Podcast Episode 2: Nishant speaks with Iconic Anu Aga; Ex Chairperson Thermax

Pic: Ms Anu Aga

Nishant Malhotra talks to Ms Anu Aga  for Podcast Episode 2 on The Middle Road. 

The following is an excerpt of my conversation with Anu Aga and not a substitute for the Podcast.. Listen to the Podcast here.

Ms. Anu Aga is an iconic businesswoman, social change enabler whose contributions to the society are a harbinger of goodness and uprightness. A philanthropist and successful businesswomen, Anu led Thermax into a global engineering company focused in energy and environment. She strongly supports initiatives in the social sector, especially in advancing equitable and quality education for less privileged people of the society in India.

Anu is an alum of the well known St. Xavier’s College and the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She is a person of prominence known for her business acumen, philanthropy and sense of humour. She has featured in leading publications including Forbes.


Nishant: Anu, you are an iconic leader not only in business but also in social change. You turned around Thermax when there were very few women entrepreneurs in India. You have also been awarded Padma Shri award, by Government of India for your social work.  Would you like to talk about your journey?

Anu is very modest about her achievements and graciously credits family, friends, and professionals for their support. Anu talks about her family, her education, and her marriage to her loving husband MrRohinton Aga. Rohinton, studied at Cambridge and was sent to Harvard on a four-month programme on a scholarship from IIM-Ahmedabad. He was instrumental in kick-starting Thermax into an innovative business. Thermax, under his leadership, was the first in India to foray into futurists or sustainable industries like information technology, wind turbine, and grain silos. Anu talks about her love for her husband, his excellent qualities and pure grit, his life after his stroke and his untimely death through a subsequent heart attack. Read an excellent, thought provoking article which conceptualizes a framework in sales management by Mr. Rohinton Aga titled “The Death of a Salesman” here.

She further discusses her apprehension of taking over an engineering company, her mentorship under Thermax’s nurturing Human Resources Head Mr. Prasad Kumar, fortuitously meeting a friend from the Boston Consulting Group, a leading global management consulting firm and her ascent as the head of Thermax. She gives a detailed overview of subsequent decision, hurdles, and strategies in turning around Thermax into a worldwide business powerhouse. Anu finally stepped down to hand over the reins to her talented daughter Meher, who has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the Imperial College London.

Podcast: Nishant talks to Ms Anu Aga  

Anu’s critical insights for successExiting non-core businesses, promoting a performance culture with a crucial emphasis on the bottom line (profitability) rather than topline (order booking).

                                   Poignant and Impactful Anecdote

A letter from a shareholder addressed to her during the time of Thermax woes (Thermax share fell from INR 400 to INR 35) and Anu’s determination and focused attitude in addressing the concern.”

Side pic: Anu with daughter Meher and son in law Pheroz

Q2: Nishant: Thanks for sharing a comprehensive and poignant journey. Anu, you have been a stalwart in social space. You have supported initiatives in promoting equitable and quality education for less privileged people in the society and promoting gender equality.  Take us through your work with Akanksha Foundation, Teach for India wherein you are a co-founder and Thermax Foundation.

Podcast: Nishant talks to Anu. Listen to the Podcast here.

Anu talks about her son Kurush, who nudged her towards altruist endeavour, relationship dynamics within the family and her son’s unfortunate and untimely death in an accident. Kurush’s death propelled Anu to look at accountable and impactful nonprofits, especially The Akanksha Foundation. She teamed with The Akanksha Foundation’s founder Shaheen Mistri to spread quality education among low income members of the society.

Further, Anu helped structure along with Pune municipality a Public-Private Partnership model for Akanksha schools in Pune and Mumbai.

                       Anu Today the Akanksha Foundation has 21 schools in Pune and Mumbai.”

Going forward, Shaheen founded Teach for India, 10 years ago and Anu supported her from day one. TFI is a non-profit in education along the lines of Teach for America. Both educative initiatives are highly effective in churning out well-rounded citizens with qualitative and quantitative skills. Example, Saurabh an IIT alum, a product of Teach for India today heads The Akanksha Foundation.

Anu ” Way before CSR was made compulsory in India, Thermax gave 3% of profits to charity.”

Q3: Nishant: Here, I ask if the CSR rule in India would be a game-changer.

Nishant Malhotra chats with Ms. Anu Aga. Listen to the Podcast here.

