Many times, we are so heartbroken by our failures that we find it extremely difficult to gather the courage to fight back. But as they say, tough times never last; tough people do! Here is one such inspiring story of successful businesswoman Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw that would encourage you to fight for your dreams.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is the founder and chairperson of India’s first and largest biotechnology company, Biocon Ltd. She is one of the most powerful and successful entrepreneurs. She has also been named among the world’s 100 most powerful women by Forbes.
Though Kiran Mazumdar is very successful today, her journey to success has been full of failures.
In her debut book Why I Failed: Lessons from Leaders, author Shweta Punj speaks to prominent personalities — entrepreneurs, sportsperson, filmmakers — who talk about their own failures and how they turned things around.
Here we bring you an excerpt from the chapter on Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. She started Biocon in 1978 to manufacture enzymes because she didn’t get a job as a brewer. Her story is one of grit, self-confidence, and courage.
Failure Is Not Final, Giving Up Is
Daughter of a brewmaster and without a job, raising funds for her entrepreneurial venture was easy.
Mazumdar-Shaw was prepared to fight it out. She knew she would have to stave off the opposition at every step.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw was trying to build an enterprise in an area that was relatively nascent in India, and the fact that she was a woman and had no family money to fall back on didn’t help either. She was twenty-five at the time. Getting banks to fund her venture was nearly impossible. Banks wanted her father to be a guarantor. And Kiran disagreed on principle.
Being a woman entrepreneur also put her at a disadvantage. But the challenges and setbacks did not hold her back from setting up an office with a seed capital of ten thousand rupees – around four lakh rupees today.
‘There are many examples of failure. I had a huge credibility hurdle to overcome. I failed to get financial support. I failed to recruit people I wanted to. The first fifteen years were all about survival,’ says Mazumdar-Shaw looking back at the initial years of her entrepreneurial life.
Biocon Limited was launched in 1978, in partnership with an Irish Biotechnology company called Biocon Biochemicals. It was founded by a first-generation Irish entrepreneur Leslie Auchincloss. The company produced enzymes for alcoholic beverages, paper, and other products.
Growth was slow. As a pioneer Kiran faced resistance and discrimination from all quarters – employees didn’t want to work for a woman and investors remained wary of investing in a woman-run company.
But Mazumdar-Shaw persevered. The company started to make profits and almost a decade later, Auchincloss sold his stake in Biocon to Unilever.
Though the challenges of her journey would seem insurmountable to many, Shaw went about slicing her setbacks with almost clinical precision. She says,
‘You must understand why you are failing. You are failing because your credibility is at stake. You have got to make credibility to ensure people trust you.’
As Mazumdar-Shaw went about building credibility and the company started adding to its bottom line, she also started dreaming bigger. She had understood the scale of her potential and ambition.
She wanted to build a global scale company and for that, she would have to go beyond enzymes.
The focus of the business was changed from enzymes to biopharmaceuticals in the nineties. She sold off the enzyme business she had spent 15 years building and put all her energies into the biopharmaceutical business – where the first batch of enzymes failed.
‘Here I was trying to scale up a homegrown biotechnology firm and my first batch failed. We checked why it failed. We identified process failures,’ she says.
Mazumdar-Shaw took the failure in her stride and did not internalize it – a personality trait most women are guilty of.
Years later, Mazumdar-Shaw failed again. This time at her dream project of building oral insulin. The drug failed to give the desired outcome in the clinical study. It brought down the glucose levels to desired levels but failed to lower the haemoglobin count in patients with type-2 diabetes to the desired levels. This came out in the late-stage clinical trials.
‘That was a dark hour. I had built the drug with great expectations,’ she laments.
But none of these failures broke Kiran Mazumdar’s spirit. After every failure, she worked even harder to turn her dream into reality.
At IFORHER, we are in awe of Kiran Mazumdar’s courage and determination. How she fought her circumstances to turn her dream into a reality is so inspiring. We hope her story will inspire many more to never give up on dreams. Because as they say no failure is final but giving up is.
More power to you, Kiran!
Looking for more inspiration? You can buy Why I Failed: Lessons from Leaders by Shweta Punj here.