CMG frequently comes across stories of business families that offer a mix of new thinking, lessons learned, unique perspectives – and often simply a dash of inspiration.
In recent weeks we’ve seen two similar stories of the same business family in India, and they fit clearly in the inspiration category – especially in the unique world circumstances we’re facing now. It turns out, the Poonawalla family is making a dramatic impact on the global COVID-19 pandemic by becoming the world’s biggest manufacturer of vaccines.
The family hasn’t always been in the vaccine business. It started in the mid-19th century in construction, gravitating to horse farms decades later. By the mid-‘1960s, under the leadership of Cyrus Poonawalla, the family identified a need to build more of a mass-market business, so it began producing badly needed medicines for meningitis, measles and tetanus in India. The Serum Institute was born.
Fast forward to today.
Serum remains family-owned and operated more than 50 years later. Cyrus is worth an estimated $12.1 billion, one of India’s wealthiest individuals. And under the leadership of his 39-year-old son (and CEO), Adar, the family business produces 1.5 billion vaccine doses a year for developing countries.
Up next for Adar is ramping up Serum’s capacity to mass-produce a coronavirus vaccine on a global scale – and make a huge difference worldwide when we need it most. Serum now has a deal in place to produce a billion doses of nCoV-19, the pandemic vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.
As we read the coverage of the Poonawallas, it’s evident that – as a family-run business – Serum has a number of advantages it can deploy over other major vaccine producers:
- It embraces risk. Being family-run enables Adar to be nimble and agile, making decisions fast and taking bigger risks, like investing $700 million in a complex comprised of two large factories for manufacturing vaccines plus a giant warehouse in which to store them. The only shareholder Adar has to answer to is his father.
- It moves faster. Serum can quickly adapt its assembly lines to manufacture different vaccines with varying specifications. The company swiftly shifts on the fly in a way that many larger, publicly listed pharmaceuticals can’t. Says Adar: “Very (few) can produce at this cost, this scale and this speed.”
- It sticks with its purpose. Adar often mentions how seriously he considers his company’s obligation to serve – seeing the pandemic as “sort of our moment.” His stated intention now is to have a dedicated vaccine production facility constantly available going forward – in anticipation of future pandemics.
Now that’s inspiration.
If you’re interested in reading more on the Poonawalla family: