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 Mr. Rohinton 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.
Anu’s critical insights for success: Exiting 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
Above Side pic: Anu with daughter Meher and son in law Pheroz
“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.”
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.
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.