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Women of Substance: Guest blog by author Sudha Menon

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When I first met Lila Poonawalla, I was a young mother of a 4-year-old struggling to balance my roles as mother and career journalist, while she was managing director of a multi-national company. I watched in fascination as she went from strength to strength, setting up joint ventures, new companies, taking on additional responsibilities till she retired, around 2 decades later.


And then the corporate diva returned to the limelight in a new avtaar that showed that she was a true woman of substance and not a media-made public figure. The Lila Poonawalla Foundation is her way of giving back to society what she got generously out of it. It is also her way of lending a helping hand to young women in our country, women who have dreams but nothing to set them on the path to achieving that dream.


After a 23-year-career in journalism, when I decided to write my first non-fiction book, including Lila in that book was a no-brainer for me. There was no way I could not put her in my book about the inspirational lives of India's brave new breed of women leaders.


Sudha Menon has authored Leading Ladies, a non-fiction book about Women of Substance. Sudha is organizing a day-long workshop on writing on Nov 4, at the Hyatt Regency. For registrations, email


Excerpt from the book:

Lila Poonawalla

I WALK INTO the covered parking space of the downtown Pune hotel where Lila Poonawalla has invited me, and she is there, leading a group of young women in prayer, eyes closed, palms folded, expressing gratitude to God for the everyday blessings in life. They have a lot to be grateful for, these girls who are now on their way to becoming doctors, engineers, designers, or architects, careers which they probably would never have had if they had not come across this handsome woman with her shock of curly hair and flashing eyes.

The Lila Poonawalla Foundation (LPF), a charitable organisation for academically brilliant, economically challenged girls, was set up from the performance award money Lila once received from her appreciative employer. Since 1996, LPF has funded the education of over 550 girls, giving them the resources to pursue a career of their choice. Setting up the foundation was Lila’s way of expressing gratitude for the blessings that came her way, and the acts of kindness that helped shape her destiny in a way she could never have imagined.

At 66, Lila is in no hurry to slow down and is still brimming with plans that will help her touch the lives of thousands of young girls in India who don’t get to the places they are meant to, because they don’t have the wherewithal to complete their education. These girls are now the daughters that she never had when she was young and could have been a mother. Then, the demands of a career that was on a roller coaster ride to the top of the corporate pile, at a time in India when no woman ever even made it to senior positions, led her to pass motherhood over for a successful career.  Not for a moment does she regret that decision; she thanks the Lord every day for blessing her with a large family of daughters to love and be loved, instead of the one or two kids that she might have given birth to, had she opted for it.


Fairy tales belong in books, after all. Lila Poonawalla’s Cinderella story came true, but not without some tough times and huge amount of hard work. “I always knew I wanted to be different from everyone and it is this need that took me on the path to becoming a mechanical engineer, preferring to soil my hands on the shop floor to being trapped in a laboratory, doing research, which is what the other girls in my class did. I wanted some action in life.”


Years after she retired from an active working life (she is now director on the board of multiple companies), Lila is filled with joy and hope for the women of the future, given the many career and entrepreneurial opportunities that now await them.

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