CHAIRMAN AND MANAGING DIRECTOR BIOCON LIMITED
An entrepreneur with prominence in all power fields possible and a deep understanding of the strategic market in the country, shares how he has managed to achieve zeniths in the highly competitive and fragmented market in an interview with
Years of working in the industry, your contribution reflects versatility and volubility. In your own perception- How did you emerge as one of the most powerful Indian women?
Early in my career, I had learnt that all challenges can be surmounted with perseverance and ingenuity. Businesses must be driven by a sense of purpose and the spirit to take on challenges to ensure sustainable success. When I started Biocon, resources were limited, the available infrastructure was primitive and I had to function in a fairly hostile business environment. But I succeeded against these odds because I understood the power of differentiation to build market leadership. I have always chosen to lead rather than follow. I have always believed in challenging the status quo and have benefited exponentially by re-inventing the business every 5-7 years, in order to drive transformational change.
How challenging has your journey been?
When I started Biocon in 1978, the obstacles I needed to navigate were manifold – ranging from infrastructure hurdles to issues related to my credibility as a businesswoman. Beyond the financial challenges was the business of biotechnology itself, which was unheard of in India. My challenge was to get the market to accept biotechnology and change old practices. When we decided to move into biopharmaceuticals in 2000, it was still an untapped area. At a time when most Indian companies were developing chemically synthesized generic drugs, Biocon decided to make a global impact through biopharmaceuticals. As Asia’s premier biopharmaceutical enterprise, the challenges that we face today are more to do with the nature of the business that Biocon is in. For instance, our focus on biologics means we have to deal with particularly challenging regulatory requirements related to the development and manufacture of cutting-edge therapies.
What has been your greatest achievement till date?
As a first generation entrepreneur, I have successfully challenged the Western pharmaceutical model of creating monopolistic markets that deliver high margins at low volumes. And I have done that by creating a business model based on economies of scale that can deliver affordable drugs to large patient populations. In this long journey, I was driven by my belief that the pharmaceutical industry has a thumanitarian responsibility to provide affordable access to essential drugs for patients who are in need and to do so with the power of innovation. I often say a Blockbuster drug is not about a Billion Dollars but about a Billion Patients.
A woman entrepreneur needs to first build credibility for herself and her business. She must be able to quickly adapt her business to be relevant and be able to take calculated risks when the right opportunity presents itself. The beginning of any entrepreneurial endeavor is always the most challenging, as we take the first steps on the journey, treading on unfamiliar territory. However, if a woman is passionate about a career and has a clear vision of her goals, nothing can stop her. Facing challenges with ingenuity and determination are key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. To be successful, I believe a woman leader needs to be genuine and compassionate, besides being intellectually savvy. I have always felt that women, with self-confidence, determination, hard work, and business acumen, can chart their way to the top. I am proud to be a woman and strongly believe that the world belongs to those who want to make a difference.
In an Industry helmed and dominated with male, being a female leader impinged you at any point of time?
When I started off as an entrepreneur way back in the Seventies, I faced a plethora of challenges because of my gender. Firstly, entrepreneurship was an unusual career choice for women at that time and then biotechnology was unheard of as an industry. So here was I daring to start a business in a male-dominated society in a sector that no one had heard of. To make matters worse, banks were unwilling to lend to me, professionals did not want to work for me and even suppliers did not want to deal with me all because I was a woman. Bankers told me that I was considered “high risk” in the business world. Professionals felt that I could not provide them “job security” and suppliers told me they were reluctant to give me credit because they did not have confidence in my business abilities. Despite all these, I have been able to succeed because I truly believed that innovation has no gender barrier.
What has influenced your decisions and thought process at various stages in your career. What/ Who has been your guiding force?
Innovation for me is not just doing different things but also doing things differently. At Biocon, I harnessed India’s low-cost talent and innovation base and forged my way through the market through strategic research and marketing partnerships that helped us reach affordable therapies to the masses. We developed and produced biopharmaceuticals, like insulins and antibodies for cancer, through disruptively innovative process engineering to deliver affordable pricing and make a difference to global healthcare. My passion to develop research-driven cutting-edge therapies enabled Biocon to address the relatively unmet needs of patients through a wide range of products in challenging therapeutic spaces like autoimmune diseases, diabetes and cancer.
What is one thing you would wish to change about your industry?
Biopharmaceuticals are large and complex target-specific molecules, placed at the high end of the pharma value chain. In comparison to small molecule generics, they are expensive to develop and difficult to manufacture. As a traditionally risk-averse nation, India has rarely been at the forefront of innovation. Indian companies have mostly imitated others and became very good at it. Even in the biotech sector, most companies operate in the low-risk services and generic diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics space. It is time for biotechnology companies, especially in India and other developing countries, to re-orient their efforts to aggressively harness innovation through partnerships and collaborations to move up the value chain and achieve a leadership position in biopharmaceuticals.
