Second time lucky for Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

February 24, 2010

kiranSetting up Biocon, Asia’s largest biotechnology firm, was not a straightforward task for the woman who is now India’s wealthiest businesswoman.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw chose the biotechnology sector as a fallback position after she realised at the age of 25 that India was not ready to accept a woman master brewer.

But abandoning her dream career of following in her father’s footsteps did not mean she swept to success without any trouble.

“In 1978, there were very, very few women in the business world in India — we were considered very high risk from a financial security point of view,” she told Reuters during an interview in London.

“It took a very long time to build the organization and company,” the chairman and managing director of Biocon explained. “I had to face very many hurdles along the way.”

Mazumdar-Shaw’s father had been chief master brewer and managing director of United Breweries in India, and he encouraged her to supplement a degree she earned from Bangalore University with master brewer qualifications from Ballarat Institute of Advanced Education, now University of Ballarat in Australia.

The discrimination she faced when she tried to work in the field in India led her to transfer her skills in fermentation science to producing enzymes, and she set up a joint venture in 1978 with an Irish biotech firm in a small garage in Bangalore with an investment of $250.

Rejected by banks, Mazumdar-Shaw found a backer whose financial support helped lead the company into biopharmaceutical production. Biocon India was listed on the Indian stock market for $1.1 billion in 2004. It now operates in 75 countries and boasts global sales of $712 billion.

“Her bread-and-butter business has been the production of generic drugs, including statins or cholesterol-lowering drugs,” says Vikas Pota, whose new book “India, Inc” profiles 10 top-ranked Indian entrepreneurs.

“The project of pride, however, remains oral insulin,” Pota writes, referring to Mazumdar-Shaw as a drug innovator. The medicine is slated to hit the market in 2011.

Mazumdar-Shaw spoke with Reuters about her experiences climbing the career ladder in India, the global financial crisis and Biocon. Watch the video clip here:

Reuters will host a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in.-

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