Indian IT professionals in New Zealand
India is a global IT powerhouse, and we know its tech professionals have contributed to developed nations since at least the 1970s. New Zealand too has been a beneficiary of this immense talent, and from the development of its earliest systems and infrastructure, through to the current fibre rollout, Indian IT professionals have played a significant role.
Indian IT professionals are estimated to have contributed more than $350 million to the New Zealand economy in 2020*
Indian workers in general are estimated to have contributed $10 billion to New Zealand’s economy in 2020**
* Average wages in the sector per annum × number of Indians in IT
$119,442 × 2,933 = $350,323,386 or $350 million
** Waitakere Indian Association: ‘Report on Economic Contribution of New Zealand Indians: $10 Billion and Rising’, Sense & Partners 2020.
Our investigations revealed very little by way of documentation or acknowledgement and the purpose of this chapter is to tell their stories and correct this omission in a small way.
Drawing on conversations with twelve of the earliest IT professionals to arrive from India in the 1980s and early ’90s, we showcase their contribution, highlight seven common themes, make two key recommendations to benefit New Zealand further, and identify several areas to build on these stories.
Early Indian immigration to New Zealand
Economic changes driven by British presence in India in the 1800s forced the men to seek better prospects. Indian seamen who had come to New Zealand returned home with news of opportunities in the country and the first migrants started arriving. Starting off as scrub cutters, roadbuilders and farm labourers, with sheer hard work, enterprise and community assistance, they soon started their own fruit and vegetable businesses (Kasanji 1982).
The macroeconomic situation in New Zealand at the arrival of the initial cohort of Indian IT professionals
To understand the contribution Indian IT professionals made, it is critical to understand what New Zealand was going through at the time.
New Zealand had lost its guaranteed export market when Britain joined the European Economic Union in 1973. The oil crisis also began, and welfare costs doubled on account of the introduction of the Domestic Purposes Benefit (1973), Accident Compensation Commission (1974), and the revision of the National Superannuation scheme (1977).
In 1975, the National Party came into power. To keep the economy afloat and combat rising inflation and unemployment, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon introduced a price freeze, and put restrictions on wages and foreign currency. Import tariffs continued and subsidies were introduced to protect local agriculture. Resentment of the state’s size and degree of control over people’s lives eventually created a mood for change.
The David Lange-led Labour government took power following a snap election in 1984 and profoundly transformed the country’s economic landscape. The introduction of radical market reforms and social policy were dubbed ‘Rogernomics’, after controversial Finance Minister Roger Douglas.
Labour’s introduction of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Act (1986) overhauled New Zealand’s state sector. Government departments were corporatised and restructured to become efficient and profitable. The New Zealand Post Office, a prime target of these reforms, was replaced by three SOEs — New Zealand Post, Telecom and PostBank. The latter two eventually sold into private hands.
The government abolished many economic controls, removed farm subsidies, radically reformed the centrally organised welfare system and in 1986 introduced the Goods and Service Tax (GST). As the state sector shrank, unemployment rose, the stock market crashed in 1987 though the Labour government continued its free-market policies. The pace of reforms was unsustainable, and David Lange resigned in 1989. The National Party came into power in 1990 inheriting a very different New Zealand.
New Zealand population
Number of Indians in New Zealand
As a percentage of population
In 1991, National’s Finance Minister Ruth Richardson presented the ‘Mother of all Budgets’. It deregulated and privatised the telecommunication and electricity sector, established Crown Health Enterprises (CHE) and Regional Health Authorities (RHA), slashed welfare payments, and introduced user-pays in hospitals and schools. Social and economic reform in New Zealand was faster and more wide-ranging than almost anywhere else in the world.
The rise of IT in India
Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, created and nurtured institutes of national importance. Two of these, Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) Kolkata and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Mumbai, initiated India’s entry into the computational world.
In 1956, ISI became the first organisation in India to acquire a computer, followed by TIFR in 1964, and then the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur in 1965.
