She ran away from her Kolkata home to the US in 1984 to escape an arranged marriage. She was still a minor, penniless and alone in a new country.
Today, Chanda Zaveri (49) is one of the world’s leading molecular biologists, founder-owner of companies like Actiogen and Skin Healix, which have a combined turnover of $150 million (Rs.800 crore) and a dollar multi-millionaire in her own right.
Along the way, she has also helped develop the B2 Actigen Skin Care programme.
But back in the 1980s, it was very different. Her conservative family had decided to get her married when she was still in her teens. But Zaveri, who had graduated with biology from Calcutta University, had her own plans.
“I dreamt of winning the Nobel Prize. And I knew I could never do it if I had to live a borrowed life as a housewife. So I decided to escape at any cost,” Zaveri, who is single, told HT on a visit to Kolkata, where she has bought a house in Salt Lake.
She called up David Ross in Boston. She had met Ross when he had visited Kolkata as a tourist. “David agreed to send me a sponsor letter. I sold my diamond rings, purchased a British Airways ticket and fled to US,” she recalled.
Wasn't she scared, trusting a virtually unknown foreigner? “Anyone who meets David immediately trusts him,” she said.
The early years were difficult. She worked as a maid to support herself. Then, a second chance event completely changed her life. "David introduced me to his father-in-law, who adopted me."
She went on to complete her masters degree in molecular biology from the University of California and began her research in bio-chemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) under Nobel laureate Linus Pauling.
Zaveri, who likes Indian food like khichri and Bengali gur sandesh, specialises in anti-ageing skincare, wound-care and cancer-care treatments.
In 1994, she decided to set up her own business. B2 Actigen, the first product she developed, was a runaway success. Many more best-sellers followed.
“Today, lots of peptide-based skincare products are available in the market. But I was the first to use peptide in skincare lotions,” she said.
Despite the success of her business, she has no plans of either listing her companies or cashing out.
“I do this because of the satisfaction it gives me,” she added. Even today, Zaveri focuses mainly on research & development end of the business. Her brother Mohit handles the management.
Despite her busy schedule she makes it a point to make time for herself. “I love painting, which I do for self satisfaction. My second passion is Argentinean Tango dance and I have almost completed my course,” she said.