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Meher Pudumjee is the Chairperson of Thermax Limited, one of India’s leading energy and environmental engineering companies. She is also an active Philanthropist with a passion for making a difference in Education. She is the Chairperson of Akanksha Foundation and is a Trustee of Teach to Lead, Mumbai. She is also on the Board of Imperial College India Foundation, Shakti Sustainable Solutions and Pune City Connect. Meher has a keen interest in music, especially western classical and is a member of a Pune based choir.

Meher represented India at the Asian Business Women’s Conference in Osaka in 2006. The World Economic Forum in 2008 selected her as a Young Global Leader for her professional accomplishment, commitment to society and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world. She was selected CEO of the Year, 2009 by Business Standard.

In our conversation, Meher spoke about influences from her childhood that have shaped her attitudes specifically towards philanthropy, how she dealt with the twin shocks of losing her father and brother in quick succession, how music influences her leadership style, her perspectives on philanthropy and how she thinks about passing the baton across generations.

Published in Jan 2018.

Early formative years

Meher talks about how her early years have shaped her approach to life, specifically around giving and social impact. She also talks about how her parents treated her and her brother in a gender-agnostic way and the impact of that on her attitudes.

Transitioning effectively across generations

Meher talks about how the baton of leadership passed to her mother (Anu Aga) when her father passed away and how things changed even further when her brother passed away shortly after. She also reflects on the subsequent transition when her mother decided to retire as the Chairperson suddenly that pushed Meher to the saddle.

Dealing with shocks

Meher talks about how she and her mother (Anu Aga) dealt with the sudden loss of her father and her brother within a span of a few months. She talks about how they got the strength to deal with the loss and the soul-searching she went through to come to terms with it. She talks about the criticality of gratitude and cherishing the relationships that matter when people are still alive and the importance of not having the guilt that you didn’t give it what you could.

Music and Leadership

Meher talks about how her experiences as a singer in a choir have helped her in her corporate pursuits. She talks about how it has helped her build a sense of purpose beyond numbers. She also talks about how performing as a collective has helped her realize the value of teamwork and how an orchestra is only as good as the weakest musician.

Perspectives on Philanthropy

Meher talks about her approach towards CSR and Philanthropy and how she thinks about “chunking” rather than “sprinkling” (a phrase Adam Grant uses in his book Give and Take). She also talks about the criticality of working with the Government to drive Scale.

Business continuity across generations

Meher discusses her approach towards her children getting involved in Thermax moving forward. She talks about the distinction between responsible ownership and day to day management. She also talks about the criticality of external experience before starting within the company (something she misses in hindsight) in case the child wants to get into the management of the company.

Grooming more women leaders

Meher shares her perspectives on what it would take to have more women leaders at the top. She starts with the challenges in basic education and sanitation and how that severely restricts the number of women who start a corporate journey. She goes on to talk about what organizations and women can do to ensure that we have more women at the top.

In Summary - Playing to Potential

Meher talks about the role of self-awareness and discovering what energizes you. She also offers a practical tip to people who claim “I don’t know what I am passionate about”. She suggests that they start somewhere and then along the way, figure out what energizes them.

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