The private sector was also becoming aware of the new opportunities offered by computing and software and recognising its need to centralise data processing for their various companies, Tata’s set up Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) in 1968 with its first three computers. In 1971, Delhi Cotton Mill (DCM) began a new division to capitalise on these emerging opportunities.
IBM had already established a presence in India, and by the time of its exit in 1977, India’s first generation of programmers and computer engineers had arrived. As computer networking became increasingly necessary, the first Wide Area Network was set up, linking computers at TIFR and VJTI (Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute) Mumbai in 1977.
In South India, Western India Palm Refined Oil (Wipro) Limited seized the opportunity created by IBM’s exit to build their own minicomputers and microcomputers (Sharma 2015).
When Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister in 1984, tech friendly policies further accelerated India’s transformation into an IT superpower and equipped its students and professionals with internationally desirable technical skills. His government established the Centre for Development of Telematics in August 1984 to develop state-of-the-art technology and modernise the telecommunication network, reduced import quotas, taxes and tariffs on computers and networking equipment.
It was against this backdrop in the two countries that Indian IT professionals arrived in New Zealand, with the skills, knowledge and experience ready to help shape its tectonic restructure.
Contribution of the digital technologies sector to GDP (2018)
Number of workers in digital technology occupations in 2018
Average wage in the sector (2019)
We surveyed the earliest arriving and most senior Indian IT professionals we could find: Raghavan Vinjimoore, Partha Sarathy, Sudhir Motwani, Ajay Dubey, Lalit Mohan, Raghu Raman, Karun Shenoy, Sunil Mirchandani, Vinny Venkatesh, Michael Konnoth, Sunit Prakash and Vikas Gupta. Many of them studied or worked at the very institutions or organisations listed above — ISI, IIT, VJTI, TCS and DCM, among many others.
Brian Smale & Microsoft
They share this common background with their highly successful counterparts in the USA. Partha and Vinny both studied at Osmania University, the same university as Satya Nadella (Microsoft) and Shantanu Narayen (Adobe).
Ajay, Lalit and Karun went to IIT, as did Sundar Pichai (Alphabet), Arvind Krishna (IBM) and Nikesh Arora (Palo Alto Networks) — although in different cities.*
* Sachdev, NB, ‘A Brief History of Indian IT’
We surmise there is probably less than two degrees of separation between global captains of the tech industry in the US and their cohort in New Zealand, which must be an opportunity in its own right, and underscores the quality of talent and skills gained by New Zealand.
Indian IT professionals — vignettes
The breakup of monopolies, privatisation of state-owned enterprises, drive for efficiencies and need to find new markets, necessitated strategy development, implementation of new systems and migrating data.
Government departments, telecommunications, electricity and health sectors were the most impacted, although private sector organisations such as banking and finance were not far behind. This resulted in a huge demand for technical skills.
Seeing the opportunity Bakst International and Computer People, arguably pioneers in assisted migration programmes, ran information sessions in India, attracted talent, matched applicants with client requirements in New Zealand, organised visa and travel, brought them to New Zealand, and provided pastoral care to ensure success all around.
Arriving as young men in their mid-twenties and early thirties, these snippets offer a snapshot of our cohort’s contributions:
Raghavan (arrived 1985, telco, migration, consulting, APJ), the most experienced and senior of our cohort, ‘Why don’t you go to New Zealand,’ said a colleague. ‘You are in Bombay, your wife is in Delhi, and New Zealand is a great place to bring up kids’. And with that calls started, telephone interviews held, and Raghavan was hired sight unseen to start at the New Zealand Dairy Board as the team lead for their Overseas Debtors System. He had assignments at Reserve Bank of New Zealand migrating their Stock Registry system from VSAM to DB2, Unisys as a senior project manager, at Telecom Mobile, Datacom and IBM. He was Deloitte’s head of the telco sector in Asia Pacific with engagements in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Hong Kong, Korea and South Africa, specialising in programme management, business development and transformation. Reminiscing about his days at Telecom Mobile Raghavan says, ‘It was the early days of mobiles and we had to compete with Bellsouth. Speed to market was critical, and I rolled out SMS capability and many other services.’
