Lighting Up a Growing Bond: The Indian American Impact on Business in North Texas and Beyond

When the lights of downtown Dallas switch on tonight, you'll see more than the tricolor hues of India's flag. On the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence Day, you'll also be seeing the glow of success from 220,000 Indian Americans who've made North Texas their home. A new report from the Indian American CEO Council shows the positive impact they've made on our economy, our jobs, and our communities.

Co-Chairs Sanjiv Yajnik and Arun Agarwal started the IACEO in 2018 after accompanying Governor Abbott on a trade mission to India. "The governor realized the power of India, and India realized the power of Texas. We could make a difference."

The lights of downtown Dallas will glow saffron, white, and green tonight—the hues of India’s tricolor flag. It’s a celebration of India’s 75 years of independence. But even more, it’s a beacon that spotlights India’s deep ties with North Texas and the entire U.S. through business, innovation, and shared values of democracy, 

Mayor Eric Johnson made it official by declaring August 15th Indian American Day in the city of Dallas. And the Plano-based Indian American CEO Council has released a new study that shows why these ties are so important to North Texas business and the U.S. as a whole.

Mayor Eric Johnson and IACEO Co-Chair Arun Agarwal with the proclamation that makes August 15 Indian American Day. “You are working to make this as a global city,” said Agarwal. “And this effort clearly shows a true commitment to that.” [Photo: Vladimir Meyman]

Indian American CEO Council: a ‘catalyst for opportunities’

Launched in 2018 by two North Texas business leaders, the Indian American CEO Council aims to facilitate alliances between India and the U.S., acting as a “catalyst for economic and trade opportunities” to drive prosperity while strengthening “Indian American relationships with the communities they serve for future generations.”

Celebrating Indian American Day in Dallas—and seeing India’s colors lighting up downtown for the second year in a row—are just the latest signs that the IACEO’s mission is bearing fruit.

A community that’s ‘making a difference’

“We as a community are making a difference, and it has been recognized,” IACEO Co-Chair Arun Agarwal told Dallas Innovates. 

Agarwal is the Dallas-based CEO of Nextt, America’s largest bedding company. He’s been called the “King of Textiles.” and is also CEO of S2 Resources and Saffaire Investments. He recently launched Expo Bazaar USA, a new tech platform connecting Indian artisans to stores and designers across the U.S. Last month, Agarwal was tapped by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to join the Texas Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors

Arun Agarwal, who is an Indian American philanthropist and the CEO of a Dallas-based home textile company, says the findings of the IACEO’s study shows “if you can dream it, you can make it.”

“We are celebrating the completion of 75 years of Indian independence. It’s a huge landmark for India, which has now become the fastest-growing economy in the world, and we’re excited to join with our community’s effort in the Dallas-Fort Worth region,” Agarwal said.

“We grew up hearing about the struggle to achieve this independence,” Agarwal said. “And now we’re reaping the benefit in terms of not only our home country India growing, but our country which is home now, the U.S.A. and Dallas Fort Worth, in how Indian Americans are making a difference. To celebrate both of them becomes very special.”

Capital One’s  Sanjiv Yajnik: Our children ‘are as American as apple pie’

Capital One’s President of Financial Services, Sanjiv Yajnik, is the other co-chair of the IACEO. He’s bringing Indian American CEOs of companies who are running big businesses together to help IACEO elevate the community, and “most importantly, do so in a way that we can give back to the community in a big way.”

It was a labor of love, he says.

“The important thing is to not only have a vision but do something about it,” says Sanjiv Yajnik, who is known as a “people-first” leader at the helm of Capital One’s auto finance and home loans businesses.
[Courtesy photo]

“Look, we are so proud to be Americans. And we need to show the broader community that it’s a really, really important thing,” Yajnik told Dallas Innovates. “We are home.”

“This is a need for our community,” Yajnik said.

“We wanted to set an example for our children,” he added. “They are as American as apple pie.” 

Inspiring these next-gen leaders to get involved is a very important thing, he says. 

Yajnik’s journey from immigrant to top business leader

Sanjiv Yajnik as a young engineer. [Courtesy photo]

Yajnik said he came to America in 1996 with “my wife, my one-year-old daughter, four suitcases, and not much else.”

“During my journey, I ran into issues that some of the minority communities face, but at the same time I ran into so much support from the broader community,” Yajnik said. “ I wanted to show that, while there will be issues and we understand that, we want to focus on the support that we got and the things that we’re grateful for. And we want to help other communities get over some of the hurdles they might face.”

