His father built a vaccine empire. Adar Poonawalla is now busy diversifying it

The CEO of Serum Institute of India is finding newer frontiers to invest the family wealth. And he ensures these companies have the potential to complement the world’s largest vaccine maker

For millions of Indians, the pandemic meant a shot or two, or sometimes even three, in the arm.

For Adar Poonawalla and the Serum Institute of India (SII), however, it turned out to be a much-needed shot in the arm.

That’s because, in just a few years, the Pune-headquartered company has become a household name in India with millions becoming familiar with Adar, his father, Cyrus Poonawalla, and their 55-year-old vaccine company, SII. Globally, the vaccine maker has become recognised for its sheer scale of operations with the likes of AstraZeneca, Novavax, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund tying up with the company to manufacture vaccines.

Not that it needed much validation. After all, the Poonawallas are among India’s 10 richest people, with a net worth of $16.6 billion, almost the GDP of Botswana. SII is the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume and in 2021, Poonawalla was listed as India’s fifth richest man. Since April 2020, his wealth has doubled from $8.2 billion to $16.3 billion according to Forbes.

“What happened in the pandemic was that we became far more internationally known,” says Adar, 41, CEO of SII. “I get offers and partnerships from people all over the world. That’s at least some positive that’s come out of this dreadful pandemic… that at least now we are known internationally and that does open the doors to many opportunities.”

Between April 2020 and March 2021, once the pandemic began, SII’s revenues grew by 41 percent, while its profits grew by 73 percent to Rs3,891 crore. The numbers are only expected to leapfrog in the ongoing fiscal, since the company has been responsible for inoculating nearly 90 percent of India’s population since the country began vaccinations a year ago.

SII has provided 143 crore doses (and counting) of its Covishield vaccine, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, to the government so far. India has administered two doses of the vaccine to 75 percent of the population to date.  

Yet, despite all the newfound recognition and admiration, the Poonawallas aren’t sitting tight or resting on their laurels.

If anything, over the past few years, Adar has been busy finding newer frontiers to invest the family wealth as the group looks to diversify its fortunes. For much of his time, his father, Cyrus Poonawalla, had focussed his attention and investments only on SII, with the group barely diversifying outside its forte.

Adar’s investments over the past few years include those into a non-banking financial corporation (NBFC), a microfinance company, a 24-hour wellness provider, a manufacturer of syringes and glass vials, a cookie maker, and a firm that manufactures home testing kits for Covid-19. Adar made these investments in his personal capacity, although they all fall under the Cyrus Poonawalla Group, which comprises his father and him.

“I spent my time fundamentally in three different areas,” Adar says. “One is SII and growing in Serum, building new vaccines and capacities. Then, in my spare time, I like to make and manage my own investment portfolio, which is both my personal wealth and that of Serum, where the treasury function is of investing and building and helping grow other private companies.”

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