Indian business woman’ and the first result you get is Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, and rightly so. This Gujarati-origin Bangalorean, with a net worth of $2.8 billion, is also one of the few self-made billionaires in the world. She is renowned as not just the MD and chairman of Biocon, India’s largest bio-pharmaceutical company, but also as one of the most powerful personalities of contemporary India. With 1.5 million followers on Twitter, Kiran is one of the most prominent voices in her hometown, Bangalore, on civilian and social issues as well.
Board member at ISB, IIT-Hyderabad, IIM-B, and even Infosys, as well as at the US-India Business Council and UK-India Business Council, Kiran has left her signature in many an Indian entity working for public development.
Her journey to become the admirable figure she is today, however, started with an interesting twist of fate.
Although Kiran wanted to be a doctor, she could not get a scholarship, and ended up doing graduation in Zoology from Bangalore University.
It was her father Rasendra Mazumdar, who was the head brewmaster at United Breweries, who encouraged Kiran to study fermentation science. Although there were no women in a brew master position in India at the time, he encouraged her to be one. Kiran was ready for the adventure, and went to Australia to study malting and brewing at University of Ballarat. She was the only woman in the course, and she earned the degree of master brewer as class topper, in 1975.
Although Kiran went on to work as a brewer in Australia, on her return to India she could not find any such opportunity as the field was entirely male-dominated. For pursuing this career, she moved to Scotland at the first opportunity she got.
During her travels, Kiran happened to meet Ireland-based Biocon Biochemicals’ founder Leslie Auchincloss. He was looking for someone to launch Biocon’s India business at the time, and found Kiran fitting for the role.
And that was how Kiran’s biggest adventure began.
From brewery to pharmacy
After training at Biocon in Ireland, Shaw returned to India and started Biocon in India in 1978. Starting with just Rs.10,000 from the garage of her rented house in Bangalore, Kiran had a 70 percent ownership in the company as per Indian laws.
Despite initial struggles with poor infrastructure, lack of funding, and hiring the right talent, Kiran established the business and herself. Just a year after the launch, Biocon India was exporting enzymes it manufactured to the US and Europe, the first Indian company to do so.
In the first few years, Biocon India worked with industries like textiles, brewing, biofuels etc.
After Biocon, in Ireland, was acquired by Unilever in 1989, Kiran decided to grow the enzymes manufacturing firm to a bio-pharmaceuticals company. Since Unilever was not interested in bio-pharmaceuticals, Kiran and her husband John Shaw bought the entire stake from Unilever in 1998.
In 2004, Biocon became the first biotechnology company in India to issue IPO and its first day closed with $1.1 billion market value.
Fighting for Health
Biocon has now gained global popularity for its work in diabetes and auto-immunity diseases. But one area of focus for Kiran is cancer treatment.
Ever since she lost a friend to cancer, Kiran’s dream has been to cure cancer. To this regard, she established a Cancer Care Centre under the Mazumdar-Shaw Medical Foundation at Narayana Hrudayalaya campus in Bangalore. Kiran often speaks up about the need for drug and pharmaceutical companies to be cost-sensitive in developing countries.
Biocon was also the first Indian company to get approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) for two drugs used in certain cancer treatments. With a mission to make healthcare more affordable, Mazumdar Shaw Centre for Translational research is working on inventing a cure for many critical diseases.. Shaw has also co-founded Karnataka’s Vision Group on Biotechnology and, in her role as chairperson, promotes pharma and medical devices’ units in the State.
Additionally, Biocon Foundation conducts health and education outreach programmes for the underprivileged. Shaw is also a board member at the Live Love Laugh Foundation, which works for mental health awareness.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw has been the recipient of numerous awards in India and abroad. In 1989, she was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan in 2005 – the highest civilian honours offered by the government of India. She was recognised as a ‘Technology Pioneer’ by the World Economic Forum, and ‘India’s Most Respected Entrepreneur’ by Hurun Report in 2017. She is also the recipient of many honorary degrees from universities around the world.
TIME magazine named Shaw amongst 100 most influential people in the world in 2010, while Fortune named her one of the 25 most powerful women in Asia Pacific. Foreign Policy magazine counts Shaw among the 100 Leading Global Thinkers. Shaw was also listed among Forbes magazines’ 100 most powerful women in the world in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and the only Indian on Forbes’ list of self-made women billionaires.
Three years ago, the French government honoured Kiran with Chevalier de lÓrde National de la Legion d’Honneur – the highest distinction offered in France. She is also Australia’s Global Alumni Ambassador, and Honorary Consul of Ireland.
But the best of all accolades, Shaw gave herself – when she joined the list of high net-worth individuals (HNIs) who have pledged to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic work. The initiative, Giving Pledge, was started by Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage billionaires to donate for charity. Wipro founder Azim Premji was the first Indian to join them, and Shaw was second.
Out of the many initiatives Shaw has taken, this one was to give back – for the better world she dreams of.