E-Zine / Meeting Padmashree Lila Poonawala!

Meeting Padmashree Lila Poonawala!

12th October 2008 was a special day; as I finally got to meet the lady I had admired for long. Padmashree Lila Poonawala, who is a well reckoned face in Pune, India for many reasons. She is the first woman CEO in India’s business history, has chaired two multinational companies, started the Lila Poonawala Foundation for bright girls wishing to pursue higher studies and is on the board of various non profit and profit making organizations. Is it possible for anyone to not love such a person?

Mrs Poonawala’s public image has always been the same- clad in a lovely saree, accessorized by pearls, her beautiful face exudes a charm and intelligence that compliments her numerous philanthropic activities. As I entered the front office of Lila Poonawala Foundation, I was greeted by framed pictures of the lady herself with most of the presidents of India, Mother Teresa, Prince Charles, King of Sweden and other who’s who of the world. Her website lists all the awards she has collected over the years, her office displays those. The intention with which I met her was to know her driving force – what motivates her, what keeps her going.

Her response to my first email requesting a meeting was positive and that spoke volumes about her social persona. She promptly gave me an appointment and on that day I was lucky to not only meet her but also her husband –Mr Firoz Poonawala, an entrepreneur, founder of quality circle movement in Pune. His support and guidance is obvious in the manner in which they run the foundation.

Padmashree Lila Poonawala graduated in mechanical Engineering from College of Engineering, Poona and joined Alfa Laval, a Swedish multinational. She was the only woman engineer on the shop floor and in her words, there she would remember her school teacher’s words about appropriate dressing. I asked her and she elaborated by saying that her teacher would tell the girls that its very important for a lady to send right messages about her intentions by the way she dresses and her body language. Thus Engineer Lila Poonawala would always dress up conventionally. That helped her send ‘I-mean-business’ signal to her colleagues and workers on the shop floor. Her preference for pearls is for the simple reason that those look elegant without appearing dressy.

From my conversations with her and Mr Poonawal I concluded that Lila Poonawala’s forte is breaking the barriers of protocol and that helped her in forging better ties with customers, employees and their families.

Lila Poonawala Foundation has been sponsoring higher studies for deserving girls from economically backward families. Hundreds of Lila Poonawala scholars, as they are referred to lovingly, are studying and working all over the world. The bond that these scholars share with both Mr and Mrs Poonawala is enviable.

In addition to Lila Poonawala Foundation, she is also on the board of Trustees of three Pune based NGOs namely –World Wide Fund for nature, India, Indo Swiss vocational training trust and Ashta No Kai. She is the Vice Chairperson of Poona Blind Men’s Association. How does she manage so many responsibilities – to this Mr Poonawala credited her success to certain good habits, like she is an early riser, accepts her responsibility at work and home equally and fulfills the same with sincerity. She trusts people, takes them on face value and this helps her relax. She has immense faith in the power of Almighty. To me she came across as extremely affectionate and efficient – a perfect blend of feminism and professionalism.

My last question was- "How can women professionals help themselves?"
"Focus on your work…develop self confidence…talk to each other- not about each other…" were her words, simple and profound.

After spending close to two hours in her office, I walked out with renewed admiration for Padmashree Lila Poonawala…naturally!

"Beautiful woman,
come out and play,
reveal your inner treasures.

The sparkle in your eyes,
the natural swing in your walk,
you radiate excitement and enthusiasm.

You need no latest fashion,
No expensive hair cuts,
No blinding big accessories.

You glow in your passions,
passionate in your pursuits,
you know what you are made of.

You are not easily bothered,
by the mindless opinions of others,
you know very well where you want to go.

you are a joy to watch,
an inspiration to others,
your pure soul an endless marvel.

Beautiful woman,
let your brilliance shine through,
your eyes speak of true inner beauty."

- by Fion Lim

For more information about Padmashree Lila Poonawalla - visit her website

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E-Zine / Meeting Padmashree Lila Poonawala!