Friday, December 8, 2023

Biocon: The winning brew of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

In today’s modern India any position outside the house is hard won for woman; and the situation many decades ago was no different. Kiran Mazumdar made her way through the tough by-lanes of men’s world.

She was outlier throughout, proving that the gender doesn’t have to do anything with passion and dreaming for the stars.

Early days and education

Born on 23 March 1953 in Maharashtra, she grew in the vicinity of United Breweries, where her father Rasendra was head brew master.

Though not very affluent, her parents ensured that she gets top-notch education. She went to private school in Bengaluru where her sense of excellence and doing things differently further bolstered. For higher studies, her father encouraged her to follow his footsteps and enroll in the brewing course’ although it was male dominated field at that time.

She went to Melbourne University in Australia to pursue Masters degree in brewing. Even in relatively advanced Melbourne, she was the only woman in the course. Over the next few years, she worked as brewer at various breweries before heading back to home.

Kiran Mazumdar with her college mates, Ballarat College, Melbourne University Australia

To her utter shock, getting the job as brewer was tough. She was unprepared for the deep-rooted gender bias in the society. The field was entirely for men.

Dejected, with no options at home, she secured a job in Ireland and had to join in the later half of 1978.

In March 1978 she was in Baroda, helping her father winding up his Malting company which he started after retirement from United Breweries. The company was not successful, and it was imperative for Kiran Mazumdar to settle with respectable position.

The fateful meeting with Les Auchincloss

On 25th March, 1978 she got a call from Les Auchincloss, who was the founder owner of Biocon Biochemicals company situated in Cork, Ireland. His company was manufacturing enzymes and catalytic proteins. He wanted to start a venture with Kiran Mazumdar in India. Although Biocon was sourcing raw materials from India; he saw huge potential in terms of raw material and cheap labour in India which he wanted to tap. He was in Baroda and would go later to Delhi for search of a partner who can start and run Biocon in India.  

For Kiran Mazumdar this was a tough call as she had to choose between an offer to work in Scotland vs starting a new venture in India. To distract Auchincloss, she even referred him to Puran Chand, the founder of Barmalt where she would be doing, in a few weeks, internship before leaving for Scotland. But Auchincloss was persistent as he was sure that he wanted a zealous entrepreneur rather than a business partner like Puran Chand.

After a lot of persuading, Auchincloss finally told Kiran Mazumdar that if she didn’t like the work after a year, he would get her the same job or similar job in UK. She took the bait.

Kiran Mazumdar with Les Auchincloss, her Irish partner

Birth of Biocon India

She started Biocon in 1978 in India with 10,000 rupees, equivalent to $3000 cash which was given to her by Auchincloss. Biocon was started in a garage of rented house in Bengaluru.

Within a couple of months, she headed for Ireland where she learned the ins and outs of the business in Biocon Biochemical facility at Cork. She came back to India with a single point agenda, to build a biotech company.

After initial hiccups where getting employees itself was a challenge, she set up the manufacture and export of Papain, a plant enzyme, and Isinglass, a marine hydrocolloid, which are key products for the brewing industry.

Kiran Mazumdar at work in early days of Biocon

The dream run to ownership

She knew early that to build a bigger world class company, she had to differentiate into something niche, specialized area that can’t be replicated easily by anyone in future. This vision needed the backing of a robust research and development.

BCZ (BioChemizyme India) was incorporated in 1982 to focus on research and development in relation to enzymes.

In 1989 Biocon along with Unit Trust of India/Technology Development and Investment Corporation of India (UTI/TDICI), Biocon Biochemicals Limited, Ireland and others invested in BCZ.

In 1989 itself, HLX (Helix Biotech Limited) was incorporated as a pharmaceutical biotechnology company, which later diversified into pharmaceutical bulk activities.

One more important event happened in 1989 when Unilever plc. acquired Biocon Biochemicals Ltd. in Ireland and merged it with its subsidiary, Quest International.

Kiran mazumdar’s focus was on building and growing the company which would be transformed from enzyme manufacturer to full-fledged Biopharmaceutical player.

In early 1990, she met a Scottish businessman John Shaw at a party. They finally married which would turn out to be the amalgamation of compatibles giving further boost to growth of Biocon India.

Kiran Mazumdar and her Scottish husband John Shaw

Unilever acquired 50% shares in BCZ and acquired shares in Biocon from Biocon Biochemicals, Ireland in 1995.

In the same year BQIL (Biocon Quest India Limited) was established with Biocon and Unilever acquiring around 50% stake each.

In 1999 Glentec International acquired the entire shareholding of Unilever in BCZ, BQIL and Biocon. Glentec International was the company incorporated in Mauritius owned 99% by John Shaw and 1% by Prof Ravi Mazumdar.  Prof Ravi Mazumdar is the brother of Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.

In 2000, Biocon acquired the entire shareholding of BCZ, BQIL & HLX from Glentec International and Biocon became an independent entity.

As part of a court based restructuring, BCZ, BQIL and HLX were amalgamated into Biocon.

Finally Kiran Mazumdar Shaw became the owner of the dream entity she started 22 years back with handful of money and loads of courage.

In 2004, Biocon went for an IPO to raise Rs 300 crores to fund its huge capital expansion plans. It was oversubscribed 32 times.

The further journey for Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is never ending tale of exploring the unchartered territories, exploiting inherent strengths to become one of the most decorated and respected woman entrepreneur in the world; turning Biocon into one of the best Biopharmaceuticals company.

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Hardeep is an entrepreneur, marketer, blogger, an ardent reader and avid writer. He expresses his unbiased views especially on the matters of Business, Tech & Life through this blog. He can be reached at


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