In 1978, a 25-year-old Indian woman began her search for a career in the brewing industry. After being rejected by company after company, she set out to found her own pharmaceutical business. 40 years later, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is now India’s only self-made woman billionaire. Her company, Biocon, is worth an estimated $5.6 billion.
Born and raised in Bangalore, India, Mazumdar-Shaw studied Zoology at Bangalore University. After receiving her degree, she left a middle class life to go to Australia, where she wanted to study brewing.
Upon returning home, she found no Indian brewer who would employ her. So she decided to look overseas instead. An opportunity presented itself in Scotland, but before she could move, Mazumdar-Shaw ran into an Irish entrepreneur named Leslie Auchincloss.
Mr. Auchincloss was looking to establish a pharmaceutical business in India. After initially refusing the offer, Mazumdar-Shaw started the business in her garage with just $150.
The 65-year-old entrepreneur admitted the road was a little rocky. She found many people were unwilling to work for her just because she is a woman.
“It was not just men, even women were not willing to work for another woman,” she told BBC. “They would walk into the garage and see me. They would assume I am the secretary.”
Mazumdar-Shaw didn’t let such things stop her. After hiring her first employee, she set out to find a financial backer. A banker gave her a loan in 1979 that allowed Biocon to start producing enzymes used in alcohol and paper production.
After that, Mazumdar-Shaw never looked back. Over the past few decades, Biocon has expanded to include biopharmaceutical production and now operates in over 100 different countries. In 2004, the company became only the second Indian company to cross the one-billion-dollar mark.
But this woman billionaire does not want to stop there. Mazumdar-Shaw says she wants to take on the largest Western pharmaceutical companies, declaring, “I want to challenge the big boys.”
What drives her to fight for her share of the market? Why, her own mantra: “Failure is temporary. Giving up is permanent.”
She says such an approach allowed her to overcome the obstacles of being a young, innovative woman in India. Mazumdar-Shaw has even set out to share her business acumen with aspiring entrepreneurs.
By mentoring business hopefuls, this woman billionaire hopes to breed the next generation of strong leaders.
Mazumdar-Shaw even hopes to help increase the number of women leaders in the workplace by ensuring their livelihoods once they become mothers. She says that “as corporates, we can contribute by providing flexible human-resources policies that allow women to transition back to their jobs post-maternity in a smooth manner.”
“We are seeing heightened awareness and discussions in India around facilitating women at work and addressing the issue of gender diversity.”
With a role-model like India’s only self-made woman billionaire, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, in the spotlight, the women of India have a bright future ahead of them.
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