The rise and rise of Nihal Gupta

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Indian Link interviews the Sydney-based entrepreneur turned ambassador for NSW’s Indian community
Carpe Diem (seize the day) seems to be the motto of Nihal Gupta’s life.
Over the past three years, Sydney-based entrepreneur Nihal Gupta has burst on to the local Indian community scene. His energetic presence at every major community event has not gone unnoticed, and not only because he is often up on a podium reading out a message from the premier, or making an address on his own behalf.
Regularly seen at all major multicultural functions, he is turning out to be quite the ambassador, not only for Sydney’s Indian community but also for New South Wales. He sits, currently, on over 11 government and other boards, working in a voluntary capacity, even as he expands his business interests on the international level.
“Nihal’s cultural ties to the Indian community have allowed the NSW Government to strengthen its own relationship with the Indian community, which plays an important role in fostering existing business relationships and improving job opportunities in our multicultural society,” says NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell.
“Nihal has done a terrific job in promoting trade and investment in NSW through his roles with the Multicultural Business Advisory Panel and NSW Export and Investment Advisory Board,” adds O’Farrell. “Nihal shares the NSW Government’s vision to grow the state economy and create jobs. He’s also played an important role in building ties with overseas investors through his tireless work”.
“I get on very well with Nihal,” says Minister for Citizenship and Communities Victor Dominello. “He is always thinking of new ideas about how we can leverage off our multicultural base to benefit the people of NSW” and it is his engaging personality, excellent communication and people skills and capacity for hard work, which make him well-suited to chair the NSW Government’s Multicultural Business Advisory Panel.
So who is this man, and what causes his star to continue to rise?
In an attempt to unravel the enigma known as Nihal Gupta, we request an interview for an Indian Link feature. The ‘brief chat’ extends to just over two hours, during which Nihal reveals his grasp on a wide range of topics, and a sharp probing mind; there is seldom an occasion when he is short of a word.
Pawan Luthra (PL): Let’s start off by trying to understand the extent of your various commitments, over and above your mainstream role as the managing director of Digital Electronics Corporation Australia Pty Ltd (DECA). You are the chairman of the NSW Multicultural Business Advisory Panel; a trustee of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust; a director of Parramasala; Member of the Export and Investment Advisory Board of NSW; director, Asia Society of Australia; Member of the Consultative Committee to represent the Indian community in NSW; a member of the National Executive Organising committee for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Sydney later this year, and recently a high profile appointment on the Judicial Commission of NSW. Whew, that’s quite a list!
Nihal Gupta (NG): Being given the opportunity to serve and to give, is a wonderful thing. I enjoy life and I enjoy my interaction with people. I only take up things which I enjoy, so it makes it all a lot easier. Plus, I do schedule things and organise myself very well! But mostly, I love variety and diversity and am passionate about things, so that drives me, and so I have the energy to make things happen.
PL: What skills or experience do you bring to these diverse boards?
NG: All the boards are on appointment, so I am sure my skills have been recognised. As chair of the Multicultural Business Advisory Board, I have skills and experience to do business not only locally as someone born and bred here, but as a business professional who has experience of working with Asia. I have dealt with Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China and have a bit of awareness about etiquette and culture in these countries. For the Judicial Commission, it is a great honour to be on the board and I guess while I do not have a legal background, I represent the people of NSW and so I can be like the ‘pub test’ there; I am in a layman’s position there!
For Parramasala it is about the cultural engagement which NSW has with India, and I bring to the role my experience with the Trade Commission and the art and cultural work they do. The Sydney Cricket Ground appointment is something which I am honoured by and I am sure I can contribute to, drawing on my experience as the director of the inaugural Sydney Sixes, the team that won the inaugural T20 World Championships. My appointment also represents the diversity which happens on the cricket field in Australia today.
The PBD board is again something exciting as that allows a better relationship between India and NSW. It is a wonderful regional congress which recognises the importance of Indian diaspora in this part of the world. Also, it is great to have the regional PBD supported so strongly by the local government. With the new federal government in Canberra and their desire to strengthen the bond with India, the timing of the regional PBD is perfect and this will go a long way in taking the relationship to a new level.
