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Alumni Spotlights

Amit Burman

Amit Burman graduated from Lehigh University with a B.S. in industrial engineering. He was appointed chair of Indian consumer goods firm Dabur in July 2019.

After earning his master’s in industrial engineering from Columbia University and MBA from University of Cambridge, Burman began his career in Dabur’s industrial engineering department, where he introduced and improved machinery intended to reduce overall manpower and improve product packaging. As the youngest leader of one of India’s oldest consumer goods companies, Burman spearheaded Dabur’s venture into the packaged food sector.

While the industry as a whole has slowed down, Dabur reports growth across its core businesses. Burman credits the growth to the expansion of the company’s rural footprint, focus on e-commerce as well as investment in key brands. His focus on food retailing, ranging from quick service to upscale restaurants, led him toward the creation of food and beverage retail venture Lite Bite Foods. The venture manages food courts in cinemas, malls, offices, airports, highway rest stops and more. Additionally, Lite Bite runs 100+ quick service restaurants and casual dining options in a variety of locations globally.

Neeraj Kanwar (Photo courtesy of Apollo Tyres, CC BY-SA 4.0 license)
Neeraj Kanwar

Neeraj Kanwar graduated from Lehigh with a M.S. in industrial engineering. Today, Kanwar is the vice chairman and managing director of Apollo Tyres, India’s second-largest automotive tire manufacturing company, which he has been involved with since 1997.

With facilities in the United Kingdom, Hungary and India, Apollo Tyres has an impact globally. Under Kanwar’s leadership, the company grew from a commercial vehicle-focused manufacturer to a multinational company which manufactures tires for a variety of vehicles, ranging from commercial to passenger as well as specialty vehicles including two-wheelers.

During his time at Apollo Tyres, Kanwar has shown a commitment to research and development and marketing. The company was named India’s highest R&D spender in its industry. This has led to the creation of R&D centers in the Netherlands, South Africa and India, giving teams of 350+ scientists the space to develop influential products. Kanwar was also instrumental in establishing multiple sponsorships with athletic organizations, as well as brand ambassador partnerships with athletes. This increased overall brand recognition and helped the company to achieve its goal of engaging with consumers on a global scale.

Prakteeth Palanethra (at left) with business partner Justin Jacobs. Above: Palanethra, Jacobs and Richard Verma.
Pratheek Palanethra

Prakteeth Palanethra graduated from Lehigh University in 2016 with a M.Eng. in technical entrepreneurship with a concentration in integrated product design and development. During his time at Lehigh, Palanethra co-founded Freebowler with classmate Justin Jacobs. Freebowler provides cricket’s first non-electric and portable ball thrower, a product unlike any on the market.

The company jump-started in summer 2016, when Palanethra and Jacobs participated in Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation, a program focused on entrepreneurial advancements. Here, the pair was able to pitch the product and create a live display, resulting in a $3,000 grant that helped cover intellectual property fees and the provisional patent.

Palanethra had a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a passion for sports when he arrived at Lehigh. Growing up in India, he was an avid cricket player, yet found it inconvenient and expensive to play the sport he loved while in Bethlehem. Freebowler was created to solve his own problem. As a sports innovation brand, its mission is rooted in the development of training aids to help all cricketers train at a professional level. While previous machines were costly, bulky and dependent on electricity, Palanthra’s product is designed to eliminate these issues for cricketers, as well as throw other types of balls to expand its consumer base.

During his master’s studies, Palanethra gained business knowledge that he used to write Freebowler’s business plan and a grant proposal from the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone, which resulted in a $15,000 technology grant. Opportunities to network with people in the start-up and cricket industry alike allowed his mindset to evolve, propelling his business toward success.

Ajay and Seema Ranka

Ajay Ranka earned a P.h.D. in polymer science and engineering from Lehigh in 1984. Seema Ranka earned a M.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from Lehigh the same year. Dr. and Mrs. Ranka, now married, is the CEO/managing director and owner of Zydex Industries, respectively. Zydex Industries, established in 1997, is a specialty chemicals company committed to creating a more sustainable environment. The company patents technologies focusing on agriculture, textiles, paints and waterproofing and roads. Today, Zydex’s portfolio includes 200+ products and solutions which are implemented in over 40 countries.

Zydex aims to conserve limited resources and find innovative ways to extend their life cycle. Dr. Ranka, who spearheads this initiative, has been awarded for his contributions to the industry. His accolades include the FGI (Facility Guidelines Institution) award for research in science and technology, FGI award for excellence for outstanding entrepreneur as well as a position as a board member of the International Road Federation for the 2018-2020 term. As a board member, Ranka will guide the IRF to deliver world-class resources, advocacy services and education programming.

Richard Verma speaks at Lehigh’s commencement in 2019.
Richard Verma

Richard Verma ’90, a leading expert on trade and diplomacy in Asia, was nominated to serve as U.S. Ambassador to India in 2014 by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate. The first Indian-American to serve as Ambassador to India, he held the position from 2014 to 2017, overseeing one of the largest U.S. diplomatic missions in the world. Verma is credited with deepening U.S.-India ties and advancing bilateral cooperation in defense, trade, and clean energy. Verma facilitated multiple meetings between President Obama and India’s Prime Minister, which led to more than 100 new initiatives and more than 40 government-to-government dialogues. He was also the first U.S. Ambassador to travel to all of India’s 29 states.

Verma holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from Lehigh and law degrees from American University and Georgetown. As assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs under Hillary Clinton, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, the State Department’s highest civilian honor.

Verma’s work in the private sector included a partnership in a major global law firm, specializing in national security law, international trade, and public policy. He also served as a member of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism led by former Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent. He is a co-author of the Commissions’ landmark report entitled, “World at Risk.” Today, Verma serves as Vice Chair of The Asia Group, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic and capital advisory firm that guides U.S. and multinational companies operating in Asia.