Partha (arrived 1985, de-mergers, entrepreneur, philanthropist), started at the New Zealand Dairy Board replacing their financial system, then at Fonterra, transitioning the SAP-based Global Supply Chain solution to Hindustan Computers Ltd (HCL). ‘They were a very competent and confident bunch; I was very pleased with their calibre’. He was deeply involved in the separation of the Post Office into Telecom, New Zealand Post and Post Bank, where systems were split, and data migrated.
His first impressions of New Zealand were, ‘Peaceful. People were sincere and honest, and there was true work–life balance. It was slow compared to what we could achieve in India where we would have four to five projects under our belt in one year. It never frustrated me. It was too small for some, and they chose to move to the US or Australia’.
Partha founded Axiom Systems which built software for managing all aspects of ISP call centres and exited when it was bought out by a Canadian-based entity. At Telecom Partha was the Strategic Vendor Engagement Manager when Tech Mahindra was awarded a major project to deliver automated billing and provisioning solutions.
Sudhir (arrived 1985, utilities, telco, data migration, entrepreneur) specialised in merging systems and migrating data. The electricity sector consolidated through acquisitions by the Canadian company TransAlta which integrated Capital Power, Hutt Valley Electricity Board and the retail arms of Power New Zealand and Christchurch City Council. He led the procurement to merge their systems. He built billing software for energy companies and counted Genesis and Meridian as customers. ‘Arriving with 20 dollars in the pocket, in a howling southerly, couldn’t buy a jacket till you were paid’, he recalls.
Sudhir implemented SinglEview, a retail customer billing solution and performed data migration for Telecom. His entrepreneurial leanings then led him to start his own company. ‘Data migration was a niche [in which] few people had deep expertise, and in 2003 I started Circini. Not in my wildest dreams did I think this services company of 30 would last 18 years and continue to go strong.’ Circini has been responsible for migrating billing and customer data for Spark’s services including broadband, fibre, mobile and Spotify.
Ajay (arrived 1986, government, banking, international, social enterprise) developed an advertisement scheduling platform for bookings, spreads and repeat advertising for Radio New Zealand. Of their initial impressions he recalls, ‘… it was so laid back. I was used to working nights servicing US based clients in India, and here we had one-hour lunches, walking Lambton Quay, and Friday afternoon drinks’. He then worked at Accident Compensation Corporation developing their compensation system, at National Mutual Insurance, and the New Zealand Defence Force implementing a finance system.
His most significant project was for ANZ Bank which was implemented internationally. ‘They had over a dozen systems, and their subsidiaries were providing information daily from different locations that needed to be merged. Tapes were run at night then sent back to the branches, so that their ledger was ready in the morning. The design was so successful, it was copied for implementation in Australia and replicated in Asia.’
Ajay returned to Pune with his wife to become Vice President at Infosys and Head of their Pune Development Centre, a company headed by his previous manager in India, Narayana Murthy (Chairman Emeritus, Infosys). He is also on the boards of several IT companies.
Lalit (arrived 1986, government, banking, implementation, LATAM) implemented HR and payroll systems at Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand, witnessing deregulation and privatisation as it was being split into TVNZ, Radio NZ and New Zealand Listener. ‘People were friendly, everyone smiled or waved, and I found the workplace much more relaxed. We had freedom in the sense we were not micromanaged’. He was key in implementing Business Oriented Stock System for the New Zealand Dairy Board, rolling out Oracle ERP in the new markets of Mexico and Latin America, as well as an Enterprise Management System for global multi-dimensional enterprise.
