Don’t Be Someone Else: Best Advice Anu Aga Gave Daughter Meher Pudumjee

Anu Aga Meher Pudumjee

“Meher is my best friend,” Anu Aga said about her daughter Meher Pudumjee.

Pudumjee said that Aga gave her a free reign of the office, after handing over the responsibilities of the company to her daughter. “She is not looking over me. She is not driving the organisation from behind,” she said, adding that her mother is there when she needs support and that their relationship is very open and transparent.

And while she said that her mother didn’t differentiate between her brother and her while they were growing up, Aga said a generation earlier, she had received a very different message from her parents.

“I was told I was to get married,” she says. “Not once was I told that there was a possibility of joining the business. And I didn’t see any role models. I thought business is not for women. I was never encouraged to be a career woman.”

Even emotions were categorised into male and female, Aga said. If her brother cried, her parents would discourage him, and if she got angry her parents would tell her that she had to go live with her in-laws one day, where it would not be ok to display these emotions.

When Aga’s husband died, and she was put in charge of Thermax, she admits she was very scared. She used to compare herself to her husband and said that she did not like engineering. The meditation technique of Vipassana has helped her she said. It made her realise that all she has to do is her best, and have the humility of learning from others.

Anu Aga, director of the billion-dollar energy and environmental engineering company, Thermax, and her daughter Meher Pudumjee, Chairperson of Thermax spoke about their unique relationship

“Women start with a script that is not helpful towards a career. But we cannot blame our past and must take action,” Aga said.

Pudumjee added that her mother wrote her a very nice letter before she took over as Chairperson. She said that an apple tree cannot give oranges — Do your best and do not try to be like anyone else.

Pudumjee has taken cues from Aga in bringing up her own children. She said that she is a better mother because she is working. Her children have become more independent as a result, and the time they spend together is more productive. She doesn’t feel the guilt that some other working mothers tend to feel, she said.

Aga also urged women to stop feeling so guilty, saying it does not help. “One must change one’s definition of caring,” she said.

More conversations about gender inclusion at Thermax are on the agenda, according to Pudumjee. She has started a forum where they invite different women to talk to Thermax’s employees. They also take their women employees when they are recruiting and urge them to talk to potential women employees about the positives and negatives of working at Thermax.

But she says that there is still a lot more to be done to encourage women in the workplace.

Commenting on handing over the reins to her daughter, Aga said she left it up to Pudumjee to decide whether or not she wanted to take on the job. She said she had made the decision to retire anyway, and if her daughter did not feel ready, the board would appoint someone else. She felt it was time to retire, as she felt it was best for the company, and she wanted a planned succession. After all, she did start out in HR.

Both women are also deeply committed to social issues and are involved in Teach for India. In fact Pudumjee added, more than work, Teach for India is more of a contentious issue at home!