What is it that drives a person to succeed? Is it something that a person is born with or is it learned through life experiences? For CEO of Biocon, the answer appears to be a little bit of both.
She was born in Bangalore and received a conventional education at Bishop Cotton Girls School and then Mount Carmel College. Like many middle class educated Indians of the time, she studied biology, with dreams of becoming doctor. Today, she admits with typical honesty that her move towards further studies in biology and the eventual shift to biotechnology was probably because she was rejected by medical schools.
Later, she decided to take the bold step of studying malting and brewing at Ballarat college, Melbourne to become a qualified brew master like her father. In spite of being the only women, she managed to top her class. However, she still ran into professional difficulties. Breweries were reluctant to employ a woman, as they felt a woman would not be able to handle labor related issues.
Around this time, in 1978 yet another incident changed her life. She happened to meet Leslie Auchincloss, the founder of Biocon International and the idea of starting Biocon India was born. However, here too she ran into problems. Biotechnology as too much of a sunrise industry and banks and financial institutions were reluctant to invest in new and unproven technology. Moreover woman entrepreneurs were rare in the 1970s and did not inspire the confidence of investors. This was not all. When she started recruiting for Biocon, she found that many job seekers were also wary of working for women. It was a challenging time, but it did not take long for her to dispel these impressions. She started Biocon from a garage in Bangalore with just Rs 10,000 in her bank. Today, Biocon is an integrated biopharmaceutical company, the biggest in the country and among the top 20 in the world.
Biocon makes enzymes and drugs to fight diabetes, cancer and cholesterol and offers contract manufacturing and custom research services to global clients. The company has a team of 3,000 technical experts and has 130 patents to its credit. It aims to grow its revenue by 30 per cent a year to more than $1 billion over the next decade, and aims at figuring among the top ten biotech companies in the worlds. Kiran’s vision is to grow Biocon into a global bio-therapeutics company with innovative and proprietary products and technologies. She hopes to develop a few new drug molecules in the next 3 –4 years.
She has had an eventful career. But what makes hr such a popular media figure is not only her long and extraordinary string of achievement but also her multifaceted personality.
In her 26 year distinguished career, she has received the Padmashri in 1989, Ernst & Young’s entrepreneur of the year award for life sciences and healthcare and many other awards for being the best woman entrepreneur model employer, leading exporter, outstanding citizen, technology pioneer etc. With the listing of Biocon India on the Bombay Stock exchange at a 50 percent premium, she has now been ranked the wealthiest women in India. In a recent interview she was embarrassed to be the richest woman in India. It is more important to her that she has been able to create a valuable organization and provide an opportunity to thousands of scientists.
There are many facets to her. For one, she is satisfied with status quo. She constantly yearns to be doing something different. Recently she researched and published a coffee table book, Ale and Arty, about brewing worldwide. The works of some of India’s best artists are also featured in this book
She describes herself as outspoken impatient and undiplomatic even in a position that involves constant interaction with politicians and bureaucrats; she believes these are assets, and that though some people may dislike her for being out spoken, they also respect her for her honesty.
The other is her passion for Bangalore. She has actively campaigned for civic amenities, roads, cleanliness, etc. She is a person of many interests – art shows, concerts, plays golf being only some of them and also tries to make them for her varied interests as well as get family in her exceedingly demanding lifestyle.