At BNZ, Lalit implemented Salesforce CRM and its integration with branch systems. He modernised ICT infrastructure at Transpower, including databases, servers and security, critical infrastructure after the 9/11 attacks. Lalit recalls ‘[We] spent a lot of our time after working hours skim-reading all the manuals. We became experts in six months!’
Raghu (arrived 1988, system development, maintenance, telco) arrived from Qatar and began at Telecom. Brought in for his Cobol skills on the Wang platform, he worked on their District Accounting System, writing code in Cobol. ‘If you had US$1000, you could get a visa for New Zealand. I applied and within a week of arrival in New Zealand, I had three job offers!’ He also worked at New Zealand Post on Philately, the Fleet Management System and Track & Trace. He returned to Telecom in Business Process Management working on Y2K and Data Warehousing systems, picking up skills in Oracle and C programming. From Telecom, he transferred to New Zealand Post, outsourced to Datacom, folded into EDS, and finally insourced back to Spark. Like tending to systems, outside work Raghu tends to deities at the temple. ‘We could not get a full-time priest from India’, so he stepped in to fill the role.
Karun (arrived 1988, programme management, system implementation, government, insurance) started with project management in the insurance industry. ‘We had spent just over two years in Singapore, and a friend raved about New Zealand. I contacted several recruiters directly and lined up interviews. We visited Auckland for a couple of weeks and I got my first job’. Later he delivered several critical systems for government agencies such as Immigration, Customs and Internal Affairs, including Advance Passenger Screening, multilateral Regional Movement Alert System, and the multi-agency Passenger Name Record. ‘Some of these systems,’ Karun observes, ‘are still core systems for agencies, such as AMS for Immigration and Advance Passenger Information for Customs and are still being used.’ Karun, experienced in programme management and project recovery for digital and business transformations, manages $100 million-plus IT projects. ‘New Zealand was very welcoming, we received support from our landlord and landlady — Dutch migrants, my recruitment consultant — a British migrant, and my boss and colleagues’.
Sunil (arrived 1988, finance, media procurement, telco, FMCG), a qualified chartered accountant, was an international exchange student at Touche Ross/KPMG in audit and corporate advisory. He later moved to Team Talk as their Chief Financial Officer. He played a key part in the evolution of the mobile radio infrastructure network through joint venture with a state-owned enterprise to its ultimate listing on the NZX. He was pivotal in establishing a New Zealand telco in the Australian market. Sunil and his family are now in Sydney. ‘When I left India, it was on a tremendous growth trajectory. I lost that opportunity by coming to a developed Western country that was growing at a much slower pace and missed out on the entrepreneurial growth. I could have been in a better position, but I’ve got to appreciate that the quality of life in this part of the world is second to none’, he said as he reminisced about tail-docking sheep in rural Hawke’s Bay.
Vinny (arrived 1989, government, implementation, angel investor), was brought to work at TAB on their back-office systems, the same system he worked on in Muscat. ‘Since the company I worked for in Hyderabad was handy to the university, they were very understanding and allowed me to work as well as and do a Master’s degree in Computer Science!’ He moved to New Zealand Post, working on their Daily Account System and Customer Management System, which is still in use. ‘We loved New Zealand; it was everything India could be. Everything was above board; everyone could speak clearly and openly’. His next role was at Transpower, which was split from Electricity Corporation New Zealand (ECNZ) and converted into a state-owned enterprise. He managed the selection and implementation of their new financial management system Peoplesoft. ‘I had to go back to India to look after my ailing father. Transpower refused my resignation and kept the position open for me.’ Vinny also implemented projects at the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Health, and the New Zealand Transport Authority.
Michael (arrived 1989, strategy, consulting, health, electricity) came independently from India via the USA. Unknown to him, his Palmerston North based sister who he was visiting en route to Australia had sent out his resumés to companies in New Zealand. ‘I drove to Wellington, interviewed with Department of Labour and WD Scott Deloitte, and by the time I got home I had verbal offers and never made it to Australia!’ Starting at Deloitte helping establish Crown Health Enterprises (CHE). ‘Large scale IT projects were coming up to boards asking for funding. Two senior Deloitte consultants and I wrote a primer for all CHE boards so that they knew the questions to ask in their reviews.’
