Gary Ahuja arrived in Hong Kong in 1969, after leaving his hometown of Mumbai, India, and he recalls the adventure like it was yesterday. “I was drawn to Hong Kong because it was famous for being a free port and the land of opportunity for those willing to work hard,” he recalled. “In 1970, I set up my own company, which was called Gary & Company, to do exports.”
Unfortunately, the stock market crash of 1970 almost ruined him, but he didn’t let this dent his zeal for running his own business. He brushed himself off, and persuaded his brother Ramesh to start a new firm, HK Watchbands corp., Gary later joined the firm as CEO in 1973. It was also in 1973 that he joined HKGCC. Both decisions were two of the best ideas he has ever had and has never looked back since.
In 1982 he also established Ahuja Watchbands, and also signed the company up as a corporate member to HKGCC. Both firms have never let their membership with HKGCC lapse.
“I am very proud to say that I have not only been a member of HKGCC for 40 years, but I have also been a very active member for all those years,” he said.
He first got to know about the Chamber as he regularly used the Certificate of Origin (CO) service for exports. “The Chamber’s CO service has always been a very good one, and the application process was always efficient and service excellent.”
Exploring new markets
In 1976, Ahuja joined his first Chamber mission, which was a 27-member delegation to Central and South America. The trials and challenges of doing business in developing markets four decades ago are hard to even contemplate in today’s world of instant communication. Between November 7 and December 3, 1976, the group visited Panama City and the Colon Free Zone in Panama, Caracas and Margarita in Venezuela, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Manaus in Brazil.
“No one picked us up when we arrived in Sao Paulo, so we had to find our own way from the airport to the hotel. Then, when we met with officials from the local Chamber of commerce in Brazil, they informed us that imports from Hong Kong to Brazil were not allowed at that time.”
Despite this, the mission ended on a high note as members spent an enjoyable final two days of a grueling trip in Rio de Janeiro.
Ahuja says running a successful business for the past four decades hasn’t been too much of a challenge. “Back in the day, once a business relationship was established, it would last for a long time and both sides would benefit from the relationship running smoothly,” he said. “My relationship with the Chamber is a perfect example of this.”
Connecting with members
As a Vice Chairman of the Chamber’s Americas Committee and also a member of the Membership Committee, Ahuja is a strong advocate of the benefits of being a Chamber member. He also contributes his ideas and expertise.
Fifteen years ago he suggested that the Chamber relaunch the spring dinner reception for SMEs. The reception had been discontinued years before due to dwindling interest, but its revival proved to be a huge success, which continues to this day. The annual event is to help
members connect with their peers and clients while celebrating Chinese New Year. “It is all about maintaining and building relations and friendships. You cannot just talk deals all the time. It is important for people to mix socially too,” he said
Passion for community work
Ahuja also feels it is important to contribute to thecommunity, and since he first arrived in Hong Kong haslived by the philosophy of: “It’s not only about me, it’sabout the whole community.”
To become more involved in community affairs, heran in the Tsim Sha Tsui District Council Election in1985. Although he did not win, it was a useful experience, which helped him win a seat in the 1988, 1991, 1994, 1999 elections. During his time as a District Councillor, he initiated programmes to bring all nationalities of the Hong Kong community together. From Diwali (Festival of Lights) to the Beijing 2000 Olympic Bid Supporters, and Beijing 2008 Countdown to organizing a Diaoyu Islands petition.
“I never get tired of community work,” he said. “The more I do, the more I want to do. It is very addictive.”
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