Chance encounter turned Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw into billionaire

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

A chance encounter with Les Auchincloss, the founder of Biocon Biochemicals Limited, of Cork, Ireland, was the catalyst for Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw to become a trailblazer for women worldwide.

Dr Mazumdar-Shaw, the richest self-made woman in India and close to being the richest women in the country, is Executive Chairwoman and Managing Director of Biocon which employs nearly 10,000 people worldwide. She started off her business with US$500.

“I owe my entrepreneurial style to Ireland for the simple reason that when I started it was an accidental encounter with Les who told me that I should set up a business,” Mazumdar-Shaw told the Irish Times, ahead of receiving the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year award. “I thought he was crazy because I didn’t have any business skills, had no money and was a 25-year-old woman in India, a country that did not accept women in business. But he convinced me to do it and came to Ireland for a while and really learned a lot.

“One of the key things was the idea of delegating responsibilities, rather than micromanaging, which was new to me because most of the business world was still very much focused on this hierarchical style in which you were told what to do. So it was very refreshing and challenged me to take risks, which is of course critical in business.”

The 67-year-old has a wealth of US$4.3 billion according to the IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich list, which saw Mukesh Ambani retain the top spot. Mazumdar-Shaw is on the Financial Times’ top 50 women in business list and was listed as the 65th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes in 2019.

Her father Rasendra Mazumdar, the head brewmaster at United Breweries, suggested that after graduating from university she study fermentation science, and train to be a brewmaster, a very non-traditional field for women. Mazumdar-Shaw went to Ballarat College, Melbourne University, in Australia to study malting and brewing. In 1974, she was the only woman enrolled in the brewing course and topped the class. She earned the degree of master brewer in 1975 and worked as a trainee brewer in Carlton and United Breweries, Melbourne, Australia, and as a trainee maltster at Barrett Brothers and Burston, Australia. She also worked for some time as a technical consultant at Jupiter Breweries Limited, Calcutta, and as a technical manager at Standard Maltings Corporation, Baroda, between 1975 and 1977. However, she was told that she could not be hired as a master brewer in India because she was a woman.

She was offered a master brewer’s position in Scotland but before she left India, she had the chance encounter with Auchincloss, whose company produced enzymes for use in the brewing, food-packaging and textile industries. Auchincloss was looking for an Indian entrepreneur to help establish an Indian subsidiary and had heard about Mazumdar-Shaw through mutual Australian contacts. Mazumdar-Shaw agreed to undertake the job on the condition that if she did not wish to continue six months later in the joint venture she would be given a brewmaster’s position comparable to the one she was giving up.

Mazumdar-Shaw has evolved Biocon from manufacturing pharmaceuticals such as statins and immunosuppressants to discovering, developing and producing biologics to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Biocon recorded revenues of US$920 million last year.

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