With the deregulation of New Zealand’s power sector, Michael had a major role in setting up FirstElectric, the first pure retail electricity provider for Electricity Corp New Zealand (ECNZ). ‘The egalitarianism of New Zealand totally shocked us. At a house-party, one minute I am talking to the security guard who let me into the ECNZ building for the hush-hush after-hour briefings with the executive and the Minister, the next minute, I was speaking with the same MP and Minister with whom I had gone to meet!’
With his experience, Michael became an advisor for Singapore Power when the market there was being deregulated. Michael now lives in Singapore.
Sunit (arrived 1989, government, telco, support, implementation), an independent arrival from Sweden via India, supported an accounting package procured by the Department of Education running on DataPoint machines. ‘An unexpected phone call from a Kiwi ex-colleague from IBM in Stockholm set me on my path to Wellington. “Stay with my mum” he said, and I landed here… When I was short of cash to put down a rent deposit, I remember my first boss give me an advance.’ His next role was at New Zealand Post’s subsidiary Synet Communications, which was established to roll out, manage and support the connectivity of post shops under a project called Postlink.
Later he joined IBM New Zealand, before shifting to Sydney in 1997 for Nasdaq-listed ERP vendor Baan as Director Support Operations, Asia Pacific Japan. Returning in 2007, his largest project was the Telecom Refresh Project for ANZ Bank.
More recently Sunit led IST to deliver Elections 2020 for Parliamentary Service and says, ‘…being in the centre of New Zealand democracy and government is deeply fulfilling’.
Vikas (arrived 1994, government, implementation, programme and risk management) and his wife each qualified for visas in their own right; ‘We arrived in New Zealand and within a week I had three offers’ and joined Oracle. Amruta was a qualified food scientist. ‘We were very excited when we saw hundreds of dairies listed in the Yellow Pages and sent scores of applications over one weekend’, equating dairies to Fonterra-like milk product manufacturers as they were in India and not corner convenience stores. She eventually joined New Zealand Dairy Board.
At Oracle, Vikas managed projects and large programmes of work such as the Department of Conservation’s Oracle customisation, the Police National Intelligence System, the Department of Social Welfare and Children & Young Persons’ system, and the core system at Housing NZ. By 1999 Vikas had reached the ceiling as a Practice Director, and they moved to the USA, where he is still with Oracle as a Senior Director with their Global Risk Practice. ‘We think of New Zealand as home, the people were really friendly, and work was very professional’.
We traced our subjects’ stories in a linear fashion asking about where they grew up in India, which university they studied in, what subjects they studied, where they worked before, how they found out about New Zealand and the circumstances of their arrival. And then, after their arrival, what they thought of their new country, the story of their spouses and children, and what they are doing today.
These themes quickly became obvious:
Education — double STEM degrees
Almost without exception, all the Indian IT professionals we surveyed were exceptionally qualified. They had post graduate academic qualifications in science, technology, engineering, maths, finance, accounting or management.
They had Bachelor’s degrees in science, electronics & communications, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, mathematics and physics. Some also had postgraduate degrees in applied statistics, computer science, computing, industrial engineering and management. One was a chartered accountant.
Relevant work experience
Almost all had immediately relevant and applicable technical skills and work experience. After finishing their education, they had worked on computer systems in India or overseas.
They came to New Zealand from a variety of countries including Muscat, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden and the USA. They had worked on IBM, Burroughs, Wang and DEC systems and were more than familiar with network protocols, operating systems, databases, languages and project implementation methodologies of the time.
From an offer to a visa, to arriving, working and pastoral care
Some heard of the opportunities New Zealand had to offer through the work grapevine. A colleague may have attended information sessions held by Bakst International or Computer People in India.
