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     Ahuja donates $30 million to US hospital

Washington, December 12th 2006, Times Of India News Service

A $ 2 million gift in 2000 to Cleveland State University, where he had earned an MBA, and which named a six-story, 120,000 square feet business school building after him, wasn't good enough for Monte Ahuja to thank America for what it had done for him.

On Tuesday, in one of the biggest philanthropic acts by an Indian immigrant in the US, the 60-year-old entrepreneur wrote down a whopping $ 30 million for Cleveland's University Hospitals to build what will be called the Ahuja Medical Center -- a full service hospital. The contribution dwarfed the $ 18.5 million that Tampa physician Kiran Patel and his wife Pallavi gave to University of South Florida (USF) last year.

"This is to give back to this country and to this region what it has done for me when I was a struggling student and entrepreneur," Ahuja told TOI .

And to think he almost didn't make it to America. With a degree from Chandigarh's Punjab Engineering College, Manmohan Ahuja had torn himself away in 1968 from a close-knit family of seven sisters and a brother to catch a Swiss Air flight from Bombay, $ 12 in his wallet and admission to a mechanical engineering program at Ohio State University in a folder.

The connecting flight from Zurich developed trouble and landed in Athens, from where a Greek airline took him to Frankfurt, from where he was tossed over to London and finally landed in New York where a snowstorm held him up. He arrived in Columbus, Ohio five days after he left home to find that his host had left a message asking him to find his own way to an address near OSU.

"I left on December 23 and arrived on December 28 during a bitterly cold winter and wondered where have I come to," he recalled in an interview. But it was a country, a society and a system that embraced him warmly thereafter. He earned money installing gas grills while still at school, found a job in an auto company when he was still graduating, and went on to do an MBA from CSU, parlaying his master's thesis there into Transtar Industries, an automotive and transmission parts firm founded on a shoestring and staff of two.

In between all this he also found time to marry Usha, a fellow grad student who is now an adjunct professor of mathematics at CSU.

In less than three decades, Transtar was worth $250 million with 600 employees and branches in 35 cities. Ahuja never forgot where it began -- Cleveland, home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for many, but sweet symphony for him.

In 2000, he became involved in the city's University Hospital system, called to serve on the board and later as a trustee. When UH drew up an ambitious $ 1.2 billion expansion plan last year, all eyes turned to Ahuja. He didn't disappoint them, handing over the biggest contribution in the system's 140-year history.

"Monte and his wife, Usha, are the classic American success story," UH President Thomas Zenty was quoted as telling the local media. "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 for promoting the economic vitality of Northeast Ohio."

Cleveland's gain is Chandigarh's loss. Ahuja still has family -- mother and four sisters in Panchkula -- and visits home at least twice a year. "I don't think they have a concept of seeking out alumni like in US... there is no endowment and no fund-raising," he lamented, when asked if he had considered similar contributions to his college in India, which is also the alma mater of the late astronaut Kalpana Chawla.

"I went there once feeling very nostalgic, but in all these years they have never contacted me," he said.

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