Anu has a very holistic rule on social good. She is not in favour of compulsory CSR because she values emotive aspects of giving.  But now since CSR is mandatory, she would like to focus on how it can be most effective. We chatted about her daughter’s involvement in various social causes, especially Pune City Connect. My previous Podcast was with Ms. Ruchi Mathur, CEO of Pune City Connect.

Podcast: Nishant talks to Anu. Listen to the Podcast here.

Q4: Nishant: My next question is on Thermax’s inclusive Sakhi initiative, women rights and empowerment in India and enablers.

Anu’s insight is remarkable on women rights and needs utmost respect and pro-activeness for bringing a measurable change. She specifically mentions Vishakha guidelines, a framework of guidelines for pursuing sexual harassment in India.

Anu” The critical enabler for women empowerment is education.”

Anu enunciates about India Philanthropic Initiative a key enabler for driving philanthropy among high net worth individuals kick-started in India by Azim Premji along with prominent names including Rohini Nilekani. The idea is inspired by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet tireless work in promoting philanthropy globally among the rich and famous. Further Anu discusses essential qualities for her success, her experience with Vipassana meditation and mindfulness, her family values, and love for her daughter Meher. Anu genuinely believes that quality of education can make a huge impact in helping the poor come out of poverty.

Anu is a speaker par excellence; she articulately details key qualities, experiences, and alterations in her life with equanimity. Eloquent, modest with an elegant charm, she guides the conversation cementing her stature as a wholesome role model for scores of people out there. It is an honor and privilege to chat with Anu and will cherish it for a long time.


Suggested Readings



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SEDA, Well-being and Social Equality

Boston Consulting Group’s Sustainable Economic Development Assessment (SEDA) inspired by leading economists such as Amartya Sen, Michael Spence, and Joseph Stiglitz lays a foundation of measuring economic and socio-economic developments of countries. Further, it aids in peer comparison to benchmark global best business practices. SEDA is a step forward in understanding how wealth creation is translating into well-being and social equality. Pic source: BCG


# SEDA Framework 

SEDA measures the progression of countries in generating social equity and well being. It has ten dimensions selected over three categories: Economics, Investments, and Sustainability, which translates into 40 indicators for measuring well being. Economics category has only three variables income, economic stability, and employment while Investments includes health, education, and infrastructure. The third element of Sustainability measures social impact and includes income equality, civil society, governance, and environment. The ten dimensions are normalized on a scale of 0 to 100 and aggregated for respective countries to arrive at holistic scores. These scores help in peer comparison of countries on the well-being index apart from understanding the effect of well-being and quality of living.

To understand relative effectiveness of conversion of wealth to well-being, a measure wealth to well-being coefficient is tabulated. The score gives a comparison compared to the actual scores computed using GNI (gross nation income) indicator. GNI includes economic wealth created by citizens both within and outside the country in comparison to GDP which focuses on income creation within the country. Usually countries which have high foreign direct investment or aid have GNI higher than GDP. Remarkably the US has GNI and GDP comparable since its out bound investment equals inbound investment. According to BCG model, a coefficient of 1 indicates well being in line with expected outcome based on income levels, a figure greater than 1 out performs and a figure less than 1 under performs.

# Key Insights

The analysis relies on both objective well-being (SEDA and wealth to well-being coefficient) and subjective well-being through UN-sponsored World Happiness Report. The review is a mixed bag, some predictable and at the same time, some baffling. Income equality generally considered the most important yardstick for well-being, does not necessarily translate into high SEDA scores. Example, Pakistan and Germany have comparable income equality scores, but Germany is in the top SEDA quartile and Pakistan in the lowest SEDA quartile. This is where critical parameters in sustainability and investment play a pivotal role in defining well-being esp. social equality. Social equality is more significant in explaining well-being in SEDA matrix as compared to income equality keeping other variables constant. E.g., top-ranked global powerhouses and SEDA leaders, Finland and the Netherlands have both high social and income equality. Pic BCG
Although usually both well-being and happiness move in tandem, countries which score high on well-being don’t necessarily score high on the happiness index. This suggests that there are other variable factors affecting happiness. This further suggests that happiness is highly intangible and in many ways demographically aligned could also be based on cultural influences apart from reasons cited in the report. Further, wealth-to-well-being coefficient and happiness has no significant evidence of correlation and is a bit of an enigma. We will discuss it in a subsequent article.
The report hugely focuses on four dimensions: education, employment, health, and infrastructure as critical enablers for improving well-being and also promoting social inclusion. China, India, Indonesia, Colombia, and Rwanda have made above-average improvements in three of the four dimensions mentioned above, improved their conversion of wealth into well-being at above-average levels which translates in their excellent improvement in overall SEDA scores.

