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The Extraordinary Woman

From overcoming oppression, to breaking rules, to reimagining the world or waging a rebellion, this woman is one of India's richest self-made women.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, a pioneer in the biotech industry. She is the executive chairperson and founder of Biocon Limited and Biocon Biologics Limited, a biotechnology company based in Bangalore, India and the former chairperson of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

She is a first-generation entrepreneur and global business leader with over 4 decades of experience in biotechnology.

Born on 23 March 1953, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, the daughter of a brewmaster, originally planned to follow in her father’s 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.

When she returned to India, she found no companies willing to offer a brewing job to a woman. Instead, she did consulting work for a few years before meeting Leslie Auchincloss, then owner of an Irish firm, Biocon Biochemicals. Impressed by her 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 scepticism and discrimination. She found it difficult to find employees in India who were willing to work for a woman. Some vendors refused to do business with her unless she hired a male manager.

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.

As of 2014, Biocon directed about 10% of its revenue into research and development, a much higher proportion than most Indian pharmacological companies. Biocon has filed at least 950 patent applications based on its research activity. Mazumdar-Shaw has remained actively engaged in acquisitions, partnerships and in-licensing in the pharmaceuticals and bio-pharmaceutical areas, entering into more than 2,200 high-value R&D licensing and other deals between 2005 and 2010.

In 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 was listed as the 68th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. She was named EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2020.

Her work in the biotechnology sector has earned her numerous national awards, including the Padma Shri (1989) and the Padma Bhushan (2005) from the government of India. Her philanthropic initiative, The Mazumdar Shaw Medical Centre, aims to create a sustainable, affordable cancer care model. Her social work will make us remember her for more than just her business empire.

She is a transformation leader. She dared to bring gender equality and other issues to the forefront. She had a vision of her own and inspired others to never follow what others do and to not care about what others think.

She will inspire us to steadily move towards our higher goals, for she rightly said:

"I have never let gender get in my way. It has taken me over 30 years to get from a garage to the huge campus that we have today. And it's been a long journey."

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