Irrespective, both Bakst and Computer People had a thorough understanding of what the New Zealand market demanded, where to find the talent in India, and the visa process.
Many we spoke to were hired based on a telephone interview, sight unseen. Work visa and travel was arranged, and assignments assured. There was a degree of pastoral care on arrival and soon there was a community supporting each other.
A few arrived independently on their own after doing research, although others had friends or relatives already in New Zealand.
Spouses — twice the skills for the price of one
New Zealand got a ‘two for one’ deal, as most of the wives were either IT professionals in their own right already or trained later. Almost all had undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. In addition, some had professional qualifications and industry certifications.
For example, Mani Bhagavathula started at the Help Desk and spent 20 years at ANZ as a multi-faceted systems engineer; Kavita Konnoth, a systems analyst at AMP, is now a program manager overseeing ServiceNow implementations for Standard Chartered in Singapore; Amruta Gupta, technical project manager at Fonterra, is now vice president converting Big Data to Smart Data in Philadelphia; Vanaja Venkatesh, a CA, supports a number of customers with their TechOne implementations; Rachana Mohan, a Cobol mainframe developer at TAB, spent 25 years at IRD on their core systems; and Seema Motwani has been more than an equal partner with Sudhir performing data migration for a number of customers in Wellington.
The generosity of Kiwis and the work–life balance
Apart from the new arrivals’ initial culture shock at New Zealand being closed over the weekend, their overall experience of living in New Zealand was a positive one. First impressions were of a beautiful country like Switzerland, a peaceful place where people are sincere, honest, friendly and welcoming.
Sudhir remembers, ‘There was no expectation to be in the office after 5pm unless there was a major production issue’ and they all enjoyed a pronounced work–life balance.
Karun reflects ‘We are very happy with our life choices, enjoying the best things in life such as time with a young family, and recreational activities’. This was echoed by Partha when he observed, ‘The work/life balance is very deep. People don’t wear masks to show success. The highly ambitious go to the US where you have heroes and role models like Vinod Khosla. The US is over-hyped, New Zealand is understated.’
Children — education begets education
Following in their parents’ footsteps, all their children are completing or have completed tertiary education. Many have more than one tertiary and postgraduate qualifications, and a few have PhDs.
We have a lawyer, a CPA, a biological scientist, an entomologist, a data scientist, a cybersecurity consultant and management consultants.
Those who are still studying are working towards degrees in medicine, biology and finance. They are spread all over the world: Wellington, Auckland, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, UK and the USA.
As the Indian IT professionals reach retirement, their focus on giving back has intensified. Outside work Karun spends time volunteering with Job Mentoring Service, guiding migrants in their job search, and with Business Mentors NZ, mentoring small business owners. He is also active with AngelHQ.
Now retired, Vinny is an angel investor helping Wellington start-ups through Wellington’s AngelHQ and serves on their board.
Michael judges entries for the Project of the Year for PMI Singapore, and assists Sundac, which runs activity centres for people with intellectual disabilities. On the board he contributes his IT and consulting expertise.
With his wife Mani, Partha set up a medical centre in Rwanda in 2015. Today the specialty outpatient clinic is a sustainable institution employing over 170 staff, including 50 doctors, treating over 500 patients a day.
Retired, Ajay mentors start-ups and is the President of the highly successful Rotary Club of Pune, which does life-changing charity work helping the underprivileged.
Raghavan and Raghu are voluntary priests at their temple, tending to the deities, performing religious and spiritual duties.
Vikas & Amruta assist their daughter Neha in running Empower Orphans, a Not for Profit to help vulnerable children. Neha has won the International Children’s Peace Prize at The Hague, awarded by Nobel Laureates Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, Kailash Satyarthi and the King of the Netherlands.
On account of his own personal journey, Sunit coaches, guides and mentors skilled migrants.
