Lila Poonawalla

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Lila Poonawalla
Born 16 September 1944
Hyderabad, Sindh, British India
Other names Lila Thadani
Occupation Philanthropist
Years active Since 1967
Known for Corporate leadership
Social service
Spouse(s) Firoz Poonawalla
Awards Padma Shri
Order of the Polar Star
Shiromoni Mahila Award
Four Way Test Award
Vijay Ratna
FIE Award for Excellence
Udyog Rattan Award
International Woman of the Year
Rashtriya Udyog Award
Rajiv Gandhi Excellence Award
Global India Excellence Award
Samajshree Award
Hind Gaurav Award
Indira Gandhi Memorial Award
Pune's Pride Award
Indian Women Scientists' Association Life-time Achievement Award
Udyog Bhushan Puraskar

Lila Firoz Poonawalla(born 16 September 1944) is an Indian industrialist, philanthropist, humanitarian[1] and the founder of Lila Poonawalla Foundation, a non governmental organization promoting professional education among aspiring girls in India by providing scholarships and guidance.[2] She is the second Indian woman to secure a professional degree in Mechanical Engineering and is a former chairperson of Alfa Laval India and TetraPak India.[3] She was awarded the fourth highest civilian award of Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1989[4] and the Order of the Polar Star by Carl XVI Gustaf, the King of Sweden, in 2003.[5][6]


Lila Poonawalla, née Lila Thadani,[7] was born on 16 September 1944 in Hyderabad in the Sindh region in British India as one of the five children in a Sindhi family.[5] She lost her father when she was three years old and, during the partition of India, her family moved to India as refugees to settle in Pune.[8] She did her early education in Pune after which she graduated in mechanical engineering with first class from the Government College of Engineering under the University of Pune in 1967.[5] She started her career as an apprentice at Ruston and Hornsby where she met with her future husband, Firoz Poonawalla, who was from a Dawoodi Bohra family and was working in the same company.[9] As the company rules prohibited the members of the same family working together, she moved, as a trainee engineer, to the Indian division Alfa Laval,[9] the Swedish multinational, where she worked in various positions to rise to hold the office of the chairperson in a span of two decades,[10] thus becoming one of the first woman CEOs in India.[11] During her career, she pursued management studies at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Harvard University and Stanford University.[3] Under her management, Alfa Laval India operations grew from 500 million to 2.5 billion and eventually she took over the TetraPak operations in India as its Chief Executive Office, serving the companies till her retirement in 2001.[6]

Poonawalla couple have no children and live in Pune where Firoz Poonawalla has based his floriculture export business.[7]

Legacy and positions[edit]

Poonawalla's contributions are reported behind the establishment of a Pune-Swedish chapter at the Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (MACCIA) which came into being in 2001.[6] After her retirement from Alfa Laval, she opened a consultancy firm under the name, Lila Consulting Services Company, and acts as an advisor to several companies; Schlumberger, USA and Arco Safety Equipment, UK featuring among her clients.[12] She is involved with the Quality Circle Forum of India at its Maharashtra Chapter where she is the Chairperson Emeritus.[12] She is the founder director of Pune Citizens’ Police Foundation, sits on the board of Ashta No Kai, an NGO involved in the welfare of rural communiities, and is the vice president of Pune Blindmen’s Association.[12] She is also a member of the Pune Divisional Committee of World Wildlife Fund and the Governing Council of Sanskriti Institute of Management and Leadership.[12]

Poonawalla has been associated with the Government of India by serving as a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee, when A. P. J. Abdul Kalam served as its chairman, the Herbal and Floritech Sub-Committee of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Government[13] and the Technology Information Forecasting & Assessment Council (TIFAC) of the Department of Science and Technology.[12] Her association with the education sector included the memberships of the Core Group of the University Grants Commission, the academic councils of Pune University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Symbiosis Management Institute, the steering committee of Pune Vyaspeeth, the Science and Technology Park of Pune University and the governing council of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing.[12] She has served as a member of the executive council of the Confederation of Indian Industry and has held the chair of the Food Task Force of the association.[12] She was the founder chairperson of the Indo-Swiss Vocational Training Trust and was involved in the establishment of the International Biotech Park in Pune as a member of the sub group on conceptualization.[12] She is also a former member of the advisory committee of the Life Insurance Corporation of India.[12]

Lila Poonawalla Foundation[edit]

Poonawalla started Lila Poonawalla Foundation[14] in 1996, by supporting to 20 girls for their post graduate education, utilising the money she got as a gift on her 53rd birthday.[9] Since then, the Foundation selects girls, primarily from Pune, Amaravati and Wardha district of the state of Maharashtra, to pursue their graduation and post graduation.[15] The Foundation has so far assisted over 4135 girls to pursue their education.