# Well-being, Innovation and Financial Inclusion  

Innovation, although not calculated as a separate dimension in the SEDA framework for well-being, performs well in explaining an increase in well-being. Innovation is the critical enabler in promoting productivity, income and employment growth, and social inclusion. Take, e.g., Global Innovation Index 2019, which ranked Switzerland, Sweden, and the US as the most innovative countries, all top quartile powerhouses on SEDA. India has shot up to 52 and on track to figuring among the top 30 soon under the excellent leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi. Today India leads in ICT services and creative good exports, quality technology professionals backed by a few world-class institutes. Further, few African countries performed good on well-being also lead in innovation relative to their level of development esp. Rwanda.

Pic right: https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/Home

One of the key driving factors behind a rapid rise in selected Asian and some African countries on well-being attribute has been their ability to leverage technology in promoting financial inclusion among the less privileged people in the society. Digital payments is one of the enablers in this space.

Sweden is a global leader in adopting innovation and emerging technologies. It plans to be a cashless economy by 2023 and its world defining project Swish; a mobile payment platform is a global role model in electronic payments. Today cash accounts for less than 1% of total transactions in Sweden. Left side pic: BCG


Today, Sweden is one of the most accomplished economies around the world in integrating financial inclusion within society. It has helped in effectively fighting money laundering, crime, etc. An excellent read on Sweden’s inventiveness here.

SEDA framework highlights the importance of social equality as a critical variable in measuring well-being. Further, innovation and its comprehensive application acts as a considerable leveler in making society more inclusive and therefore improving social equality and well-being among all.

To be continued.

Coming up articles on other vital insights and limitations of SEDA model.

How to embrace technology.


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Elementary Particles: Building Blocks of Our Universe

“Electrical charge can neither be created or destroyed. Energy is neither created nor destroyed.”

This article has been elaborated and reworded to my previous article here. The article shares a brief overview of the quantum world of elementary particles the building blocks of our Universe. The report further discusses Bose-Einstein Statistics, Markov theorem, Brownian movement, and its application in pricing options in finance.

There are four fundamental forces in nature i.e. in our Universe: Gravity, Electromagnetism, The Strong Force, and The Weak Force.  Electromagnetic Force makes our television and mobiles work while Strong and Weak Forces are prevalent over subatomic distances. Strong Force, the most potent force in nature, binds nuclei together while the Weak Force is primarily responsible for radioactive decay and neutrino interactions over subatomic distances. Gravitational Force, on the contrary to popular opinion, is not a strong force. The fact that one can jump in the air with Earth exerting its pull exemplifies this point of view.

Nature of our Universe: Elementary Particles 

About 96% of the human body is made up of Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Nitrogen. Hydrogen and Helium are the elements which build the atomic mass of our Universe. Hydrogen and Helium atoms make up 99.8 % of all the atoms and 98% of all atomic mass in the Universe. An atom has protons and neutrons in its nucleus with electrons orbiting around it. Protons and neutrons have the same weight, but weigh much more than that of electrons. The number of protons decides the elementary characteristics of the elements on the periodic table.

Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen atoms play a fundamental role in burning fat. “The chemical equation of human fat C55H104O6 decomposes into Carbon and Oxygen. Check out the video here. 

Mass of electrons is negligible compared to the mass of protons and neutrons. Mass, measured by mass of atoms in the body, equals the mass of protons and neutrons combined. Mass is constant while weight changes according to the gravitation pull of the planet.

                                                    “Gravity is the effect of curvature in our Universe”

The movies Interstellar and The Martian are good examples of how weights can vary in different planets. The scene below from the movie Interstellar depicts the concept of time dilation (discussed below) and the effect of gravity on time and weight. One hour on Miller planet represents 7 hours on Earth.

From Fission to Fusion

Atoms are not elementary particles since elementary particles are subatomic particles which have no particle inside and cannot be further broken down. Electrons are elementary particles while quarks (elementary particles) make up proton and neutrons. Atoms are usually neutrally charged, but atoms with different protons and electrons are known as ions. Lighter atoms i.e., atoms with lighter nuclei protons are equal to neutrons while for more significant nuclei number of protons differ from those of neutrons.

