Valli Chettiar, charter member of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), Vancouver, practices corporate, commercial, estates and trusts law and is active in the legal and business communities. She is a member of the Canada-India Business Council and a member of the International and Canadian Bar Associations.
Chettiar was an elected member of the Provincial and National Councils of the Canadian Bar Association and has chaired various national and provincial committees of the Canadian Bar Association.
A graduate in law from the University of British Columbia, Chettiar was admitted to the British Columbia bar in 1993. She also clerked for the Supreme Court of British Columbia between 1992 and 1993.
Chettiar is one of the partners of Borden Ladner Gervais, the second largest law firm in Canada with more than 600 lawyers, intellectual property agents, and other professionals working in five major cities, namely, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.
In India to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference organized in New Delhi, Chettiar visited her hometown Chennai to talk about the entrepreneurial opportunities in British Columbia and also to encourage bilateral trade between India and British Columbia.
In an interview with Shobha Warrier, she talks about her experience at the conference and business opportunities for India in Canada.
You started the TiE chapter in British Columbia. What do you discuss in the monthly meetings that you have there?
We generally talk about helping each other. There are young people wanting to start a business and older people with experience to guide them. Then, there are `angels' who have money to help the younger people. If they find a new idea appealing, they will invest in the idea.
At the TiE meeting in Chennai, you invited young Indian entrepreneurs to British Columbia. Which areas in particular are attractive?
The major sectors that are right for investment in British Columbia are biotechnology, software development, films and the new media, electronics manufacturing, forestry, education, etc.
But why should a software firm, for example, set up its operations in Canada and not the United States?
Even if the target audience is US or global, Canada offers tax advantages. Other than tax cuts, we have good facilities, and it is a good place to live in. Education till grade 12 is free. There's no power supply problem as we have lots of energy. It is attractive especially to information technology companies as they need a lot of power.
Politically also, Canada is a stable country and is not at war with any other country. In the US, there is always that concern. There is no corruption in Canada. As long as you are paying taxes, no one bothers you. Compared to the US, it is a low cost place to set up business, costs are 33 per cent lesser. That's a good reason to come to Canada to do business.
When US companies themselves outsource from India, why do you think anyone will come to Canada to start business?
Outsourcing is only one component of the business. It is an expanding market. For example, a lot of Wipro's clients are in the US, but they set up an office on the border in Canada. That's because they are close enough to their clients in the US, but the cost savings in Canada are so attractive that they have decided to have their office on the Canadian side. Infosys also has a development office in Toronto and their clients are also all over the world.
You talked about Wipro and Infosys starting offices there. Is there space for smaller companies and small entrepreneurs too in Canada?
Absolutely. There are also smaller and medium-sized companies there who would like to do business with similar level of companies. So, why wouldn't a small or medium-sized company go and search out that market?
How easy is it for a first time entrepreneur from India to come over there and start a business?
It is not difficult at all. The only barrier is immigration. If that is organized, it will be easy. That is something our office helps with. It is better to have a permanent residence there so that they get the many advantages that residents enjoy. For example, health insurance and education. Only residents are allowed to subscribe to the health and education plans of the government.
If the business is large, the government is very open in helping them to set up. That's what Infosys and Wipro did. The government actually goes to them and says, come and do business here. So they will make it easy for them to go through all the immigration work. Yes, for smaller companies, it may not be as easy but it is not difficult.
How do Canadian people look at India as a country to do business with?
They want to come to India. In fact, they are dying to come to India but they say there are many practical problems here. For example, the bureaucracy. It is very difficult to get even a permit. A friend of mine produced an I-Max film on the survival of the tigers of India. She told me how difficult it was to get permit to do the filming at various places. She was literally sitting in various government offices, hours together. Those kinds of things send out bad signals.
The other problem that they say is negotiating a contract. Indian people have a more laidback approach. Even after you put the terms and conditions in writing, the next time you meet them, they would have changed their terms without the other party knowing about it. Right now, I am negotiating for a client on a huge project in construction. They are building luxury clubs for upper middle class people in the metros right now. They have huge plans to build houses everywhere.
I have clients all over the place who want to invest in India but they are afraid to come here. They say that it is a difficult place to do business in. Everybody from Canada is rushing to China and there's a lot of investment going on in China. Foreign money is pouring into China and the country is developing at a high rate. I keep telling my clients to look at India but they say, to get anything done in India it takes a lot of effort, time and energy. They do not trust Indians.
Is it due to lack of professionalism?
Yes, lack of professionalism and lack of organization also. Corruption is a big problem here. You shouldn't have to bribe to get everyday things done. If all these can be eliminated, India would be doing so well. I have clients who want to come here but are afraid to come. I personally can bring in a lot of people. India grows so much food but a lot of it is wasted as there is no proper storing mechanism. India grows a lot of wonderful flowers, and there is such a need for flowers all over the world. So, India could be doing so much more exporting all these without wastage. I have a client now working in the Punjab area in food processing, food preservation and transportation. This client is a professional who has been working in that field for more than 30 years, but he had to come here so many times to start his business. He tells me that nobody responds to his fax messages. He goes to talk to the minister but he never turns up. Such attitudinal problems are aplenty, he says.
You attended the Pravasi Meeting in New Delhi. Did you tell the ministers all this?
Yes, I came to India to attend the Pravasi Meeting. There were at least 20 politicians sitting on the dais, and they were simply talking. We did not come here to listen to lectures; we came to let our views be known but there was no chance for people like me and others to express our views. There were 3000 delegates. But we did not have even 10 minutes to express our views. We all want to help India and that's why we came here. But it was very badly organized. In a way, it was a wasted effort. Ministers come there but they do not have marketing skills.
Do you feel individual states are now doing that?
Yes, Andhra Pradesh is the best example. You hear a lot about Karnataka also there. As a lot of Punjabis are there, we hear a lot about Punjab. But you don't hear much about Tamil Nadu. As I am from Tamil Nadu, I keep talking about this state. It is a personal passion of mine to promote my state. When I was here last time, I went to Hyderabad. It was excellent there. We had private briefings from all the ministers. On the other hand, at the Pravasi meeting, there was no participation from Tamil Nadu. It was a wonderful opportunity lost as we had delegates from 60 countries.
Photograph by Sreeram Selvaraj