We catch up with the Commissioner for Victoria to South Asia, Michelle Wade.
Last September, Michelle Wade relocated to Bangalore – often referred to as the Silicon Valley of India – to take the reins as Commissioner. Prior to her appointment, she managed the Queensland Government’s overseas network and spent 15 years as an Austrade Trade Commissioner in Madrid, Milan and Kuala Lumpur, specialising in infrastructure, renewables investment and education.
Interestingly, Wade’s ‘first career’ was in music. She was on the board at one of Australia’s major performing arts companies, Musica Viva Australia, and worked in classical music administration roles with both the Queensland and Sydney symphony orchestras.
Key responsibilities as Commissioner?
I’m responsible for our teams in Bangalore and Mumbai to deliver trade, investment and education outcomes for Victoria.
Which countries does ‘South Asia’ include?
A lot – especially if you consider the size and diversity of India…India and Sri Lanka are our primary targets for trade, investment and education, and we also support education agents in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Tell us about Victoria’s India Strategy 2018
It was great to take up my role as the India Strategy was being finalised – it’s like arriving with a really focused job description. The India Strategy is a holistic assessment and plan for our relationship – there are trade and investment targets, focus industries and regions, and a focus on enhancing our people-to-people links. By looking at the whole relationship, we’ll deepen and grow an already strong relationship, and ensure there’s interest and confidence to do business from both sides.
How does a presence in South Asia help to grow Victoria’s economy?
South Asia is a significant source of international students and India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal make up four of Victoria’s top ten source markets. For trade, it’s easy to think about India as a massive emerging middle class. But you also need to consider some of the global companies that have come out of India in the past 20 years, as well as the significant multinational companies with substantial operations in India. India will be both a consumer and a contributor to new technologies in the global economy.
What does a typical work day look like?
There has been no typical day so far! Fortunately for me, I live next door to the office in a place with legendarily bad traffic so I have the shortest commute in a city of eight million people. The first few hours of the day always involves talking with our colleagues in Victoria and it’s good to have a day split between the head office being online then offline. You have to get to know the rhythm of the market you work in – businesses start late here, and if you have a meeting on the other side of town, you need to plan around traffic congestion.
How about networking?
Events tend to be in the evening, as people can’t afford the time it takes to travel in their work days, and if you’re asking businesspeople to come across town for a meeting or an event, you have to really make sure that it’s worth their time.
What do you enjoy most about the role?
I’m working with a very experienced and supportive team – which I’ve needed, given the Governor visited four days after I arrived in India and we’ve had the Premier, our Department Secretary Richard Bolt and a delegation led by the Parliamentary Speaker all in the first few months of my being here!
Biggest highlight so far?
A great highlight has been formalising our relationship with Dr Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Victoria’s second Business Ambassador and founder of India’s leading biotech company, Biocon Limited. As an alumnus of Federation University and a former resident of Ballarat, Dr Mazumdar-Shaw has been a great friend to Victoria for many years, and I’m looking forward to taking this relationship to the next level.
What do you like most about living in Bangalore?
Few people realise it’s situated at an altitude of almost 1000 metres so the climate’s incredibly mild. Also, India has a great food culture so getting to know the local cuisines is great. And as a highly international city known for its massive Information Technology (IT) industry, Bangalore has a significant micro-brewing culture so there’s always a new bar opening somewhere.
How much of the year do you spend travelling?
I travel frequently to Mumbai, where we also have staff, and Delhi, Chennai and Kerala, which all feature in the India strategy. My husband and teenage kids actually live in Australia right now so a family holiday to the Punjab and short excursions to the heritage sites of Hampi, Mysore and Kochi over school holidays is the travel I like to do the most!
For 2018, what are some key priorities for Victoria and South Asia relations?
We’re working hard with our colleagues from Invest Victoria on growing direct flight links as the India-to-Australia route is chronically under serviced. This isn’t something that gets resolved quickly – you need to work with airlines several years in advance, but more direct flight routes from locations outside Delhi have the potential to transform our bilateral relationship.
How about medical technology (medtech) investment?
There are some great trade and research opportunities in medtech, and we had three agreements signed in Bangalore during the Premier’s visit.
And IT potential?
For investment, there’s already a solid cohort of large and medium sized IT companies based in Melbourne and we’re keen to see Victoria recognised as the go-to destination for Indian IT companies as they expand globally.
Michelle Wade’s tips for Victorian companies doing business with South Asia:
“Deakin University, which has a very successful operation in India, describes the success factors as: Presence, Persistence, Partnership and Passion.”
Tip 1: Presence: “There are more Victorian companies doing successful business here than most people realise.”
Tip 2: Persistence: “The South Asian market is immense – and India is many, many different markets. Focus and ensure you’ve budgeted to persist.”
Tip 3: Partnership: “We’re finalising the mapping of Victorian interests in India to ensure we can access a network of experienced operators to provide more firsthand advice and connections for Victorian companies.”
Tip 4: Passion: “Essential to achieving business goals.”