Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
India
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
  • Chairperson and Managing Director, Biocon Limited (Biopharmaceuticals)
Born Bangalore, Karnakata, India, 1953; BSc, Zoology, Central College, Bangalore University (1973); Post-Graduate, Malting and Brewing, Ballarat College, Melbourne University (1975)
“I think one of the big opportunities in India—for any innovator or any innovative company—is the myriad of challenges that we face. Every one of them can have an innovative solution and a business proposition.”

Summary

In this interview, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon Limited, describes her entrepreneurial journey—from becoming the first female brew master in India, to launching the country’s first biopharmaceuticals company in Bangalore.

Mazumdar-Shaw begins the interview by describing the challenges she faced after graduating from brewing school in Australia. She returned to India, she recalls, very optimistic about her future career path. “But I was in for a rude shock,” she explains, “because people in my own country didn’t want to hire a woman in a brewing industry.” Instead, she became what she calls an “accidental entrepreneur” when an industry colleague offered approached her about starting a biotech company in India. Thus, about the founding of Biocon, Mazumdar-Shaw jokes, “I often say, ‘Do you know that India’s largest biopharmaceutical company was founded because of a gender bias?’”

Biocon, which was founded in 1978, gradually evolved from a small operation in a rented garage into a major research company with nearly 10,000 employees. But the path wasn’t easy. Mazumdar-Shaw recounts her challenges both obtaining credit and attracting talent for what was then perceived as a high-risk business—both, as she explains, because of the relatively unknown industry at that time, and because of her gender. Despite these initial obstacles, the company grew. Soon, Mazumdar-Shaw was able to attract the brightest minds coming out of the Indian Institutes of Technology and began diversifying the company’s product line. In the interview, she explains the strategic reasons that drove her to move from commercial enzymes to biopharmaceuticals, and the infrastructure changes that accompanied this shift.

In the interview, Mazumdar-Shaw also talks about how Biocon navigated competition in the international market, leveraging its strengths to compete with giants like Lilly and Novo. Key to her success was innovation and the development of what she calls biosimilars—for example discovering a new way to produce insulin, which gave her the ability to differentiate Biocon’s products. Cost advantage—the ability to price her products lower than competitors—was also a major factor in helping Biocon enter and dominate the Mexican market for insulin.

In addition to competitive innovation and marketing strategies, Mazumdar-Shaw also notes the important role that partnerships have played throughout the history of the company. In the interview, she explains how Biocon grew out of a partnership with an Irish company, which was then acquired by Unilever roughly a decade later. “That was a very important inflection point,” says Mazumdar-Shaw, “because, being a part of the Unilever enterprise, I had to conform to their systems… in those ten years we became a very professional organization.” She continued, “I must stay that that actually stood us in very good stead, because when we went to the next stage—which was really to look at pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals, which was a much tougher regulatory sector—it was this systems approach that helped us to climb up that curve very fast.” Since that time, Biocon went on to form partnerships with major US companies including Mylan and Sandoz, a subsidiary of Novartis.

Mazumdar-Shaw concludes the interview by reflecting on how the role of woman in business has evolved over the course of her career. She expresses frustration that—although women now make up 30 percent of researchers at Biocon, and although Biocon Academy has taken an active role in encouraging young women to pursue careers in the sciences—there is still a lack of female leaders across the organization and industry more broadly.

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In this interview, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon Limited, describes her entrepreneurial journey—from becoming the first female brew master in India, to launching the country’s first biopharmaceuticals company in Bangalore.

Mazumdar-Shaw begins the interview by describing the challenges she faced after graduating from brewing school in Australia. She returned to India, she recalls, very optimistic about her future career path. “But I was in for a rude shock,” she explains, “because people in my own country didn’t want to hire a woman in a brewing industry.” Instead, she became what she calls an “accidental entrepreneur” when an industry colleague offered approached her about starting a biotech company in India. Thus, about the founding of Biocon, Mazumdar-Shaw jokes, “I often say, ‘Do you know that India’s largest biopharmaceutical company was founded because of a gender bias?’”

Biocon, which was founded in 1978, gradually evolved from a small operation in a rented garage into a major research company with nearly 10,000 employees. But the path wasn’t easy. Mazumdar-Shaw recounts her challenges both obtaining credit and attracting talent for what was then perceived as a high-risk business—both, as she explains, because of the relatively unknown industry at that time, and because of her gender. Despite these initial obstacles, the company grew. Soon, Mazumdar-Shaw was able to attract the brightest minds coming out of the Indian Institutes of Technology and began diversifying the company’s product line. In the interview, she explains the strategic reasons that drove her to move from commercial enzymes to biopharmaceuticals, and the infrastructure changes that accompanied this shift.

In the interview, Mazumdar-Shaw also talks about how Biocon navigated competition in the international market, leveraging its strengths to compete with giants like Lilly and Novo. Key to her success was innovation and the development of what she calls biosimilars—for example discovering a new way to produce insulin, which gave her the ability to differentiate Biocon’s products. Cost advantage—the ability to price her products lower than competitors—was also a major factor in helping Biocon enter and dominate the Mexican market for insulin.

In addition to competitive innovation and marketing strategies, Mazumdar-Shaw also notes the important role that partnerships have played throughout the history of the company. In the interview, she explains how Biocon grew out of a partnership with an Irish company, which was then acquired by Unilever roughly a decade later. “That was a very important inflection point,” says Mazumdar-Shaw, “because, being a part of the Unilever enterprise, I had to conform to their systems… in those ten years we became a very professional organization.” She continued, “I must stay that that actually stood us in very good stead, because when we went to the next stage—which was really to look at pharmaceuticals and biopharmaceuticals, which was a much tougher regulatory sector—it was this systems approach that helped us to climb up that curve very fast.” Since that time, Biocon went on to form partnerships with major US companies including Mylan and Sandoz, a subsidiary of Novartis.

Mazumdar-Shaw concludes the interview by reflecting on how the role of woman in business has evolved over the course of her career. She expresses frustration that—although women now make up 30 percent of researchers at Biocon, and although Biocon Academy has taken an active role in encouraging young women to pursue careers in the sciences—there is still a lack of female leaders across the organization and industry more broadly.

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Video Clips by Topic

Shaw - Foreign Partnerships

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, India’s largest biopharmaceutical company, discusses how partnerships with Unilever, Cuban research institutes, and the global health companies Mylan and Sandoz have shaped the growth of Biocon.



Shaw - Gender

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, India’s largest biopharmaceutical company, discusses her ambition to promote women’s careers, noting that although 30 per cent of company researchers are now female, she has experienced continuing challenges in opening other leadership positions to women.

Keywords: India, Gender


Shaw - Innovation (1)

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, India’s largest biopharmaceutical company, explains how her firm developed over four years a new technology for making insulin, an essential drug to combat India’s crisis of diabetes.



Shaw - Innovation (2)

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, India’s largest biopharmaceutical company, discusses how the firm has been able to create a world class innovation center in Bangalore despite major infrastructural challenges and lack of government support for R & D.



Shaw - Start-Ups

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, India’s largest biopharmaceutical company, relates how gender bias set her on a path to invest in industrial enzymes and the foundation of Biocon in 1978.

Keywords: India, Start-up, Gender


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, interviewed by Tarun Khanna, Boston, MA, June 4, 2018, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/.