Deep engagement with her environment is zen for her. The city she
lives in, industry for which she is the forerunner, company she has
built and then reinvented – she is hands-on everywhere. Dr Kiran
Mazumdar-Shaw, CMD of Biocon, is raring to go some more distance to be
the change she wants to see
Challenges are not new to her. Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw's
1978 to 2010 has been ridden with them. Right from trying to find a job
for herself to setting up Biocon, to taking it where it is today -
half-a-billion dollar in revenues with 4,500 employees, and a future
ready business model - none of this has been a cakewalk. And Biocon is
back at the top of the BioSpectrum-ABLE ranking as the No.1 company
after conceding that slot to Pune's Serum Institute for the last four
In the last 10 years, she led the transformation of Biocon from an
enzyme maker to a biopharmaceutical company – from the front.
“The strategy to pursue this transformation path has been that of a
clear-cut differentiation at every level. We have been very committed
to our strategy from the very beginning,” says Dr Mazumdar-Shaw.
For Biocon, this strategy translated into technology becoming the first
differentiator. Then followed the development of technology platform to
build this business, which at a broad level was fermentation. The
company chose microbial fermentation, pichia fermentation and cell
culture as platform differentiators. “When one follows a
technology-driven strategy, it is important to identify and plug the
gaps. When we realized that biomanufacturing is going to be an
all-pervasive strategy for us, we decided to add mammalian cell
culture. And that's where partnership with Cuba's Center for Molecular
Immunology came in,” she says.
Next on line was the product strategy. Biocon went though painstaking
details again to zero down on the products to build and develop – from
API to statins to finished products to the disease area – leading it to
diabetes, which today still is the single largest unmet medical need in
India. “We went on to combine our insulin strategy with the pichia
fermentation platform,” she adds. The Cuban opportunity also allowed
Biocon to focus on the autoimmune diseases.
For Dr Mazumdar-Shaw, all these developments came together to formulate
into an important mission – the mission of delivering affordable
innovation. And that essentially sums up what Biocon is onto, and is a
driving factor in every decision that is taken in the company.
However, the mother of all challenges that a company faces, has just
arrived for her: The proverbial “next level” – challenge of scale. With
a vision of putting a Biocon product in every market, globally, she has
already moved to tackle it. The recent Pfizer-Biocon deal is a step in
this direction. So is the $160 million investment to set up
manufacturing and research facilities in Malaysia. Though the
minutiae of the challenge is a tough-one for any business. Integrating
the islands of excellence – that demonstrate efficiency, competence,
reliability – into a system that allows scale-up, and
consequently gives the competitive edge in the global multi-location
market place, is something she believes will be easier to execute along
with a partner like Pfizer, which has world class systems in place. So,
while the deal is a marketing deal, the learnings from Pfizer will have
a far-reaching positive impact on Biocon.
Change is her inspiration
She is an inspirational figure for millions of young Indians who want
to emulate her as one of the most well known entrepreneurs of the
But who inspires her?
“I am inspired by a large number of people... I get inspired by people
who have brought about change despite obstacles, and have done amazing
things – irrespective of how big and small these are. N R Narayana
Murthy (Infosys), who has created the burgeoning Indian software
industry, Dr Devi Shetty (Narayana Hrudayalaya), who has created the
affordable hospital model, Dr Bala Manian (ReaMetrix), well into
sixties, came back from the US to set up a very innovative company in
India, Dr P Babu who helped me build Biocon, Dr R A Mashelkar
(former DG of CSIR) who has been instrumental in creating the patent
regime in India... every one around me has been an inspiration in some
way or the other. I take inspiration from all quarters. In terms of
personality type – daring risk-takers who bring about a change inspire
me most,” Dr Mazumdar-Shaw says candidly.
Challenges on the horizon
Biocon has arrived at a stage where it is counted among the Top 20 pure
biotech companies in the world, in terms of size, product portfolio and
employees. What Next?