PL: It is clear that NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has a lot of respect for you: in fact there has not been a function within the Indian community which Barry has not attended with you. One remembers, just before the last state election, that you ensured that the then Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell was present at the flag hoisting function at Consul General Amit Dasgupta’s residence to meet and mingle with the Indian community on their national day. Since then when the Premier’s engagements keep him otherwise busy, you represent the Premier in his capacity at a variety of community events. What would you say makes Barry O’Farrell such an effective Premier?
NG: Barry is very committed, very real, down-to-earth and very efficient. He has a vision for which he designs a plan, and then puts his head down, executes and delivers. I have known him for a few years, having met him through the Liberal Party, of which I have been a supporter for over thirty years now.
PL: Politics is clearly a bit of a hobby for you. What draws you to the Liberal Party?
NG: The Liberal Party gives you an opportunity to have an opinion and present an agenda and get things done, which I like. From my personal political involvement, I’ve seen that a lot of people want to do things or wish to get things done, but they do not or cannot do anything about it. Having some contact with politics gives you a chance to do things.
PL: The recent change of government at Canberra then must be cause for cheer, as you help work out the India-Australia equation. Based on your experience of working with the NSW government, what should the federal government do to strengthen the relationship with India and Australia?
NG: Yes, there is a bit of a road map over there. I have been a bit concerned that the relationship between India and Australia has not been as strong as it could be with economies of this stature. We have been underdone a lot with India. I know Asia and China have loomed large in Australia’s focus, but there are a lot of opportunities with India. So I suggested to the Federal Liberal Party that maybe it will be a great idea that we look at setting up a Liberals Friends of India as I did not think there was a lot of connectivity between the Liberal Party and the Indian community.
The Labor Party has done a lot here and part of their success is that they have been able to reach out to the Indian community and embraced other multicultural communities. So, as a background I have been encouraging the Liberal Party to connect with the Indian community. At a recent function for the Liberal Friends of India, the new Foreign Minister Julie Bishop committed to planning to go to India and to invite the Indian prime minister here. For over 26 years, an Indian PM has not visited Australia. On a foreign policy level, I am aware with my discussions with the new Tony Abbott government that they have India on the radar there is a strong willingness and desire to engage with India.
PL: So, what will you give as a four-point plan, based on your experience, to the Tony Abbott government to develop a relationship with India?
NG: (Laughing) I’m being put on the spot here, but I’ll soldier on. The most important thing about any connection with any country is to develop a meaningful relationship based on a partnership because if you treat people as partners, it is a win-win for both. Then secondly, we need to recognise and leverage all the mutual similarities there which come from our heritage the three Cs; cricket, commonwealth and curry. Third, we can leverage a lot of assets we have here such as the huge diaspora with an enormous amount of talent, and even initiate different opportunities such as a reverse Colombo plan.
Then we need to have regular meaningful visits, not fly-in-fly-out, but visits in which we can encourage academia, governments and businesses towards genuine, meaningful collaborations. The danger is that because we are very familiar with each other, we can get a bit complacent. So, we need to drive things a bit harder to overcome the inertia of familiarity.
PL: What about your links with India today?
NG: I recall fondly the times my parents took me to India on Christmas holidays as I grew up in Sydney. I even met and wed my wife Monica over there! Nowadays, there are one or two visits a year but largely work related.
PL: What would you say ails the country currently: economic reports are that it has not lived up to global economic expectations.
NG: (Emphatically) I think India is a very dynamic country and has an achieved a lot. There are very few economies which have consistently achieved more than 6% GDP in a free, democratic system where there is so much population pressure. There is huge diversity in India in terms of language, religion, race, colour etc. and India still does so well. In fact it is amazing how well India has done.
PL: Let’s transport you back to your childhood, and look at how Australia has changed: what advice would you give to new migrants here?
NG: Australia has changed, and the biggest issue is that it has happened in a relatively short time. When my father came here in the mid 1950s, we still had the White Australia policy, so back in those days I could not imagine how it felt to know that there were some places where you could or could not go. But when I was growing up I found that the wonderful Australian friendliness was there; Australia was open and welcoming. Australia was a great place to live.
Back when I went to school, there were more European based immigrants. By the time I left school, there were much more Asian immigrants. Regarding my ethnicity, I can proudly say I have never felt, at any time, any different. What I see today on the whole is a very harmonious and successful multicultural society. There is no doubt that Australia is deeply richer and has benefitted from the multicultural immigration. Food and fashion in Australia has been enriched by multiculturalism. We are very fortunate in Australia. But remember it is a two-way street, you need to respect the local culture.
