Known as India’s richest self-made woman, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw founded India’s largest biopharmaceutical firm in 1978. The billionaire is chairman and managing director of Biocon India Group. The firm has successfully ventured into the lucrative US biosimilars market using India’s homegrown scientific talent to make breakthroughs in clinical research, catching the attention of investors. Moreso, Biocon became the first company to gain approval from the USFDA for two different biosimilars of drugs used in certain cancer treatments. Additionally, the company is Asia’s largest insulin producer with a factory in Malaysia’s Johor region.
Mazumdar-Shaw originally planned to follow in her father’s brewery footsteps. She earned an undergraduate degree in zoology from Bangalore University in 1973 and a graduate degree in brewing from the University of Ballarat, Melbourne, in 1975. Unfortunately, after returning to India, she discovered that no companies were willing to offer a brewing job to a woman.
Against all odds, she opted to do consulting work for a few years before meeting Leslie Auchincloss, then owner of an Irish firm, Biocon Biochemicals. Dazzled by Mazumdar-Shaw’s brilliance and ambition, Auchincloss took her on as a partner in a new venture, Biocon India. The venture launched in 1978 and produced enzymes for alcoholic beverages, paper, and other products.
Within a year Biocon had become the first Indian company to export enzymes to the United States and Europe. However, the company’s progress was slowed as Mazumdar-Shaw continued to face skepticism and discrimination. It was difficult for her to find investors and employees in India who were willing to invest in and work for a woman. Even vendors refused to do business with her unless she hired a male manager. Nevertheless, the company had begun to turn a profit by the time Auchincloss sold his interest in Biocon India to Unilever in 1989. Imperial Chemical Industries bought Unilever’s stake in 1997 but eventually agreed to sell its shares to Mazumdar-Shaw’s husband, textile executive John Shaw, who subsequently joined Biocon’s management team.
In 2001 Biocon became the first Indian company to gain the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the manufacture of a cholesterol-lowering molecule. This led to great expansion fo rthe company. Profits jumped more than 42 percent in 2003 alone. After a wildly successful initial public stock offering the following year, Biocon’s stock-market value skyrocketed, and Mazumdar-Shaw, with a nearly 40-percent stake in the company, became the richest woman in India. Subsequently, Biocon continued its pace-setting work, with the testing and development of the world’s first orally consumed insulin product among its most notable undertakings.
Meanwhile, Mazumdar-Shaw became the recipient of numerous awards. The World Economic Forum recognized her as a “Technology Pioneer” in 2000, and Ernst & Young named her best entrepreneur in the field of healthcare and life sciences in 2002. She was honoured as the businesswoman of the year by the Economic Times in 2004. In 2005 Mazumdar-Shaw also received the Padma Bhushan Award, one of India’s highest civilian honours, for her pioneering work in industrial biotechnology. n 2014, she was awarded the Othmer Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to the progress of science and chemistry. She is on the Financial Times’ top 50 women in business list. In 2019, she is listed as the 65th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Most recently, she has been named EY’s Entrepreneur of The Year 2020.
Her philanthropic initiative, The Mazumdar Shaw Medical Centre, aims to create a sustainable, affordable cancer care model. In 2019, she and husband John Shaw, donated $7.5 million to the University of Glasgow to create a research hub and a professorial chair of precision oncology.