For example, Uranium has 146 neutrons and 92 protons, which makes it very unstable, an elementary quality used for nuclear fission. Fission occurs for very heavy nuclei with mass numbers higher than 250 and produces particles of uneven mass. Nuclear Fission is very different from Nuclear Fusion, which is fusing hydrogen atoms to form Helium.

The Sun burns up half a billion tons of Hydrogen per second to blend into Helium. Helium gets its origin from the word Helios, a Greek word for the Sun.  Fusion combines two atoms of Hydrogen to form an atom of Helium. In the process, energy is released with wholesome byproducts like carbon, oxygen, etc. which are present in stars, planets. Fusion works at very high temperature; Sun has 5726° C. Apart from the high temperature for synthesizing fusion, Strong Force works for the process of fusion. Today, science is working on effectively harnessing fusion for energy and will become a game-changer going forward in the energy space.

Elementary Particles

Elementary Particles, he building blocks of our Universe, are considered the smallest particles in nature which cannot be broken down further. Fermions and Boson. Fermions are the building blocks of matter (Quarks, Leptons) while Bosons are forces mediating interaction among forces (Fermions). Bosons are also known as force particles, and maybe the Force is with you. Anti-Matter, another elementary particle, are opposites in characteristics to their partner particle but have the same mass.

Fermions consist of a set of twelve particles which includes six quarks and six leptons. Quarks take part in Strong Force while leptons do not. The six quarks are up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom. I swear these are not exercises, and I have no intention to charm my readers, but their names sound a bit strange. Six types of leptons are electrons, muon, tau all having a negative charge: -1 while neutrinos have no electric charge. The force between any pair of particle arises because they exchange another type of particle called a Boson. Bosons are gauge bosons, gluons, photons, W+, W-, Z^0, and HIGGS Boson.  Gluons are the forces mediating strong forces, and all electromagnetic waves are photons: bundles of energy while W+, W-, Z^0 mediate weak forces.

Comparative Chart of Force and Strength

This chart compares the four forces, elementary particles in our Universe and Nature. The Weak Force is equated to 1; the rest are approximate weights relative to Weak Force.


Force Force particle                                            Mass Comparative Strength of Force Weak=1
Strong Gluon 0 10,000
Electromagnetic Photon 0 100
Weak Guage Bosons 8697 1
Gravity Graviton 0 7*10^-34

Source: The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene & Einstein For Everyone By Robert Piccioni

The Strong Force as discussed before, holds the quarks and nucleus together. Electromagnetic Force contains atoms, molecules, and bodies together while Weak Force pertains to radioactive decay. The weakest force, among all, is the Gravitational Force since it mediates at infinite distances. Gravity plays a pivotal role in the Einstein theory of relativity and for understanding the concept of time dilation. Refer to the video shared here on my Twitter. Gravity holds the planets, defines the elliptical path of orbits, etc. and holds everyone to Earth while it spins on its axis and around Sun. In a nutshell, Gravity is the effect of curvature in our Universe. Check out Cosmos documentary.

An interesting feature of the particles is their chaotic, unpredictable nature of transiting discrete energy states. To understand the nature of the particles better, it’s imperative we look at Bose-Einstein Statistics and the Markov Theory.


Do not be Fooled by Randomness. 

Bosons, named after the great Indian scientist Satyanarendra Bose, along with Einstein proposed Bose-Einstein statistics. The theory suggests how a group of identical but non-interacting particles may occupy different energy states without following Pauli’s exclusion principle. The uncertainty and unpredictability of laws of physics at the quantum level unlike gravitational theories baffled Einstein till his death.

To understand the discrete nature of particles and chaos at the quantum level, let’s refer to Einstein’s ground-breaking paper on Brownian motion. Investigations on The Theory of the Brownian Movement delves into the movement of pollen grains and the molecular kinetic theory of heat. The theory forms the foundation of random walk theory used in valuing options in finance. Brownian motion forms the basis of stochastic processes, which is also the underlying assumption behind the option pricing in the Black Scholes Merton model. A variable (not to be confused with the particle in quantum mechanics), whose value changes over time in an uncertain way both continuous or discretely follows a stochastic process.

The Markov Theory

Markov theory proposes predicting future pricing trends or outcomes. The theory emphasizes that the probabilistic result of the price in the future is independent of any path taken in the past for pricing. The transition from one state to another would form a Markov chain which would look like a matrix of outcomes with a probabilistic result for each state of change. Time-series statistical data of stocks are taken to understand this principle to normalize it on a bell curve.

