As Anu Aga turns 80 today, the power woman can look back at a life that she did not allow multiple deaths to interrupt. She retired as Thermax chairperson at age 61 and stepped away from the board at 75, having turned around the company big time. Now she's back to her first love, social work.
Popularly known for her social work and business accomplishments, ex-Thermax boss Anu Aga’s life is a story of resilience, will and strength.
Born on August 3, 1942, to a Parsi Zoroastrian family in Bombay, Arnavaz ‘Anu’ Aga studied economics at St Xavier's College and also volunteered to work for the underprivileged through the Social Service League of the institution.
After completing her graduation, Anu enrolled at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences where she studied medical and psychiatric social work.
“Though my degrees themselves did not prepare me for life’s difficulties, the experience and the people I met did have an influence on me,” Forbes quoted her as saying.
Marriage and motherhood
Anu married Cambridge-educated entrepreneur Rohinton Aga in 1965. Rohinton worked at Wanson India, which was later renamed Thermax in 1980. Under his leadership, Thermax diversified from an engineering firm to energy and environment.
Soon her first child, Meher, was born. But, Anu lost her second daughter to an undetected ailment. Her son Kurush was born in 1972 and was later detected with a hole in his heart.
In 1982, Rohinton suffered a massive heart attack, followed by a paralytic stroke. While he was recovering, Anu worked with the human resources team at Thermax.
Upon recovery, Rohinton helmed affairs at Thermax once again, leading it to a public listing in 1995. Anu was by his side as the head of HR.
In 1997, Rohinton died after suffering from his second and fatal heart attack. Soon after his death, Anu was asked to helm Thermax, which was then in a downward spiral. Anu then lost her 25-year-old son in a road accident.
Anu attributes much of her fortitude to the practice of Vipassana.
Despite her personal pain and suffering, Anu steered Thermax towards a turnaround, reconstituting its board and shutting down non-core divisions. At the age of 61, Anu retired as chairperson and stepped away from the board at age 75 in 2004, by when the total income of the group company stood at Rs 1,281 crore, Forbes reported. She handed over the reins to her daughter Meher Pudumjee.
Soon, she turned to social work and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. In 2010, Anu was honoured with the Padma Shri for her work in the social sector.