Your perception of an empowered woman. How far your industry has / can contribute for the same?
To me empowered women are those who exude self-confidence irrespective of what strata of society they come from. They display a sense of selfbelief that allows them to excel in any domain and compete with their male counterparts on an equal footing. In building Biocon I have created a company where women scientists can pursue their research dreams, where women professionals can work shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues and where men and women have mutual respect. Today, I am proud that Biocon is an equal-opportunity employer where women thrive in every role including scientific research. While we do not believe in hiring women for the sake of their gender, we provide the facilities and environment they need to ensure that they are enabled and empowered. Biocon currently employs over 7,500 people, about 15% of whom are women. Of the 3,500 scientists whom work with us, about 30% are women.
Women are naturally blessed with special attributes like compassion, sensitivity, the ability to multi-task and the capacity to solve problems with a clear head. Moreover, women are good team players and I have seen women as team leaders are more democratic. I feel that the industry can capitalize on the contributions that women can make by ensuring a diverse corporate leadership wherein meritorious women are put at the helm of affairs. In addition, individual companies need to embed greater gender diversity into the organizational culture.
In an industry so dynamic, how as a leader you comply with respect to changing trends, behavioral pattern and expectations of society.
As a leader, I am open to new ideas, experimentation and innovation. I also believe in empowering, trusting, enabling and mentoring leaders at multiple levels in my team. By providing ample opportunities to others to develop their leadership potential, I have instilled a sense of ownership among my team members to take forward my vision and mission. Thusevery member brings his or her own complementary skills to the table and thus helps the organization to excel. Collectively, my team and I keep challenging the status quo to ensure that as a company Biocon is flexible and constantly adaptive to the changing global business landscape.
Be your own fortune teller! How do you see yourself 5 years down the line?
My dream is to make a difference to the lives of patients in not just India but across the world through innovative and affordable biopharmaceuticals. I believe Biocon’s research programs like oral insulin or antibodies for cancer and autoimmune disorders have the potential to transform the approach to killer diseases. I would like Biocon to be recognized as a company that makes medicines with a huge potential of making a difference to billion plus patients for all its products. My goal is to deliver a global blockbuster from Biocon, with a “Made in India” label.
One thing you have to let go of as an entrepreneur/leader?
As an entrepreneur if you think everything will be hunky dory, all doors will open up for you easily and everything will work out with predictability, then you are being very naïve. To be an entrepreneur you need to be prepared for hardships and challenges, and also be resilient to failure. As a first generation entrepreneur, I was driven by a sense of purpose and determination to succeed at all costs which came from early rejections from various quarters. I wanted to prove to all those people who said a woman is not capable of managing, a woman is not capable of leading, and a woman is very high risk when it comes to management. This was about leadership without worrying about failure and challenges along the way. This was about determined leadership to succeed. I was not going to give up. I was not going to take no for an answer. I was not going to let failure get me down.
Whom do you owe your success to?
I was greatly inspired by my late father, Rasendra Mazumdar, who was managing director and master brewer for India’s then largest brewery, United Breweries. A man far ahead of his times, he believed in the equal treatment of men and women and always encouraged me to take the road less travelled. He also taught me that risk and failure are intrinsic to any business and counselled me to persevere in the face of adversity with the mantra “failure is temporary but giving up is permanent.” When I experienced insurmountable challenges in my journey of building Biocon brick by brick, it is this mantra that gave me the determination to take on the hurdles with a sense of purpose and spirit of adventure. My ability to face and learn from failure also helped me a great deal in my entrepreneurial journey.
What things fascinate you the most when you travel?
Whenever I travel I always take note of the aspects that make a place truly memorable, whether it’s the parks, the museums, the art galleries or the public transport system. I always think in terms of how India and my city of Bangalore can benefit from emulating them.
What are your hobbies?
My love for art not only helps me relax but also keeps me intellectually stimulated. I have been known for encouraging new artists and own a fairly large collection of art today. I also listen to classical music or watch sports to de-stress.
Best and the worst thing about your job.
The best thing about my job is that I have been able to touch so many lives. I love what I do so there’s no question of hating any aspect of it.
What is a Sunday to you?
I am involved in initiatives aimed at better governance and quality of life for the people of Bangalore. Many of my Sundays are spent with likeminded Bangaloreans on addressing the challenges in the areas of physical infrastructure, social and civic set up.