Mazumdar-Shaw is the first one to acknowledge that the challenges
are many. “Each phase brings in a new set of challenges. Getting to
understand innovation and drug development is a challenge. I will have
to learn a lot about the risk associated with the global drug
development, “she points. “And then take some of Biocon's products
global. Managing the scaling-up is a challenge. Keeping the momentum
going is itself a challenge. Attracting good people and keeping them as
engaged and passionate as I am, is a challenge.”
Even as Biocon prepares to face these challenges, there is enormous
pressure on her time, due to the visibility that has come with the
titles of “ Poster Girl of Indian Biotech” or “India's Richest Woman”
or “One of the most prominent face of Bangalore and India”. How much
time does she get to devote to Biocon now?
“My time spent outside is not that much. But because of media coverage
it looks out of proportion,” she says. “I am involved with a number of
institutions outside, but modern communication tools help me do most of
what is required from Bangalore itself.”
“In my earlier years, it was very important to build the biotech image
for the country. So, I used to spend a lot of time in attending
conferences, leading delegations. I have led many delegations to the
US, UK, Australia, Germany, France... now I have to become selective, as
I cannot factor it all in my schedule. However, I continue to be very
engaged with my city - Bangalore and some other national-level
interests of the industry.
“I am on the Prime Minister's Council, India-US CEO Forum, Board of
Trade, Ministry of Commerce & Industry and Innovation Council... I am
able to contribute my bit via these forums... as most of work can be done
offline with just a couple of meetings a year.”
“Of course, I continue to remain involved with ABLE (the Association of
Biotechnology-Led Enterprises which she founded in 2001) because I
believe biotech has not come of age in India. There cannot be just one
Biocon as the public face of Indian biotech. We need at least 12-15
biotech companies going public, to be able to say that the sector has
arrived. Till then, I have speak for the industry,” Mazumdar-Shaw
justifies her time well spent outside the company.
“We are getting carried away by the growth story of India Inc., and
gloating over it, without backing it up with the infrastructure that is
required for that kind of growth,” she says. Unless the country gets
its act together and does something about infrastructure, having an
industry-ready talent pool and stemming corruption; we will not be able
to realize the full potential of the opportunity,” she advises.
Ten years ago, when Biocon rebranded itself as a biotechnology company,
there were many skeptics. Now, 10 years later, there is grudging
admiration for the tenacity displayed by Biocon under her
leadership. For, despite ups and down, Biocon stuck to the vision
outlined by her; delivered a number of products in diabetes and
oncology sector, became a leader in the chosen field, built up an
integrated platform with manufacturing, research and services. And of
course, setting the stage for other companies to follow with a
blockbuster IPO in 2005. What has happened in the last decade is just
the beginning. The best days of Biocon will come in the next decade,
when its insulin products and a few more, will be available in markets
around the world, thanks to the tie-up with Pfizer.
the eco system, not the ego
Q Given that you are a hands-on leader, how do you
balance this with your core team?
Each one in my team shares my vision – all the things that I
passionately believe in. I delegate extensively. I want people to take
ownership of their roles and responsibilities. I do not micro manage or
even macro manage. My main strength is strategy and I focus on it. I
focus on showing the way, setting the direction and paving the way. I
just drive the vision. Every one of my key people is a strategic
person. They deliver on what I state and more on those lines. For the
delivery side, I delegate to the experts I have on the team.
Q Beyond your core team, how do you get the thousands of
employees at Biocon share your vision?
I have always inculcated a very high level of ownership in the
organization. That sentiment has percolated down the line, and by
osmosis is absorbed in the company. I am proud of the fact that we do
not penalize failures and encourage entrepreneurial risk-taking in the
organization. People who work here are not shy or fearful of risk
taking. This is a company that tolerates mistakes and failures. And it
is because of this culture that is osmotically imbibed in the company,
that we have taken on daring projects and embarked on business plans –
which have been daring by any standards.
