Cyrus Poonawalla, India’s vaccine king, multiplied his wealth nearly 5 times in a decade

Cyrus Poonawalla, India’s vaccine king, multiplied his wealth nearly 5 times in a decade
  • The 74-year old is the 12th richest person in India with a networth of $9.5 billion.
  • According to Forbes, he multiplied his net worth nearly five times in a decade. But his company Serum Institute of India (SII) is known for its affordable vaccines.
  • The affordable vaccine strategy has struck the right cord of the company as its annual revenues are at ₹59 billion ($840 million).
The story of Cyrus Poonawalla and how he became a billionaire cuts through luxury cars, horses and vaccines.

The 74-year old is the 12th richest person in India with a networth of $9.5 billion. According to Forbes, he multiplied his net worth nearly five times in a decade. But his company Serum Institute of India (SII) is known for its affordable vaccines.

He founded the Serum Institute of India in 1966, with a capital of $12,000. His idea was to develop vaccines by extracting serum from horses. SII became the world’s largest vaccine maker by of doses produced and sells 1.5 billion doses globally.

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The affordable vaccine strategy has struck the right cord of the company as its annual revenues are at ₹59 billion ($840 million).

The affordable vaccine strategy has struck the right cord of the company as its annual revenues are at ₹59 billion ($840 million).

Net worth 2019: $9.5 b

The affordable vaccine strategy has struck the right cord of the company as its annual revenues are at ₹59 billion ($840 million). And its journey has been growing rapidly over the years.

Within seven years, the company’s revenue skyrocketed from ₹9.87 billion in FY08 to ₹48.37 billion in FY15.

And the vaccine major is expanding. It recently invested $4.1 billion (close to ₹3,000 crore) to open the world's largest vaccine facility at the Poonawalla Biotech Park at Manjri, Pune.

It supplies vaccines to UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organisation. Exports contribute to 85% of company’s revenues. Serum says that it plans to turn into a ₹100 billion company by 2022.

Some of its vaccines are as affordable as ₹5 a dose — that’s lower than the price of a cup of tea in India.

Some of its vaccines are as affordable as ₹5 a dose — that’s lower than the price of a cup of tea in India.

Net worth 2018: $9.1 b

Some of its vaccines are as affordable as ₹5 a dose — that’s lower than the price of a cup of tea in India. This has been shaving off the company’s margins by 20-30% every year as tenders turn competitive. Yet it retained some of its biggest customers like the Indian government, WHO, UNICEF and GAVI.

“By selling some of our vaccines at ₹5 [a dose] we often sell at a loss. On average, margins are 20-30 percent, he says, which sometimes fall to 5 percent,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO, SII says.

Serum also promised to cut down the cost of penta-valent vaccines — that protect against diseases like diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) — by 60%. According to Serum, these penta valent vaccines are priced at ₹100 (close to $1.75).

Navigating the complex business of vaccines was not Cyrus Poonawala’s first idea. At the age of 20, he was hoping to manufacture racing cars. He even built a $120 prototype modeled on the Jaguar D-Type. But he soon realised that wasn’t feasible. A chance meeting with a veterinarian who worked at his family’s stud farm triggered an idea to produce affordable vaccines.

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Adar Poonawalla, the son of Cyrus Poonawalla, is planning to venture into finance.

Adar Poonawalla, the son of Cyrus Poonawalla, is planning to venture into finance.

Net worth 2017: $8.1b

Adar Poonawalla, the son of Cyrus Poonawalla is diversifying the business by venturing into finance. He set up Poonawalla Finance that offers unsecured personal loans to low- and middle-income consumers and to small businesses as well, reported Forbes.

Within four months of operation, the company has already established itself in 23 cities, lending $110 million. On the other hand, Serum Institute is planning to roll out new low cost vaccines for dengue and pneumonia.

Poonawalla enjoys his wealth very well with $120 million mansion, hot wheels and horses

Poonawalla enjoys his wealth very well with $120 million mansion, hot wheels and horses

Net worth 2016: $8.5b

Poonawalla is not all about changing the world for the better. He also enjoys his wealth. In 2015, he paid $120 million for a Mumbai mansion as a weekend home . He also kept his passion for hot wheels alive as he owns a range of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and a Ferrari F430.

Moreover, the Poonawalla family owns India’s largest stud farm — that they built in 1946. When Cyrus Poonawalla isn’t busy with chairing the Serum Institute of India, he can be seen playing with the horses at the family-owned stud farm. “You get a glimpse of the good life even before you enter the Poonawallas’ Pune home,” writes Forbes India.

He also bought a rare 1931 pencil portrait of Mahatma Gandhi and a collection of his handwritten letters for ₹27 lac (close to £32,500).

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