Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, a pioneer in the biotech industry, India’s richest self-made woman, recipient of the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. Rather the chairperson and managing director of Biocon Limited - the country’s largest listed biopharmaceutical firm - had her heart set on becoming a brew master, following in her father’s footsteps.
Kiran Mazumdar was born on 23 March 1953 in Bangalore, Karnataka state, to Gujarati parents. She was educated at Bangalore's Bishop Cotton Girl's High School, graduating in 1968. She then attended Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, a women's college offering pre-university courses as an affiliate of Bangalore University. She studied biology and zoology, graduating from Bangalore University with a bachelor's degree in zoology in 1973. Mazumdar hoped to go to medical school, but was not able to obtain a scholarship.
In an interview with Femina.in, Shaw - who was in her 20s when she refused to be brought down by gender stereotypes - said it is important for women to remember that they are capable of doing anything that a man can do. This top boss believes that self-belief and a sense of purpose are among the most important characteristics that women need to have in order to achieve whatever they set their minds to.
She did consulting work for a few years before meeting Leslie Auchincloss, then owner of an Irish firm, Biocon Biochemicals. Impressed by Mazumdar-Shaw’s drive and ambition, Auchincloss took her on as a partner in a new venture, Biocon India, which was 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, but progress was slowed as Mazumdar-Shaw continued to face skepticism and discrimination. She found it difficult to find employees in India who were willing to work for a woman. Investors were equally hard to come by, and some 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.
As of 2010, Mazumdar-Shaw was named among TIME magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. She is on the 2011 Financial Times’ top 50 women in business list. As of 2014, she was listed as the 92nd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In 2015, she had risen to 85th in the Forbes ranking. She was voted global Indian of the year by Pharma Leaders Magazine in 2012.