Common themes — conclusion
These common themes show that Indian IT professionals in New Zealand are highly educated, had the technical skills which were in demand, brought talented spouses as their partners, contributed significantly towards the systems that reshaped New Zealand, enjoyed the generosity of the people and the work-life balance, brought up high achieving children, and finally, gave and continue to give back substantially to the society that they are part of.
And while Indian IT professionals are ubiquitous in the country today, respected, connected, networked and successful, they have been very modest in their achievements — almost to the extent of being invisible, especially when compared to their peers in the USA.
In the end it is about the people, and as Karun said, it is captured by this whakatauki:
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata …
Ask me what is most important in this world?
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people…
Indian IT professionals have made demonstrable contributions to New Zealand. There are valuable lessons that can be learnt from the experiences. The two key recommendations are:
New immigration agent model and an assured skilled migrant programme
Based on the successes demonstrated by Bakst and Computer People, there is a strong case for an assured skilled migrant programme provided by connected and accredited immigration agents.
With an offshore presence and strong, direct linkages with the industry, immigration agents could provide an end-to-end service; matching local requirements to offshore talent, bringing selected candidates to New Zealand, and providing pastoral care and support once in the country.
The economic benefit to New Zealand would be huge if there was a systemic change, and the 45–50 immigration agents operating in India today were to adopt a new framework based on the Bakst and Computer People model.
Estimated Tax Contribution
Indian IT professionals are estimated to have contributed more than $94 million to New Zealand’s exchequer in 2020. These are clearly social contributions and come at a personal cost.*
* Estimated Tax Contribution = Average wages in the sector per annum × tax rate for the income × number of Indians in IT
$119,442 × 29.79% × 2,933 = $93,851,635 or $94 million
A skilled migrant landing pad
New Zealand markets itself as an attractive destination to skilled migrants. In addition to those who visit friends and family, or as tourists, many also come to perform an assessment of the country and the opportunities it offers.
A landing pad to provide information, knowledge, insights, guidance, networks and linkages to the industry could greatly increase the conversion rate from exploration to commitment. New Zealand already has such resource hubs in key export destinations.
The independent arrivals we surveyed had a tenuous landing pad at best. A more formalised and robust arrangement would ease the various challenges of the landing process and help create a steady pipeline of talent.
For a landing pad to be successful, it is imperative that its advisory panel comprises established and connected IT professionals who have worked with Indian majors, worked in India themselves, have development centres or partners in India, or are Indian IT professionals themselves.
Those on the advisory panel need to be familiar with overseas education and work experience. This will enable qualifications, skills and experience to be quickly and easily understood, verified, qualified, translated and connected to address local demand.
Leveraging off people-to-people connections is a critical success factor.
Stories waiting to be told
In a small way, this chapter is only part of a much bigger story and sets the scene for many more chapters still to be written. Among others they include:
The story of subsequent arrivals
The stories of subsequent arrivals which include the Indian workforce tasked with connecting fibre to the home. A longitudinal study tracing the progress of Chorus and Downers contractors will make for fascinating reading over the next ten to fifteen years.
The story of subsequent departures — emigration from New Zealand
Some of our interviewees eventually left New Zealand for other countries, notably Australia, Singapore and the USA for professional growth and better opportunities. There is a case to understand reasons for emigration from New Zealand.
Ethnic diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Like Australia, New Zealand needs to be sure that its skilled migrant programme is realising its full economic capability. Potential areas for research are diversity and inclusion, and ethnic pay parity. *
* This 2021 report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia titled ‘A Good Match: Optimising Australia’s Permanent Skilled Migration’ is relevant.
Presence of Indian IT organisations in New Zealand and New Zealand IT in India
While Indian IT majors such as Wipro, HCL and Tech Mahindra have been servicing New Zealand customers, New Zealand tech companies such as Vista Entertainment and Gallagher have customers in India. We know serendipity was at play behind Vista and their largest customer PVR Cinemas in India, and that is a story in its own right.