Normalization Simplified

For normalizing any data, the data must be independent and identically distributed (i.i.d). The data must have more than 40 observations, with equal probability of random selection, and the sample constitutes less than 10 percent of the population. The little brief on the stochastic process is an analogy on impermanence governing both our lives and processes at a subatomic level.

Impermanence at Quantum Level Exemplified: Sting Theory and Theory of Everything

String Theory mathematically proves that the smallest subatomic elementary particles are strings. These strings move as sources of energies which continuously vibrate as strings. M Theory, also known as Super String Theory, encapsulated many string theories to come out with 11 dimensions in this Universe. String theory is known as Theory of Everything, encapsulates laws of physics at both macro and quantum level. Theory of Everything builds on Grand Unified Theory, which unifies the three gauge interactions: electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces at high energy levels into a single force. Theory of Everything unifies even gravity along with the other forces into an only force. The equations in the proposed Theory of Everything will describe all-natural laws governing our Universe i.e., laws of physics, chemistry, biochemistry you name it.

Strings due to their infinitesimally small size have yet to be observed although experimental work through bombarding elementary particles at large Large Hadron Collider. Remember discovery of Higgs Boson, an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics which caused a sensation worldwide.



Theory of Everything, which builds on String Theory, is a landmark achievement in Theoretical Physics of the late. Scientists esp. theoretical physicists struggled to define a theory which would combine laws of physics to give a semblance. It’s a significant theory in theoretical physics and for details refer to Brian Greene (TED talks) and articles. One day, hopefully not far from now we will be able to experimentally observe the elementary particles, and how they govern laws of nature within our Universe.





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Art of Blended Finance and SDGs

Blended Finance will play a critical role in achieving the target of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Going forward, there will be more synergies between Blended Finance and SDGs in the development sector. Blended Finance not to be confused with bending financeis fast becoming an important and potent tool for bridging the yearly $2.5tr gap to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target by 2030. Blended Finance is not a panacea for the global development crisis, but stills works as an innovative way to pool in commercial capital to aid risk-adjusted return for development projects.

OECD defines blended finance as the strategic use of development finance for the mobilization of additional finance towards sustainable development in developing countries. This is a defining change in the scope of blended finance from its work as various financial structuring instruments to its strategic use as a form of finance to eradicate social inequity. The means to attract additional capital for implementation of SDGs through governments, foundations, development finance institutions through concessional (soft loans with lower interest rates and/or longer repayment duration) or non-concessional resources or through public or private relationship gives a defining new policy perspective to blended finance.

Pic Source: Convergence Finance
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HIIT: Strength, Endurance and Rajesh

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to build strength and endurance. It works on core functional exercises, which are performed with  great intensity with very small intervals of rest in between different exercises and sets. I have been doing weight training for a while and tried various techniques to build strength and  endurance. I spoke with Rajesh, a top HIIT, strength and fitness trainer at RAAW gym in Pune. Rajesh recently won the Lift For India (an event dedicated to families of victims of Pulwama terror attack) held at Recomp gym. I had also participated in the competition and posted my videos here. Rajesh is known for strength, endurance and power. His best one rep in Squats is 200 kg i.e. 440 lbs.

Rajesh has won numerous fitness events at the national and state level and is a promising power lifter. He was kind enough to share time with me and recommended a few exercises for strengthening core and endurance. I prefer to record my videos impromptu for on the road feel. Thankful to RAAW management for their support in shooting the video and deeply grateful to Rajesh. I would be soon releasing my video as well. Its time to put a video face to the blog. Lot more exclusive work is coming soon. If you like the video, please subscribe to the You Tube channel.

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True Grit: Tinkesh and Fitness

Recently uploaded a video of my interview with Tinkesh on Twitter. I met Tinkesh at a gym in Pune and got impressed by his calm demeanor and true grit. In spite of adversity, he followed his childhood dream to become a fitness trainer through sheer determination. Tinkesh was electrocuted when he was a kid and lost both his legs and one arm. Over the course of his life, people helped him in his endeavor. A nonprofit, Aditya Mehta Foundation, sponsored his prosthesis for both limbs and Tinkesh successfully ran 10K and 5K long distance runs with Maj D. P. Singh “the Blade Runner” from India. Tinkesh follows a strict diet and strength training regime to keep fit. I spoke with him at my house in Pune, India.


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