The Success Story Of India's Vaccine King: Dr Cyrus Poonawalla

16 Jan, 2021

8 min read

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The Success Story Of India's Vaccine King: Dr Cyrus Poonawalla - Smart Money
Cyrus Poonawalla is one of the richest businessmen in India and the world. In 1966, he founded the Serum Institution. Read this blog to know the success story.

We will discuss the success story of India's vaccine king, Dr Cyrus Poonawalla; son of a horse breeder, didn't follow his family's steps but carved his own path. He established the Serum Institution in 1966. Today, it is the world's largest vaccine manufacturing firm in terms of doses produced and sold. 

Cyrus Poonawalla ranks among the richest businessman of India and the world. The company he founded when he was 25 years old has brought him worldwide recognition and the nickname of the 'Vaccine King of India'. It isn't a story of a man's hard work, but also about identifying opportunity in the market and creating a product that will benefit the mass. His company is known for manufacturing pediatric vaccine, turning the dream of affordable vaccines for all children of the country a reality. 

He Has Family Ties With The Racing Circle Of India

Cyrus Poonawalla was born in Pune, India in 1941. His family was into horse breeding. Poonawalla went to Bishop School and later graduated from Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce, University of Pune in 1966. After completing education, he joined his family business of breeding racehorses. But he soon realised that horse racing has no future in a socialist country like India and searched for other business opportunities. He experimented with building high-end cars and build a prototype of sports car modelled after D-type Jaguar. However, he abandoned the idea and focused on creating products that will help the mass. 

In 1966 he founded Serum Institution to derive therapeutic serum from horse blood. Within two years, Serum launched its first therapeutic tetanus serum and started producing anti-tetanus vaccines.  By 1974, it started making DTP vaccine, which is known to protect children from diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. In 1981, it created anti-snake venom serum to treat snakebites. 

Serum Institution turned the world's largest vaccine manufacturers, catering to 150 countries, including America and European countries. It is also a notable name in producing pediatric vaccines. Serum Institution holds a 60 percent market share in the global vaccine manufacturing segment. 

Serum Institution Initially Struggled With Financing And Recognition

Serum Institution is currently under a global focus for playing a critical role in developing COVID-19 vaccine. It has several COVID-19 vaccine partnerships and doing the Indian trial for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. But the path of becoming the Vaccine King of India wasn't easy for Cyrus. 

During his initial years, Poonawalls faced hardships in arranging finances for his company. He started Serum Institution in 1966 with USD 12,000, which he raised by selling horses.

Poonawalla faced another challenge in getting recognised. His company started producing vaccine when India still lacked proper infrastructure and facilities. It wasn't easy for an entrepreneur from an underdeveloped country to grow in the map of world vaccine manufacturing which was dominated by companies from the western world.   

Vaccine For All

Since the beginning, Serum Institution focused on producing affordable vaccines to improve the lives of the mass. Some of the vaccines produced by Serum Institution are priced Rs 5, which is even less than the price of a cup of tea in India. He had the vision to provide high-quality vaccine to all and produced a wide range of pediatric vaccines at an affordable cost. Several international agencies have collaborated with Serum Institution in his noble cause. The firm manufactures vaccine against Meningococcal A, H1N1 Influenza, Rotavirus and several other diseases. 

Philanthropic Activities And Recognition 

The 79 years old entrepreneur has received several recognitions in his lifetime. In 2005 Poonawalla was presented Lifetime Achievement Award and Padma Shri by the Indian government for his contribution in the field of medicine. He is also the first Indian to get "Excellence in Inter-American Public Health" award from by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF). Serum Institution is ascribed to WHO and U.N. organisations to export the high-quality vaccine to agencies to improve children's health worldwide. 

Dr Poonawalla is the acting chairman of the Poonawalla conglomeration, which owns Serum Institutions.  In 2011, he passed the baton to the capable hands of his son Adar Poonawalla, who inherited his father's business values. 

Success Lessons From Cyrus Poonawalla

Young investors can take a leaf or two out of Dr Cyrus Poonawalla's life while shaping their own lives.

It's Wroth Taking Risk

Cyrus Poonawalla's life is an excellent example of taking challenges and turning it into opportunity. He came from a wealthy family background with an established business, yet he took a chance in a completely new domain. He and his partner, when started Serum Institution, had no experience in vaccine development. But they hired ten doctors and scientists from a state-run organisation and within two years of operation produced the first vaccine. Poonawalla turned Serum Institution into USD 11.5 billion company.

Keeping Control

He tightly held the reign of business which gave him complete authority over management and decision making. Poonawalla also kept diversification at a minimum. In an interview, he famously quoted, there is no reason to expand if his son isn't capable of managing its growth. Thankfully, Adar Poonawalla proved himself a worthy successor of his father. 

Overcoming Challenges Become Easy When You Focus On A Good Cause 

Poonawalla initially tried his hands into manufacture luxury cars, but he soon realised that producing high-quality, inexpensive vaccines can save a million lives. Since then, he focused on improving the quality of life of the people, especially children. By collaborating with WHO and U.N. organisations, his company exports vaccine to over 150 countries globally.   

Dr Cyrus Poonawalla ranks among the top ten wealthiest businessmen in India. In his time, he achieved both wealth and accolades that remain a distant dream for many. Behind his flamboyant façade lies a deep-thinking man with a vision. He has proved that it is feasible to stay connected to your roots even when you have your life on the fast lane.

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