Lately, Indian SaaS providers Freshworks and Zoho have emerged as players in the local market, and we wonder how (Indian) ride share company Ola and food delivery company Zomato arrived.
Consulting and IT organisations founded by Indian IT professionals in New Zealand
Several Indian IT professionals have set up or are co-founders of IT development, service and consulting organisations. In addition to Circini, there is also Auckland-based Duco Consultancy and there may be others. Studying their contribution and economic impact would be valuable.
Indian tertiary institutions, Indian students and societal attitude towards education
There is ongoing discussion about New Zealand’s digital skills shortage, digital skills mismatch, developing a skills pipeline, and the immigration strategy to address these. A study to better understand how a developing country like India has students keen to learn, and tertiary institutions to produce relevant talent, could instruct government policy on how the shortage can be alleviated.10
10 MBIE 2020
Connections and comparison with Australia and the USA
Indian IT professionals in New Zealand share a common background and education with their cohort counterparts in Australia and the USA. There are strong international linkages and connections, and it would be useful to map ‘degrees of separation’ from US successes and perform a comparative study.
Investment in New Zealand by VCs of Indian origin
Just under the radar are investments in New Zealand by successful Silicon Valley-based Indian tech entrepreneurs. Vinod Khosla, an Indian-American billionaire businessman and venture capitalist, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the founder of Khosla Ventures, is one such example. In 2020, he was listed No. 353 on the Forbes 400 list and has invested in New Zealand space start-up Rocket Labs.
It would be good to quantify the total investment directly or indirectly in New Zealand by venture capitalists of Indian origin based in the USA.
We would like to thank Akshay Bansal (IBM Australia, Melbourne), Dr Jaikishan ‘Jaiki’ Desai (Senior Lecturer and Director of International Students in the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington), Dr Premal Vora (Associate Professor of Finance Penn State University), Dr Anuradha Prakash (Professor and Director Food Science Program, Chapman University, California), Arjun Prakash (Data Scientist, Faethm AI, Sydney) and our editor Chris Benge for their input.
Special thanks to Raghavan Vinjimoore, Partha Sarathy, Sudhir Motwani, Ajay Dubey, Lalit Mohan, Raghu Raman, Karun Shenoy, Sunil Mirchandani, Vinny Venkatesh, Michael Konnoth, Vikas Gupta and their families for their invaluable memories, insights and time without which this would not have been possible.
AIESEC international exchange students with whom he worked with at the Laboratory at IBM Sweden. In his 30 years in Wellington and Sydney, Sunit has followed the contribution of the Indian diaspora and their successes in IT globally, notably in the Silicon Valley and in Australia. A published author (Strategic Lean Service), and generally known in Wellington’s IT and Indian communities, in his spare time Sunit coaches, guides and mentors skilled migrants. The story of Indian IT professionals outside India is close to his heart and bears telling, and hence this project. Sunit holds an MBA (NMIMS, Bombay University), is a member IT Professionals NZ, and a Chartered IT Professional.arrived in Wellington from Bombay in May 1989, a result of some parts serendipity and many parts generosity of Kiwi and Australian
MA (Sociology, Victoria University of Wellington) is a born and bred Wellingtonian of Indian origin. She completed a Masters in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington, examining the settlement of the Gujarati community in Wellington and its integration into New Zealand society. Lalita played a key role in establishing the Office of Ethnic Communities, Department of Internal Affairs, originally known as the Ethnic Affairs Service, in the early 1990s. Lalita has produced publications on the Indian community in New Zealand and on other ethnic communities while at the Ethnic Affairs Service. Her interests have expanded to complementary health and wellbeing and yoga.
Kasanji, LV, The Gujaratis in Wellington:The Study of An Ethnic Group, MA Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, NZ, 1982
Sharma, DC (2015). The outsourcer: The story of India’s IT revolution. MIT Press