“I’ve just been so grateful and my family’s been so grateful for the amazing country that we have and the very, very emotional ceremony of becoming an American citizen,” he said. “I’m proud to call myself an American. This country is the best country in the world. It has given us so much.”

Yajnik has given back in many ways. His volunteer efforts have included being chairman of the board of the Texas Economic Development Corporation; chairman of the Dallas Symphony; chairman of the Collin County Business Alliance; treasurer of the board of the National Academy Foundation, and co-chair of the Indian American Professional Network.

IACEO/UT Dallas Study: 220K Indian Americans in DFW area

[Infographic: IACEO/UT Dallas Institute for Urban Policy Research]

Over 4 million Indian-Americans live in the U.S., including 220,000 in North Texas who account for 40% of all Asian Americans in the DFW area. They’re not just living and working here, they’re giving back, too. Some 26% of U.S.-born Indian Americans have performed community service; 20% have donated money to a candidate or campaign; 17% have attended a public meeting; and 15% have contacted their elected representative.

That’s according to a new IACEO-funded study produced by the Institute for Urban Policy Research at UT Dallas. The study explored the state of political, economic, and cultural impacts the Indian American community has in the North Texas region.

Nearly 1 in 3 DFW Indian Americans works in STEM

[Infographic: IACEO/UT Dallas Institute for Urban Policy Research]

According to the study, Indian Americans in the DFW area are highly educated, with 60% earning a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 35% having a graduate or professional degree. Also, 30% of them work in STEM careers, a rate that’s far higher than other demographics. That STEM leadership shows up repeatedly right here at Dallas Innovates, with stories of local Indian American breakthroughs in biotech, science, and technology fields.

Driving $10B in DFW business success

[Infographic: IACEO/UT Dallas Institute for Urban Policy Research]

All that education and STEM leadership has led to success, with Indian Americans in DFW earning an average income of $59,000, compared to an average income of $39,000 for white DFW workers.

It’s also led to strong business outcomes for the North Texas economy. According to the study, 5.3% of all businesses in Dallas-Fort Worth are Indian American owned. That accounts for two-thirds of all Asian-owned businesses in DFW—and drives $10 billion in business receipts, the study shows. 

“This is direct impact,” says IACEO Co-Chair Agarwal. And, he says, that’s only business ownership. Beyond that are Indian American professionals “in leadership positions and the philanthropic contributions of the community in this region.”

Surprised by all the ‘upside’—and looking to help more

“We knew that the community was doing well, but people were also surprised to the upside as to how well the community was doing,” added Yajnik. 

The IACEO wants the study “to show the broader community and help the Indian American community feel proud about what we’ve achieved,” Yajnik said.

Then it becomes a launching pad, he said, to encourage leadership. He wants to see folks in his community “really get involved in our broader community and to give back to where we make our home.”

“That could be helping a business,” Yajnik said. “It could be working with a nonprofit organization to help. It could be taking a lead on an issue that impacts minority communities.” By bringing CEOs and heads of major businesses together through IACEO, Yajnik hopes they will set an example and pull the community together to do all this and more.

Arun Agarwal with Nikki Haley, an American diplomat and the first female governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, at an IACEO luncheon.

“We are not a chamber of commerce, not a trade organization,” Agarwal explained. “The [IACEO] is trying to enhance the brand of Indian Americans and create the alliances at the top level that can ultimately percolate down to help communities.”

But, Yajnik adds, “we do not want to take the place of any other organization or any other group. In fact, if we find a group that is doing something that is aligned with our mission, we turn around and try to support them.”

We asked “what are the ways in which we can build the bridges between the two countries so that we can continue to be proud of our heritage, but always with a view of what can we do for for our home, which is America,” Yajnik said.

India-U.S. relationship ‘could yet be the defining one for this century’

 “One of our objectives is to continue to forge deeper alliances between India and America,” says Sanjiv Yajnik (far right)  [Photo: Vladimir Meyman]

India and its ties to the U.S. go far beyond business success in North Texas.

“The India–United States partnership—pivotal in maintaining international security and order—could yet be the defining one for this century,” according to a June 2022 report by the Observer Research Foundation and The Heritage Foundation.

“The U.S. is India’s most comprehensive strategic partner,” that report found, “and cooperation between the two extends across multiple areas such as trade, defense, multilateralism, intelligence, cyberspace, civil nuclear energy, education, and healthcare.”

Shared values—and $157 billion in bilateral trade

Another report by the U.S. State Department says the strategic partnership between the U.S. and India is founded on shared values including a commitment to democracy and upholding the rules-based international system. 

That July report lauded the country’s economic relations, citing a record $157 billion in bilateral trade in goods and services between the U.S. and India in 2021.

