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NRI repays US; donates $30 mn to hospitals

Monte Ahuja, chairman and CEO of Transtar Industries, said he could think of no better gift for Cleveland than this, for its hospitals.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2006 14:12 IST

An Indian-American who turned his graduate thesis into a global automotive enterprise, has donated an unprecedented $30 million to University Hospitals, Cleveland, for the construction of a medical complex.

Monte Ahuja, 60, chairman and CEO of Transtar Industries in Walton Hills and a member of the University Hospitals Health System board of trustees, announced his gift after Northeast Ohio's second-largest health-care system unveiled an ambitious $1.2 billion expansion. The expansion plan includes a new cancer hospital and substantial improvements to neonatal intensive care and emergency departments.

Ahuja's $30 million donation was announced to an unsuspecting crowd at the hospital's holiday celebration on Tuesday evening.

In a statement the Chandigarh-born native of India, who has built Transtar into a company with about $250 million in annual sales, said, "Cleveland has given me my life. I can think of no better investment than University Hospitals' Vision 2010."

UH CEO Thomas Zenty said, "In naming UH's newest hospital the Ahuja Medical Center, we are paying tribute to the family's dedication to advancing health care for our community and beyond, and ensuring that future generations recognize the Ahuja family's role in promoting the economic vitality of Northeast Ohio."

Ahuja said that he wanted to give back to a community where he found success after coming to the U.S. from India for graduate studies. Ahuja is a major benefactor of Cleveland State University, which named its college of business administration after him. But his gift to UH is his largest yet and the largest in the hospital's 140-year history.

Construction of Ahuja Medical Center will begin next year on 53 acres in Chagrin Highlands, on Interstate 271 at the Harvard Road exit. The Center will incorporate the latest in medical technology, electronic information, patient safety and environmentally responsible design. The medical office building will be open in 2008, the ambulatory care facility in 2009 and the hospital in 2010, hospital officials said.

"Monte and his wife, Usha, are the classic American success story," UH President Thomas Zenty said when the gift was formally announced. "We are very appreciative of this family's efforts." Ahuja gave a short speech at the party after his gift was announced. Standing at the dais with his family, Ahuja described the hardships he faced as a young man looking for steady work. "My family and I are truly humbled by the recognition of our commitment to UH," he said.

Ahuja started his automotive parts and transmission parts company on a shoestring; the company now is worth an estimated $250 million with branches in 35 cities. He sold a majority stake in Transtar last year but said he retained a substantial ownership position and continued as the company's chairman and chief executive.

Monte Ahuja had precisely $12 in his pocket when he came from Chandigarh to Cleveland on a typical dreary snowy winter day in 1968. He was 22, and armed with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

"I did not know a soul here, and it was cold, drab and snowing when I arrived. I felt very lonely, especially after just leaving a large family of seven sisters and a brother who all catered to me," he later recalled in an interview. "I vowed never to ask my family for another dime and I would make my own way, and so I did with jobs around the university and working for a furnace making company south of Columbus."

He graduated with an MS in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio State in 1970 and did his MBA from Cleveland State University (CSU) in 1975.

In an autobiographical statement Ahuja wrote: "When I began CSU's M.B.A. program over 25 years ago, I had to juggle my time among a full-time job, a busy college schedule, and my newly married status. Sometimes I wondered whether I could ever finish the program. But I have fond memories and interesting recollections of that busy phase of my life, because my professors were most understanding and helpful, and I was fortunate to be married to a mathematician who was a great help at home with assignments in my statistics course.

"My current business, Transtar Industries, began with a business plan I formulated as part of Dr. Jeffrey Susbauer's course in entrepreneurship. His encouragement and help were invaluable as a foundation and point of departure for my achievement in business. I am just as proud of my contributions in the civic area. Seeing my name on the new CSU Business School building and receiving an Honorary Doctorate from CSU are honors that I will cherish forever."

Ahuja adds: "One only has to be in another country, as I have, to know the greatness of America and the opportunity to get ahead," says Ahuja.

That's why Ahuja plays a major role leading the university that helped him succeed. "The next five years are going to be the most dynamic in the history of the institution," Ahuja said. "It's exciting to be part of that."

Active in civic affairs throughout the Cleveland area, he was recognized in 2001 with an Honorary Doctorate in Business from CSU and with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. In 1999, Harvard University's Business School awarded him its Dively Award, and CSU named its Business School building Monte Ahuja Hall.

Among his many services to Cleveland and Cleveland State, Ahuja served on the CSU Board of Trustees (1991-2000). In 1992, he was elected and served as President of that Board for six years. He now resides with his wife, Usha, and two daughters in Hunting Valley, Ohio.

Ahuja's entry into Cleveland was a summer job in Maple Heights installing gas grills while rooming at the YMCA. But his first steady work was with Lemco Industries, an automotive company in Bedford whose leader was so impressed with the young immigrant he promised Ahuja a job upon his graduation in 1972.

Today, Ahuja's face lights up as he tells how Transtar evolved from an MBA thesis he penned at Cleveland State University. He said he wanted to give back to a region that embraced him when he was a financially struggling student.

Earlier, he told an interviewer: "CSU means everything to me, and I want to see it continue becoming a university whose proud name will be on the lips of everyone in the world because of its educational programs, superior faculty and warm feelings for its 16,000 students."

His Indian wife, Usha, has a doctorate in mathematics and is an adjunct professor at CSU. Daughters Manisha, 23, and Titu, 20, are university students.

First Published: Dec 14, 2006 14:12 IST