Essentially, what I say in 'normal speak' is: manage the ecosystem not
the ego system. The essence percolates down on its own.
Q What is it about a business leader that set him/ her
The DNA that sets business leaders apart is: They need to be very clear
and articulate about the mission; they should be perceived as bold and
global in their vision; and above all, have a bearing of influence that
essentially comes from a sense of their achievements. In today's
context, leadership is looking beyond your company and articulating
your sector's and country's interest.
the road map”
Q Is Biocon the brand that you are focusing on, or are
there individual products being positioned as brands?
In the market, there are strong standalone brands – that make
companies. It is important to have a product brand focus. We hope that
from our product portfolio, some of the products like Insugen, BioMAb
will emerge as brands. If you look at the Biocon strategy, each one of
the segments that the company is in, is anchored around a brand. For
example: diabetes has Insugen as the anchor brand, oncology has BioMAb
as the anchor brand and, nephrology has Erypro. These brands will speak
for themselves when each of them become a 100 crore brand, however, in the formative
years, a brand leverage is required – which is brand Biocon. In that
respect, the company's positioning as a reliable brand is just as
important in fact, more so. So, Insugen can become the first 100 crore brand in India; and that will be our
first milestone. Next level, of course, will involve taking it to the
Q How did this marketing deal with Pfizer impact the
It is interesting when you engage with a large company. On one level,
it is a giant, at another, it is about people. On the face of it, a
large pharma would be a daunting partner, but when we actually got down
to engaging with key people we found a lot of good vibes and good
chemistry on both sides. In the initial years of Biocon, we have worked
in partnership with Unilever and that was also a fantastic partnership.
It was a similar situation. At the company level, we were pygmy and
they a giant. However, at the people level there was a great degree of
mutual respect. The fact that we were able to scale up from a small
entrepreneur-driven firm to a professionally- run company, is due to
the learning we had from having Unilever as a partner for 10 years.
With Pfizer as a partner, it will again be a steep learning curve for
Biocon. Pfizer brings in huge systems that we can benefit from, and
deepen our knowledge base across functions ranging from marketing,
supply chain to regulatory. Essentially, it brings about a certain
discipline with which we go about our activities in all areas – be it
financial reporting, GMP, R&D or regulation. It is an opportunity
for us to learn and move to the next level. In fact, this learning
about systems is a key aspect in managing the challenge of scale.
Q Now, Biocon itself has graduated to the level of
a foreign investor. What is this strategy about?
Malaysia was a decision we took as a de-risking strategy. Basically, we
looked at what is happening in India. Unfortunately,
infrastructure in India is sub-optimal. Government in India has done
very little apart from spelling out the enabling policies. They
have not supported high technology industry like ours, with a high-end
reliable infrastructure. Today, I cannot afford to invest $200 million
in Vishakapatnam where there is no surety of reliable power supply,
water and effluent treatment. If I were to put in capital for all this,
then the capital cost would be much higher. Compared to this is
Malaysia, which has turned out to be such an attractive proposition –
better tax incentive, much better infrastructure, guaranteed power,
water and effluent treatment support, training and R&D incentives –
in a comprehensive package. When I evaluated how much it will cost, to
run an operation like this at Johor in Malaysia versus Vishakapatnam, I
saw that, in the long term, we were better off in Johor.
In Malaysia, biotech is a thrust area and the government is going great
length to get the sector up and running for the stakeholders. I
recollect, that about five years back, I had given my inputs for the
biotech policy in Malaysia. And I see today, that all of these have
been made actionable. They have even waived-off 'Bhumiputra clause' and
have instead factored in R&D grants and incentives for training
local people. Training is expensive and they are willing to support the
industry. It has turned out to be a comprehensive attractive
proposition. I have taken this investment out of India to
Malaysia only because I am not happy with the industrial support that
is available in the country at this point in time.
Nandita Singh & Narayanan Suresh in Bangalore