Chamber Gala Delivers on Bilateral Trade with First Ever Indian Firm Sponsor

Photo: Bijay Dixit

Photo: Bijay Dixit

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By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: After a quiet summer, the Gala season is in full bloom this time of year and every organization is trying to upstage the other with a different look, hotel, keynote speaker, number of guests and entertainment. There are the tried and tested permutations that have to be followed, and some standard fare is pretty much for granted (thou shalt have a sit down dinner; thou shalt have awards and speeches) but this year the Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston decided to flip some of the rules on its head and came up with a way to keep all of its Gala program together.

IACCGH President Pankaj Dhume, Consul General Harish, BMC Software President Bob Beauchamp and Chamber Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia at the Chamber Gala.

IACCGH President Pankaj Dhume, Consul General Harish, BMC Software President Bob Beauchamp and Chamber Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia at the Chamber Gala.

The only hiccup was that, if you weren’t paying attention when you entered the Hilton Americas Hotel last Saturday, August 7 around 6pm, you would have (as I and some other guests did) ended up almost going to the wedding of Malisha Pattanaik and Ramakanta Epili on the second floor! Said one woman as she made a u-turn to the escalator, “I mean, they were all so well attired in Indian saris and I thought this was it! What are the chances of two Indian events in the same hotel at the same time”?

The foyer on the fourth level outside the Main Ballroom was crowded and agog with voices as many people milled around cocktails and hors d‘oeuvres for an early 5:30pm start of the event, early by most standards, waiting for the doors to open and allow them to their assigned tables. About 600 people were expected at the Chamber’s 14th Annual Gala, which had been broadcast as “Sold Out” for a couple of weeks before hand.

The arrangements were sumptuous, as was to be expected, but not extravagant throughout the evening, with an eye kept on reducing superfluous expenses like table centerpieces and out of town entertainers, lighting or even high powered emcees. The emcees were Rick and Tanya Pal, local residents of Sugar Land and the entertainment was by students from Naach Houston, also of Sugar Land, and choreographed by its artistic director Mahesh Mahbubani. A fashion show featuring men’s and women’s Indian apparel from Sari Sapne on Hillcroft glided down the stage, set to some racy music, just as dinner was served.

The target of the Gala was to focus on achievements and connections that the Chamber had made for its members under the current Presidency of Pankaj Dhume, who “along with his wife Asha, worked really hard to pull all this together,” said Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia. After the national anthems: of the US by Kijana Wiseman, a self described Digital Diva with a high-soaring voice who sang the anthem with a flair and unusually high ending note; and Uma Mantravadi, who sang the Indian anthem with her characteristic high notes, and added a slight variation to match Wiseman’s.

Contrary to normal routines, the Gala opened up with speeches from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who predicted a passage of the Immigration Reform Act; Congressman Al Green who wished everyone a happy 67th Independence Day and Congressman Pete Olson who came with his wife Nancy in silk Indian garb (and the brocaded shawl he was presented by Consul General Harish on Thursday; see story on page 10) who spoke about his support for exporting natural gas to India and vowed he would visit India before the year is over.

Ahluwalia then opened the event adding that the Chamber was all about the community: understanding what its needs were and addressing them. He welcomed the Presidents of the Indian Chambers from Tampa, Jacksonville and Dallas who had flown in for this gala.

Chamber President Dhume appreciated the sold out attendance which “showed the trust you have in us” and gave a State of the Chamber speech in which he enumerated the achievements made in the past year. “The Chamber has achieved recognition and respect”, he stated through the programs it had hosted that fostered increased trade between the US and India in the fields of energy and education. He described the Chamber’s networking meetings on healthcare, cloud computing, first media conference with the Pune branch of the Chamber and the Women Mean Business series.

“We’re really proud that we have our first Indian company – Panchshil Realty – as our Gala Underwriter,” he said to loud applause. A video clip on the company was shown later in the program. “This shows that the Chamber is credible for business between our two countries”.

Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish (who has been on a tear to all events this week, see related stories in this issue) spoke about his relationship with the Chamber since he joined the Houston mission a year ago. He focused on the number of Indian students who came here to finish college, stayed on and contributed to life in the US, and the thousands more who come every year. “This exemplifies that Indo-US relations have grown as knowledge-based societies”, he said, adding that knowledge sharing was a major component of the President Obama-PM Manmohan Singh memorandum of understanding.

Harish stressed that immigration reform was essential for the growth of the US economy, illustrating it with statistics that showed that international students were a source of talent, 70 percent in electrical engineering, 60 percent in industrial engineering and 65 percent in computer engineering. These students then went on to become business owners and venture capitalists, and the statistics showed that 40 percent of immigrants entered as students, another 40 percent were employer backed and only 13 percent came under family reunification.  “We must ensure lower barriers to Indian companies,” he concluded.

Harish spoke about the Indo-US Nuclear Initiative, the natural gas exports and the need to encourage investments in India, noting that Indian companies had invested $15 billion in the US over the last two years.

The keynote speech was delivered by Robert Beauchamp, Chairman of the Board and President  & CEO of BMC Software, the same company that Dhume works for as VP of Global Affairs. Beauchamp lauded the efforts of the Chamber which had shown BMC Software a strategy to enter the Indian market and shown him that it was not about cheap labor “but about innovation. And they were absolutely right”, he added. BMC now has 1,700 people in Pune and office in Bangalore and other cities.

He was delighted that one of BMC’s major initiatives – MY IT – which changes the way an enterprise IT will operate, was developed in India and now every major department in BMC has an employee in India. He explained how these employees made some of the best managed facilities in India, led innovation, worked on accessibility for the blind which led to new software development and channeled energy savings into helping local villages.

At the tailend of the event, Mayor Annise Parker dropped in briefly after her debate/forum with Ben Hall and said a few words about the Chamber. She was able to spend some time mingling with guests before she left again.

Concluding the Gala were presentation of awards for the year 2013. International Businessman of the Year went to Ash Shah; Educator of the Year went to Lata Ramchand; Business Person of the Year to Dhiren Shethia of Enaxis Consulting and Entrepreneur of the Year to Guarav Khandelwal. The event closed with some parting words from incoming Chamber President Sanjay Ram.