PL: Growing up, who were your role models and who are your role models now?
NG: Ahh, that is a tough one… I think it would be quite natural for someone who has come from a family of hard working business people, for your father to be someone you admire and aspire to be like. I have always admired and had a fascination with politics. JFK was another great character. He was very prominent when I was growing up. Now, I think highly of Mahatma Gandhi. He was a true visionary and the older I get, the more I appreciate him. Like him, I admire people who have made a difference and stand to their principles, whether they are famous or not. I’ve had the opportunity to come across a lot of people through my life, who selflessly want to make a difference. I admire and respect them.
PL: But going back to changing societies, Sydney’s Indian community has changed a lot too. How would you describe the Sydney Indian community to a non-Indian?
NG: Well, the Indian community of Sydney today is as diverse and dynamic as India is. We have a lot of very highly regarded professionals. Worldwide India is respected for its doctors and engineers, leading IT corporations which are even very prevalent in Australia. A lot of the work of Australian companies is dependent on Indians. So the Indians are very well regarded, of which I am very proud. We are also very well represented by entrepreneurs. The explorer spirit, to get out of our comfort zone and to be entrepreneurial, has served us well. Also, we have a lot of up-and-coming people in the student sector. The Indian community is vibrant, energetic, enthusiastic, and sometimes very exuberant. They are passionate and excited about things.
PL: But does the Indian community in Australia make the same impact as say the Chinese or the Jewish communities?
NG: There is no doubt that the Indian community at times can be a bit dysfunctional, and not as united as it should be. It’s the exuberance or inexperience, or high charged egos. Regretfully people sometimes don’t look at the big picture and just look at the small circle around themselves. Some communities have gone beyond this, as say the Chinese. They do seem to combine and gel well. So I suppose one issue for our community to work on would be to be more cohesive amongst ourselves. This would do us a world of good. But I don’t see any great issues amongst our community and that excitement of spirit is a characteristic of India. We always have a new and exciting way of looking at things.
PL: What can the Indian community do to contribute better to their adopted home? Do you see them becoming actively involved in mainstream politics? A record number of Indians were in the fray this last general election – how could they have done better? What did they do wrong?
NG: Well, it has to be about giving and not only about taking. They can make things better by participating in all forms of politics, from local to federal. The willingness to give back to the community and the society they now call their home – engagement in the community beyond their own interests, gets you acceptance and understanding. This might be through community groups, or charitable things. As a community we need to be able to do something where you may not get recognition or fame, but lets you learn a little bit more and enhance the relationship. The community could also be a little bit more tolerant within itself and more accommodating within the community.
There should be more (representatives), and I’m sure that there will be more. To be a successful politician, or member of parliament, it’s all about doing something for your community. To be really successful you shouldn’t just expect the Indians to vote for you, nor should you expect to be voted in just because you are Indian. It’s about what you are prepared to do for your community. In Australia, so long as you can demonstrate that you are a hard working person, irrespective or where you come from, you will be successful.
PL: Do we see a senator in you? How does ‘Hon. Nihal Gupta’ sound to you?
NG: (With a bit of discomfort) I’m very happy with what I do and I think there are people who are much better qualified than me. I like contributing to the mainstream and want to make a difference.
PL: How about making a difference from the inside out?
NG: Very flattering, but I have been asked the question before, and I’m quite happy to do what I do. And I work very hard to make that difference. I prefer to be in the background, rather than on stage. I have a busy schedule which I enjoy. A lot of work has to be done. There are a lot better suited people for the role, but maybe that’s something I could tuck away into the future.
PL: And what if there is a call nominating you to the Upper House as a Senator?
NG: Let’s see if the call comes first.
PL: Finally, what drives you, Nihal Gupta?
NG: (After a pause) The love of life. I feel abundantly fortunate. We live in a wonderful country, I am blessed with a wonderful family, beautiful children who have done very well. My son Rahil and daughter Nimisha have made my wife Monica and me extremely proud, one is pursuing an MBA at Harvard, the other is working in a top advertising company in New York. I am healthy. I exercise regularly, do not drink and only eat healthy food as I believe that being healthy gives me the energy levels to do all the work I do.

Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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