Cyrus S. Poonawalla: A Compassionate & Successful Entrepreneur



Cyrus S. Poonawalla: A Compassionate & Successful Entrepreneur

It is quite magical to see how people are struck with some ideas and when implemented, bring success at their doorstep. This was the case with Dr. Cyrus S. Poonawalla, Chairman of Poonawala Group and Founder of Serum Institute of India. He was born in a family who was involved in horse racing and owned a Poonawalla Stud Farms. Cyrus completed his graduation from Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce in 1966. Past two decades, he obtained PhD for his thesis titled, “Improved Technology in the Manufacture of Specific Anti-toxins and its Socio-Economic Impact on the Society” from Pune University.

Post his graduation, at the young age of 20, Cyrus began to assist his father at Poonawalla Stud Farm. It is then he realized that horse racing had no future. Hence, he followed his passion for cars and began to manufacture cars. He along with his school friend developed $120 prototype sports car basing D-type Jaguar as the model. But it was already time for Cyrus’s second realization that the car manufacturing would need a hefty capital, which they could not afford and thus they were forced to quit car making. At this point of time, vaccines made out of horse serum were on high demand. This is when the lightening idea struck Cyrus to venture into vaccine business. Quickly, he along with his brother Zavaray raised a fund of $12,000 by selling their horses, and also convinced their father to set up the institute. This gave birth to Serum Institute of India (SII) in 1966.  

Set Forth… into Entreprenership

Two years post its set up, SII launched its first therapeutics anti-tetanus serum, and later began to produce anti-tetanus vaccine. Then it went on to acquire some contract to supply vaccines for the state government hospitals, marking the development of its business. In 1974, SII introduced DTP vaccine in the market, a vaccine for children to protect them against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, after which anti-snake-venom serum was launched in 1981 as an antidote of snakebite. Since then it’s no looking back for SII.

In 80s, India was backed by SII and hence was self-sufficient in terms of the vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. In 1994, SII was recognized by WHO to export its vaccines across the world, and thus it began supplying high quality vaccines to UN agencies like UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), which fetches about 50 percent of the company’s revenue. Started in a 12- acre lot, with Cyrus’ rigorous hard work, SII has grown to be one amongst the largest vaccine producers globally. It has produced and sold over 1.3 billion doses of vaccines, which include polio vaccine across 170 countries. It is also estimated that about 65 percent of children worldwide have taken at least one vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India.

Even while developing SII, Cyrus did not lose track in horse racing and breeding. Alongside SII, he also established his Poonawalla Stud Farm as one of the leading stud farms in India. He is a sole representative of India at the International Federation of Horse Racing Authority. He has been the member of the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) for over a decade. Besides, Cyrus has also held various high positions in horse racing realm such as Vice President of ARF, Chairman of Turf Authority of India & Royal Western India Turf Club and more.

Awards & Philanthropy

Cyrus work is not just business but also a massive contribution to the society. For his outstanding endowment in the field of medicine, he was honored with the fourth highest civilian award ‘Padma Shri’ by the Government of India in 2005. This prestigious award was presented by the then President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. In the same year, he was also presented ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In addition to this, he has been bestowed with several awards for his remarkable works such as Sabin Humanitarian Award, Rajat Kumar National Award, Sabin Corporate Philanthropy Award, Pune’s Pride Award, Biospectrum Person of the year 2004, Business Leader of the Year Award for Biotech 2007 and many more.

In May 2019, it was reported that Poonawalla Group in collaboration with Naum Koen, has intended to donate Ukraine with 100,000 doses of measles vaccination.