In 1993, he stepped out of Gujarat and into Australia with two bags in his hand. Today, Jignesh Shah is the Executive and Technical Director of Oppenheimer, an industry leader in solutions delivery for global food service giants. Kanishko Das talks to him about his journey
Oppenheimer prides itself to be a “modern organisation serious about business and customers since 1870”. Previously an international family run business, the company today is completely Australian owned. Oppenheimer has expanded its operations from Australia to new bases in New Zealand, India and China. Under the direction of Executive and Technical Director Jignesh Shah, Oppenheimer is now counted as one of the industry leaders in solutions delivery for global food service giants.
The company, in its various facets of business has come to be associated with big brands which have become household names. Their Food Ingredients Division provides an extensive array of chosen ingredients for the meat, poultry, small goods, bakery, snack food, beverage and health and nutrition industries.
From iconic cutlery makers, Victorinox and Wenger the company provides a range of kitchen equipment. The Gelato & Patisserie division provides a range of Italian ingredients and flavours for gelato from Comprital. Oppenheimer has created a niche for itself in the Australian market, having to provide everything from premium equipment to top quality ingredients for its clients.
Indus Age first covered Jignesh Shah about seven years ago, when he became one of the more prominent figures in the community, having being counted in the top 10 entrepreneurs in the country.
Jignesh now runs the show for Oppenheimer from the head office in Sydney. The company has expanded to offices in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Auckland with offshore manufacturing plants in China and India as well, operating in 65 countries.
Jignesh joined Oppenheimer in 1993. He soon became Manager for Technical Operations of Oppenheimer in Australia. “I was always a technical person, but at the same time I had a passion for sales and marketing,” says Jignesh. Having done his post graduation in Sales and Marketing and his MBA in Marketing and Finance he was poised ideally to diversify on his technical expertise. “My passion and education in sales and marketing got me assisting the marketing teams and slowly people started to realise that I am a better sales and marketing person than a technical one. I was still counted amongst the top 10 technical minds in the country in my field, but I tried to diversify. I started looking into the internal technical affairs,” he explained.
He also started buying into the company, so slowly from an employee he became the owner. Under his leadership, the company grew from 15 employees to 85 people in Australia, about 200 people in China and about 100 people in India. “In the last 10 years or so, things have changed for the better and I have tried to direct the company to a certain vision,” he says. With regards to his interest in India, he adds on a more emotional note, “It is also my way of giving back to my own country. So while I can employ a hundred people there, I feel proud that I can contribute back to my motherland.”
Like many Australians, Jignesh came to Australia as an immigrant. “I came here from Gujarat in 1993 with two bags. The times were tough back then,” reminisces Jignesh. Most definitely the late eighties and the early nineties were difficult times for the Australian economy, which was in recession with many other countries in the world. As many would recollect from the financial crises from the last decade, the job market was tight back then. “Forget about your profession, it was difficult to secure any kind of job back then,” he recollects.
Jignesh was the only member of his family who decided to make Australia his destination, whereas most of his family was settled in America. Familiarly, he arrived in Australia with two bags in search of a new future. Despite the tough times, he didn’t give up.
What many people know little about are his affiliations with the Gujarati Indian community. Over the last ten years he has been involved with the Gujarati Samaj of NSW. Having served as the secretary, then as the vice-president and then as the president up until his term expired in 2010, he was deeply involved in all community matters. “I directed my energies towards the welfare of the Gujarati community. I believe I did my bit once my term expired in 2010, as today the Gujarati community in Australia is recognised as a prominent ethnic community in Australia, with its own contributions and merits,” says Jignesh with pride.
Even though he does not hold any responsibilities officially within the Gujarati Samaj, he still tries to help out. “Through my networks and friends in the community I come to know where the support is required and I try and provide for it whenever possible. I am passionate about the people in my community. I find the little joys in whatever little I can provide for the people,” says Jignesh. “We learn everyday, there is always something new to learn, in order to improve. You learn from the business, from the market and from the people. I never stopped learning. We do have a good foundation, a fantastic team with brilliant individuals, over the years we have exceeded expectations, but, I still believe that there is room for improvement and I can do better,” says the man with humility.
His advice? “Determination and perseverance are key. Never let go of the dream you had. Believe in those dreams and believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities. Work with honesty and play hard. If you can balance these, the rest will fall into place.”