Yohan Poonawalla $ Michelle Poonawalla

Interviewed by Sukhmani Sadana: February 2021

Getting to know The Poonawallas: As we already know and they really need no introduction, yet let’s get a glimpse or I’d say, a recap on this esteemed family. The Poonawalla Group is one of India’s most known & reputed business houses, engaged in a wide array of activities ranging from engineering, horse racing, breeding, pharmaceuticals, exports and finance. They are market leaders in various fields of activities not only in India but also through exports to a number of countries.

Yohan Poonawalla is the Chairman and Managing Director of the Poonawalla Engineering Group Intervalve Poonawalla Ltd, El-O- Matic India Pvt. Ltd and the Chairman of Poonawalla Financials Pvt. Ltd. Intervalve Poonawalla Ltd is one of India’s leading manufacturers of Industrial Valves which are exported to 46 countries like Europe, Russia, Far East, Middle East, Africa and South America… to name a few. And El-O-Matic (India) Pvt Ltd is a leading manufacturer of Pneumatic Actuators that has created a niche of its own in the field of manufacture and supply of quality Pneumatic Actuators. Yohan is also a Director of the Poonawalla Stud Farms and Poonawalla Racing and Breeding and a stakeholder in the now even more talked about Serum Institute of India, which was co-founded by his father Mr. Zavaray Poonawalla. Being born in an industrialist family, corporate nitty-gritty and fervor came naturally to him at a very young age. It dawned upon him early in life on the aspects he had to focus on to strengthen the natural impulse of his business acumen. He advocates the saying “There is no school in the world that can match the exposure and experience you gain doing practical groundwork and all of us know that tougher the conditions the better you are moulded”.

I must add on to tell you that horses are very close to their hearts and the entire family is deeply bonded over their love for horses. The family owns one of Asia’s leading Stud Farms in India, exporting many champion horses that have won and created a benchmark in many countries such as USA, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Malaysia. But the Stud Farm is more of a passion for the entire family.

“As for his education, Yohan Poonawalla studied at The Bishops School in Pune and has done his master’s degree at Wadia College Pune and his MBA in the UK. There’s so much more to this man. It’s no secret that apart from being an illustrious industrialist, Yohan is widely known as YZP amongst car enthusiasts and friends alike and is famous for his passion for automobiles.

Yohan and his companies have a wide list of Awards that they have won: Outstanding Achievement Award for Industrial Development, Global Achievers Award and Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Excellence Award for Outstanding Individual Achievements & Distinguished Services to the Nation…and the list goes on. “

Inspite of being a driven industrialist, Yohan also has a soft side to himself. He gives benevolent assistance to needy people especially among the lower strata of society. Just naming a few, he has donated to the Pune Police brand new Jeeps for patrolling the streets of Pune and is involved in several Corporate Social Responsibility activities such as donations to hospitals and munificent donations to schools such as the Soli Poonawalla school named in memory of his late grandfather.

Michelle Yohan Poonawalla

Now let’s meet his better half: Michelle is the Director of Poonawalla Engineering Group and also an artist, philanthropist and The First Lady of the Poonawalla family. She lives and works between London, UK and Pune in India. Her Art explores universal, socially engaged topics that resonate with a diverse range of audiences, creating powerful memories and moving experiences. Her practice combines cutting-edge technology and traditional artistic mediums in an emotionally charged and poetic form; often utilizing sound, video mapping, projection, motion sensors and other techniques to bring her innovative paintings and installations to life. Her seminal piece, Introspection (2018), is a striking, immersive experiential artwork which left many viewers moved and affected, whilst inspiring them to take action in their own lives. Her work has been exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, London, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai and as a collateral project at the Kochi Biennale, India.mMore recently she has begun exploring work with shorter Digital format films. Her 3 min 36 seconds film ‘Circle of Life’ addresses the idea of memory and is exhibited at the 7th Mediations Biennale in Poland.

What’s the one thing you like the most about each other?

Yohan and I work together as a team in all our businesses. We compliment each other’s strengths and both take up different roles and make it a point that all strategic decisions are always taken jointly.

What is your favourite place you have stayed?

A favourite place we often go to is Dubai. Even though we travel to other places and like exploring, we have stayed at the Burj al Arab since it first opened 21 years ago. And now, for us it is like a second home in Dubai. The staff is warm, their service is excellent and they know our family and our requirement for years now so that just makes it all the more inviting.

How important are social networks in your business?

Social network is always important for anyone today. With the world-gone digital, people turn to social platforms for viewing, more information and communication.

Michelle…What’s a regular day in your life like?

Each day is very different, given I have a variety of different roles. Of course, being the Pandemic, a typical day has changed for everyone. I do yoga twice a week in the mornings. Lunch is always with the children. The day varies from either a day to do Art or a day with office related work or a day managing the house or landscape that I am passionate about. My evenings are spent with the children in our garden, with our animals, our dogs and miniature ponies. Sometimes the kids cycle or play cricket or perhaps badminton. Dinner is a family affair and we eat early. Post dinner is family time and we often relax on our terrace.

What does this year look like for you? And our country?

This has been a difficult last year for everyone around the world. We have all been through and are going through an extraordinary period never seen before. 2021 will also be a difficult period for many as many countries go into third / fourth lockdowns. With the vaccination drive starting this year, we hope that towards the mid/ end of the year things start improving. Economies & small businesses as well as larger ones have taken huge hits. It is important that one remains sensible, balanced and follows the norms to be safe.

Behind closed door, how would you describe being Yohan and Michelle Poonawalla?

For Yohan and myself, being us is as normal as being you. Regular individuals doing what we need to do, I think it’s always good to be grounded, work hard, be kind and stay focused.

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