An Introduction to Anu Aga



Anu Aga led Thermax through its most tumultuous period in history. Thermax Limited is an engineering company involved in energy and environment with sales of ~$750 million (TTM 9/18) and profits of $40 million today.

Mrs. Aga was thrust into leadership (1996-2004) at a time when she herself was facing the most crushing of blows. A woman of great empathy and humanity, she drew considerable strength from her family. This great strength became her debilitating weakness when in the mid-1990s, she lost her husband, her mother-in-law and her son in a span of fourteen months.

But she possessed, as our member @rileynewport would put it, an inextinguishable flame and displayed classic antifragility. She found happiness (in her personal life) and inspired excellence (in business) by remaining true and harnessing the power of goodness, ethics, bridge-burning and focus.

Arnavaz "Anu" Aga was born in Aug 1942 to a conservative upper middle class Parsi family. She had two elder brothers and while growing up, though she was much better than her brothers at studies, it was made amply clear to her that her role in life would be just to bring up kids and be a good housewife. She was never encouraged to be a career woman or join the family business (the business that would eventually become Thermax).

Although Anu was trained as a social worker, she was pulled into the family business when her husband, Rohinton Aga, suffered a major heart attack in 1982, in his late 40s. While undergoing bypass surgery, he suffered a paralytic stroke. Rohinton Aga was a brilliant man, but a workaholic whose lifestyle caught up with him. The stroke resulted in him not being able to recognize his own wife and he even forgot the alphabet and numbers. But anger at his condition drove him. His determination and strength of will characterized him, and he recovered again through sheer hard work and got back to leading Thermax.

Driven by this event, the well-wishers of the family advised it would be better if Anu Aga joined the business, a private entity then. She joined the HR department as she felt that to be the best fit for her. The then HR head, Mr. Prasad Kumar took her under his wing and trained her for five years. When Mr. Kumar moved out to start something of his own, he recommended her for his post.

The company under Rohinton Aga did extremely well for the next decade and eventually the decision was taken to list Thermax publicly in 1995. Around this period, Meher (Mrs. Aga’s eldest daughter) was pregnant and Anu Aga went to the UK to take care of her. While returning from the UK the unthinkable happened. Excited to see his wife after six months, Rohinton Aga was driving to the airport when he had a second and fatal heart attack.

It was just a year after Thermax went public. Two days after her husband passed away the Board decided that Anu Aga would take over as the Executive Chairperson of the business. Mrs. Aga had spent enough time in the business and the employees knew and respected her. And then fourteen months later her son passed away in a road accident while he was returning after repairing a client’s boiler.

In this post we attempt to narrate the story of how she navigated events that would probably have crushed many others. The foundation she laid for Thermax led to its position as a dominant heavy engineering business with a debt free balance sheet.

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