When Agrawal arrived at the University of Houston in January 1968, most of the graduate level classes were already full, but he was able to enroll in a course taught by Dr. Benjamin T. Rhodes, an Industrial Engineering Professor. Rhodes later recalled their first meeting: “Durga came as a graduate student, majoring in Industrial Engineering. He was one of the first students that we had from India and was obviously a bright, energetic guy. I was teaching a graduate course in Reliability, which was really designed for the engineers at NASA. And because he came at mid-term, I guess he didn’t have a whole lot of choices of what classes he took, so his first semester in the U.S. he was in one of my classes.” Rhodes became Agrawal’s academic advisor and years later, when Agrawal needed help managing his growing business, he called upon his friend and mentor, Ben Rhodes, and asked him to come to work at PT&P.
During the summer of 1968, Agrawal took a part-time job at the Phil Rich Fan Manufacturing Company. Phillip Rich, a Russian immigrant, established the company near the end of World War II. Later, he turned the day-to-day operations of the business over to his son, Hershel, a formal naval officer and engineering graduate of the Rice Institute in Houston. Hershel Rich built the company into a successful fan-manufacturing firm before selling the business to the Sunbeam Corporation in 1981. He remembered Durga as someone who “caught onto everything very quickly…a good problem-solver. He worked on manufacturing processes and automation. He was very observant and was very interested in every aspect of the business.” Agrawal eventually became the firm’s chief engineer. Among the projects that Agrawal worked on was a special design for fans sold to the Defense Supply Agency (DSA) for use by the Navy. He also came up with a design that lowered the cost of the fan by substituting a specially designed gear mechanism with plastic and nylon gears for the brass gearbox. Agrawal’s design eventually helped the company to secure a major contract with the DSA.
Durga Agrawal and Hershel Rich maintained a close friendship during the years
after Durga left the Phil Rich Fan Manufacturing Company. Here in 1990, Rich
presents Agrawal with a contribution to the India Earthquake Relief Fund.