- India’s richest self-made woman, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, on how she became a champion of healthcare
What are the personality traits that helped you become India's most successful self-made woman?
I was an accidental entrepreneur who started her journey as 25-year-old woman in an unknown sector of biotechnology in India, without any family linkages to the business world. I succeeded against overwhelming odds because I understood that all challenges can be overcome with perseverance and ingenuity. I was driven by the spirit to create a business that would leverage science for the benefit of society through affordable innovation.
Today, I am extremely proud of the difference that we are making to millions of patients globally through our high quality yet affordable bio-therapeutics for cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
The ABLForum has brought together a group of world leaders who are doing and saying the right things on key issues.
I have been able to touch many lives through the drugs developed by Biocon because I have been driven by the belief that the pharmaceutical industry has a humanitarian responsibility to provide affordable access to essential drugs for patients who are in need and to do so with the power of innovation.
What were the challenges you faced in your role as Founder-Chairman of Biocon? What were the outcomes that you had anticipated for the business plan that launched Biocon?
I had to surmount a lot of credibility challenges and gender bias in building my company, Biocon. When I started in the 1970s, women were not perceived as good entrepreneurs. Banks had a very patronizing attitude towards women, and typically set aside a paltry amount for anyone applying for loans. My gender also made it difficult for me to hire people as potential recruits felt working for a woman entrepreneur—or for a woman-led company—was not going to provide them job security. Suppliers told me they were reluctant to give me credit because they did not have confidence in my business abilities. Apart from gender-related hurdles, I had to surmount the challenge of setting up an innovation-led enterprise in an environment where biotechnology was unheard of and entrepreneurship received no support.
When making eco-friendly specialty enzymes for the first time in India I started with a mission to ‘Green the World’. These enzymes helped several industries replace some of the polluting chemicals used in their processes. Biocon built a USD 25 million speciality enzymes business with a healthy global market share of 25% in our specialty segment in the first 20 years of its existence.
Biocon then embarked on its biopharma journey in the late 1990s, driven by a mission to ‘Heal the World’. What spurred me on the mission of making a difference to global health was the realization that a significant proportion of the world’s population does not have access to essential medicines and, where healthcare does exist, it is unaffordable. My aim was to enhance global healthcare through innovative and affordable ‘Made in India’ biopharmaceuticals.
The challenges on this biologics-led pharmaceutical journey were manifold, from an evolving regulatory landscape to significant financial outlay for R&D and manufacturing infrastructure. The path we had chosen was capital intensive, research-intensive and IP-intensive with inherently long gestational time lines for product commercialization.
Through a combination of high technology, talent, and a culture rooted in deep science we have proved that as an organization, we have what it takes to make world-class, cutting-edge biologics. Today, we are the only company in the world to have a global biosimilars pipeline that includes recombinant human insulin, insulin analogs, other recombinant proteins and monoclonal antibodies, aimed at addressing large global unmet medical needs.
We are proud of the fact that we have put India among the frontrunners in the global biosimilars race. Today, Biocon is at an inflection point and looks set for sustainable long-term growth led by its various businesses, especially biologics.
What would be your advice to contemporary businesses and the modern-day novice entrepreneur?
I believe the one thing that has not changed from the time that I started is the recipe for success. The beginning of any entrepreneurial endeavour is always daunting as it is fraught with unknown and unexpected challenges. However, if you are driven and have a clear vision, you can overcome such challenges and assume self-confidence. A pioneering spirit that more often than not separates leaders from the followers. Courage of your conviction and perseverance to overcome disappointments and failures are the hallmarks in this journey of endurance. My underlying belief is “Persevere till you succeed. Failure is temporary but giving up is permanent!” You must be able to quickly adapt your business to be relevant and be able to take calculated risks when the right opportunity presents itself. Believe in your goals and aspirations and attain them with a sense of purpose.
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