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Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: India’s mother of invention

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Dubbed “India’s mother of invention” by the New York Times, she shows the power of having one simple, revolutionary idea. Her aim – to make drugs affordable to everyone – is not new. But her inventiveness lies in refusing to accept that the only way of running a profitable pharmaceutical company is to replicate the model of high-cost drugs distribution. She describes India as having the “perfect mix” to make high-quality drugs: “Our talent pool combined with our flourishing capital markets that can fund innovation allow us to address the cost and productivity challenges being faced by the developed world. We must not fail our country and its citizens, who all deserve access to affordable medicine.”

The company’s journey began when Mazumdar-Shaw worked for Biocon Biochemicals in Ireland. Founder Leslie Auchincloss convinced her that she would be the best person to establish the Indian business. With no financial backing and just Rs10,000 (£160) as an investment, she set up Biocon India in 1978 as a joint venture. With just two employees and a small garage in Bangalore as the company headquarters – quite a contrast to its glitzy 80-acre campus on Hosur Road in Bangalore today – Mazumdar-Shaw set about building a manufacturer and exporter of enzymes

Her time in Western companies gave her an important insight. She saw the potential power of collaboration between companies in the developed and developing world – but ingrained cultural attitudes limited what could be achieved. “Indians, by nature, are extremely cautious about globalisation. We tend not to go about it in an aggressive way,” she told me: “That’s the way we were brought up. Because we were colonised, there is a tendency to be a little subservient. At the same time, Western companies tend to be a bit patronising."

Mazumdar-Shaw continues: “Indian companies with a rigid Indian viewpoint are unlikely to succeed in Western markets. The same goes for Western companies expanding into India. There has to be a sort of balance. Indians are a little less clinical and focused on the "soft", human elements of a business.”

Vikas Pota is managing director of Saffron Chase and the author of India Inc: How India’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs Are Winning Globally, which narrates the journeys of ten Indian entrepreneurs. He regularly appears on CNN, BBC News 24, BBC World TV and Al-Jazeera.

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