In its 20-year history, the Foundation has awarded 8225 scholarships so far.

Divided in 3 categories and 1 Sub Category, the girls who receive the scholarships are also given new identities. Which are as follows:

1) Lila Fellows: The girls who receive the scholarship for post graduation are known as Lila Fellows.

2) Lila Girls: The girls who receive the scholarship to pursue their under-graduate degrees in the field of Science and Engineering.

3) Lila Juniors: The girls who receive the scholarship in the 7th std. The girls after passing their Secondary School Certificate exam become Lila Seniors. After completing their 10th Std the girls receive an Auto Scholarship which is applicable till the time they graduate.

The activities of the Foundation are not limited to financial assistance but also for counselling, career advice and training purposes.[9] Her husband, Firoz Poonawalla, assist her in the functions of the foundation, along with some notable personalities from the city of Pune.[16]

Awards and honours[edit]

Poonawalla has been awarded several minor and major awards, including two State Awards such as the civilian honour of Padma Shri from the Government of India in 1989[4] and the Order of the Polar Star from the King of Sweden in 2003.[6] Her professional career earned her awards such as Best Lady Executive Award, Best in International Marketing Award, Marketing Man of the Year, Vijay Ratna, FIE Award for Excellence, Udyog Jyoti, Udyog Rattan Award, Rashtriya Udyog Award, Bharat Udyog Gold Medal, Udyog Bhushan Puraskar, Pune Super Achievers Award, Top Management Consortium Award of Excellence, Women Achievers Award 2012 and ZEAL Leadership Award 2012.[12] She has been honoured for her social and philanthropic activities with awards which included Lady of the Decade Award, Shiromani Mahila Award, Four Way Test Award, Kohinoor Ratna, International Woman of the Year, Rajiv Gandhi Excellence Award, Global India Excellence Award, Samajshree Award, Hind Gaurav Award, Indira Gandhi Memorial Award, Pune’s Pride Award, Suryadatta National Award, Rotary Club of Poona Midtown Service Excellence Award and Gurujan Gaurav Award.[3] She has also received two lifetime achievement awards; Indian Women Scientists' Association Lifetime Achievement Award and Indira Group of Institutes Life Time Achievement Award.[12] She is also the Chairperson of Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A 67-year-old 'Leading Lady' sees modern women as 'too quick-tempered'". The Weekend Leader. 28 August 2015. Retrieved September 1, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Padmashree Ms. Lila Poonawalla receives awarded by Cricket-World Legend Sachin Tendulkar". 2015. NRI Press. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved September 1, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c "Executive Profile". Bloomberg. 2015. Retrieved September 1, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 15, 2014. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "The Asha Centre profile". The Asha Centre. 2015. Retrieved September 1, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "The original first lady of Corporate India". Economic Times. 5 September 2003. Retrieved September 1, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Turning Mirrors Into Windows". Afternoon. 8 May 2014. Retrieved September 1, 2015. 
  8. ^ "How Alfa Laval's Lila Poonawalla is leveraging lessons from career to promote higher education for underprivileged girls". Economic Times. 9 May 2014. Retrieved September 1, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Woman of substance". Pune Mirror. 7 June 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Padmashree Ms. Lila Poonawalla". ISBA 2012. 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2015. [permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Pragati Leadership profile". Pragati Leadership. 2015. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved September 2, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Lila Poonawalla Foundation". Lila Poonawalla Foundation. 2015. Retrieved September 2, 2015. 
  13. ^ "161 School Girls selected for Lila Poonawalla Foundation scholarship 2014". DNA Syndicate. 30 June 2014. Retrieved September 2, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Trustees Main Board". Lila Poonawalla Foundation. 2015. Retrieved September 2, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Board of Governors, Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar". Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar. Retrieved 24 October 2015.