Why Scotland matters to billionaire Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw Image copyright Biocon

India's "biotech queen" Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw joined the billionaire's club this week after being named as one of the wealthiest people in Scotland on the 2017 Sunday Times Rich List. So what links does the boss of a Bangalore-based biopharmaceutical company have with Scotland?

It came as something of a surprise when Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw popped up in the Sunday Times Rich List for Scotland this week.

As chairwoman and managing director of Indian biopharmaceutical company, Biocon, there seemed at first glance to be little to connect her to Scotland.

But appearances can be deceiving.

Ms Mazumdar-Shaw's name appeared on the rich list with her husband John Shaw, a Glaswegian who helps run her biotech empire as vice-chairman of the business.

The pair have turned a small company into a biotech behemoth, with annual revenues of $500m.

Their wealth has been estimated at £1.15bn, ranking them seventh in Scotland in the Sunday Times Rich List.

Image copyright Biocon
Image caption Biocon is now India's biggest biopharmaceutical company

It has been a long journey to success, however.

The roots of Biocon go back to 1978, when Ms Mazumdar-Shaw launched a biotech company focused on industrial enzymes.

It was a humble beginning, as she explains. "It was India's first biotech start-up. I started it in my garage with very little money in the bank because I had all of 10,000 rupees - in today's terms, less than $500.

"Basically I started the company really not knowing where I would go or where I would end up."

'Crucial role'

But two developments in the late 1990s were to change the course of her life - a business opportunity and her then fiancé, John.

In 1998, she had an opportunity to take full ownership of her company by buying out shareholder ICI.

Mr Shaw, who was chairman of India-based textiles firm Madura Coats at the time, managed to raise the $2m required by using his life savings, which included selling his London home.

"John played a very crucial role in investing in the company and in me when it was most required," says Ms Mazumdar-Shaw.

"It was at an inflection point when the company was trying to become independent.

"He did give up all his life's earnings to invest in Biocon and he says that's the best investment he's ever made."

The investment did indeed pay off, as the company switched its focus to oncology, diabetes and auto-immune diseases. It is now India's largest biopharmaceutical company.

Image copyright Biocon
Image caption Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and her Scottish husband John run Biocon

Such is Ms Mazumdar-Shaw's standing in her field that she has been affectionately called "India's biotech queen" in the media.

Although she has joined the billionaire's club, she says money is not her motivation.

She explains: "Today I am driven by a mission to basically make a big impact on global healthcare because I am really concerned about the inequity between the developed world and developing countries in terms of access to essential drugs.

"So I am basically developing life-saving and life-sustaining drugs for diabetes and cancer and my mantra is 'highest quality at lowest cost'."

She adds: "I am very pleased with the kind of value we have created, so even though I am on the rich list, I really believe it is about value creation.

"It is not about what the connotation of rich is, but it's more the value that gets created from knowledge and innovation that I am proud of."

Ms Mazumdar-Shaw's links with Scotland go beyond her husband.

Among many accolades she has won over the years are honorary degrees from the University of Abertay, University of Glasgow and Heriot-Watt University.

Ms Mazumdar-Shaw speaks fondly of her Scottish connections, which include research partnerships with the University of Glasgow and other educational establishments.

"We love Scotland, so we do try and make it a point to come there at least once a year," she says.

"We love Scottish art and there's lots of interest that we have in Scotland in terms of family and friends."

The couple will be back in Scotland once again next month, when Mr Shaw will receive an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Glasgow University.

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