First person of Indian descent to get appointed
By Alys Francis
In July, Nihal Gupta achieved something that no other person of Indian descent has when he was appointed to the board of the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
The cricket ground is one of Australia’s most iconic sporting sites; like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, it holds a place in the hearts of many Australians, and not just the scarf-wrapped sports nuts.
Given its standing in the community, SCG trust board positions are highly coveted.
The list of board trustees reads like a who’s who of Sydney, with controversial talkback king Alan Jones, Westpac CEO Gail Kelly, cricket legend Steve Waugh, and former NSW minister Rodney Cavalier among others.
And now there’s Nihal Gupta, the first person of Indian descent to win a seat on the board.
Gupta was appointed on 14 July alongside Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page, who stirred up news headlines in 2005 as the first woman to be given a seat on the board of the National Rugby League.
Gupta’s move onto the SCG trust board happened relatively quietly.
But then, he’s not really one to court media. His career has been motivated by a desire to “get things done”, rather than get into the limelight, and as such, his story is not particularly well known.
So who exactly is this quiet achiever?
After his parents migrated to Australia in the 1950s, Gupta was born and raised in Sydney, but his parents ensured his ties to India remained strong.
“One thing I must praise my parents for is we’ve kept a very close connection with India,” he says.
“Every school holiday I’d go back to India and spend the big long Christmas holiday break with my grandparents, who were still there, and my aunties and cousins and other relatives,” says Gupta.
“I’ve always been very, very proud of my heritage and I think one of the greatest advantages you could have is to cherish the wonderful qualities and all of the richness of your heritage… I think it gives you a really wonderful foundation and a good balance. I’m blessed because I had that culture, background and tradition, coupled with the opportunity that Australia has provided” adds Gupta.
After graduating from Cranbrook boys’ school in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Gupta joined his father’s consumer electronics business Palsonic Corporation and in 2005, started Digital Electronics Corporation Australia Pty Ltd.
In August 2011, his experience doing business in Asia saw him appointed as chairman of the NSW Multicultural Business Advisory Panel.
At the time, it was noted in the ethnic street press that Gupta was the first person of Indian origin to have been given such a role “by any NSW government ever”.
When NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell spoke to media during Multicultural March last year, he mentioned the work done by Gupta while the man himself sat “inconspicuously, trying to avoid both attention and sometimes-even eye contact,” the Indian Herald noted.
But the role on the NSW panel was not the first time Gupta had acted as an advisor to government. Back when John Howard was prime minister he was an ambassador of immigration and multicultural affairs.
He has also participated on federal and state trade missions, is a member of NSW’s Ministerial Consultative Committee, has a seat on the state’s Export and Investment Advisory Board and the NSW Judicial Commission, is a former president of the Rotary Club of South Sydney, and a supporter of charities, including the Red Shield Appeal.
Gupta says he’s driven by a desire to make a change.
“I don’t do this for any personal gain, in fact quite to the contrary, I’m the sort of the person who thinks if you feel strongly about something then you should get out there and do something and make a difference,” he says.
“I can see the opportunities that India has, and I have seen that they haven’t been harnessed or leveraged to the degree that they should be. It is part of Asia and there’s a great focus there. If I have the opportunity and the ability to be able to encapsulate and harness that opportunity then that’s what I should do,” he adds.
It’s been nearly a year since the federal government released its White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century and Gupta says it’s time to see some of the spirit of the paper put into action.
“Languages were identified as important but I don’t think language is just it, I think we can go one step further, possibly doing what NSW did with the Multicultural Business Panel to actually look at capabilities,” he says.
“For that policy to be successful you’ve got to really encapsulate the capabilities. We’ve got plenty of people from Australia working up in the region, and there’s plenty of people here that have very extensive regional experience.
“There are so many Indian students educated in Australia, then they go back to their homeland and they’re walking talking ambassadors; certainly they would be people that would be great to harness further links,” he says.
“It’s a great initiative, now it’s important that we do the delivery stage; we’ve got the great idea and we have to now put it into action,” he adds.
Gupta says he is “extremely honoured” to be appointed to the SCG trust board, and happy with his achievements so far but he has no plans to give up his busy schedule any time soon.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be able to serve and give and make a difference,” he says.
“I think, as an aspiration, if I can see the relationship between India and Australia grow and flourish that’ll be something that’ll be personally very, very pleasing to me.”