Indian investment in the U.S. totaled $12.7B at the end of 2020, supporting 70K+ U.S. jobs

“Many U.S. companies view India as a critical market and have expanded their operations there,” the State Department report said. “Likewise, Indian companies seek to increase their presence in U.S. markets and at the end of 2020, Indian investment in the United States totaled $12.7 billion, supporting over 70,000 American jobs. The nearly 200,000 Indian students in the United States contribute $7.7 billion annually to the U.S. economy.”

How AICEO was born: accompanying Governor Abbott’s 2018 trade mission to India

When Capital One’s Yajnik was chairman of the Texas Economic Development Corporation, he worked to change the TEDC’s perspective to attracting business to Texas. “We changed our branding from ‘Open for Business’ to ‘Go Big in Texas,” he told us. 

To help achieve that, Yajnik said he and the TEDC helped convince Greg Abbott to be the first-ever Texas governor to visit India, “to meet up with the Prime Minister to connect with key business folks in India with the objective of bringing back business to Texas. And we were successful.” 

Governor Abbott asked Yajnik and Agarwal to co-chair and travel with him on his nine-day 2018 trade mission to India, Agarwal says, which “truly got us going. The governor realized the power of India, and India realized the power of Texas. We could make a difference and that’s where the IACEO came to existence.”

We are not a political organization, Yajnik points out. But, while the organization is not affiliated with one group or another, “we want to leverage our elected officials.”

“But our whole trust is to make sure that when we have elected officials who want to do something good for our community, we need to put our shoulder behind that and help that happen,” Yajnik said.

‘One foot in India’—and attracting nearly $1B in investment

Arun Agarwal

“We have one foot in India, growing up there, and it’s the fifth largest economy. So we started with Texas, which is now the ninth largest economy,” Agarwal said. “We had a very, very successful trip. A lot of things happened after that.”

How successful? “We brought close to a billion dollars of investment in the U.S., with the majority of that in Texas,” Agarwal estimated. 

“Tech Mahindra, which is one of the largest technology companies, committed to create a community education center here and invest in our schools, JSW Steel, which is one of the largest steel plants in India, committed to and executed a plant close to Houston. Really, the power of Texas in the energy sector got realized,” Agarwal said. “LPG gas exports from Texas have quadrupled to India.”

This is why we call that trip a home run. Because it was not just meet and greet and sightseeing. There was real business done,” Agarwal said.

Abbott’s India trip brought dividends to Texas

In 2018, following the trade mission, Governor Abbott’s office announced Wipro Limited would create 150 jobs in Plano with more to come. Wipro’s Texas Technology Center was unveiled in Plano with a focus on developing niche capabilities in emerging technologies for Wipro’s clients, which include some of the nation’s biggest names in innovation.

“After the governor’s visit organized by IACEO, Wipro went from about 800 to 2000 local Texas employees with new centers in Plano, and Austin. About 350 students were hired from local campuses in DFW,” Agarwal said. 

After the visit, the governor also announced that JSW Steel would expand operations in Baytown and encouraged Infosys to expand to Texas. In November 2018, Abbott said that Infosys Limited would expand its presence in Richardson, bringing 500 new jobs and $12.3 million in capital investment to the area. The global IT giant leased 90,000 square feet in the city’s Telecom Corridor in one of the largest CRE deals of the year. In 2020, Infosys also leased 60,000 square feet at the 300-acre Parmer Austin business park.

“It was really about elevating Texas and elevating our economic engine,” Yajnik said of the trade mission trip. Since then, two more Indian companies became members of the CEO Council of TXEDC — Infosys and TCS.

Now the IACEO is carrying that success forward, Yajnik says: “One of our objectives is to continue to forge deeper alliances between the two countries. Our focus is how do you get more business coming to our country, the United States, and specifically in Texas.”

Expanding the IACEO outside of Dallas, then outside of Texas

“We’re planning on expanding IACEO more broadly, outside of Dallas and then outside of Texas,” Yajnik told us. “But our objective was to bring business back to Texas, and that has continued to grow. We had a lot of success on that [Greg Abbott India] trip. But the ties that were forged have continued to become stronger. And I’m really excited about that energy. Once you create that connection, it takes on a life of its own.”

Sanjiv Yajnik

Yajnik agrees, and says the best way to attract small businesses to the state is to make Texas attractive and open. 

As the past chair of the Texas Economic Development Corporation for three years, Yajnik worked on a new strategy to attract business to Texas and change the state’s branding from “Open for Business” to “Go Big in Texas.” 

“How do you do that? The ‘Go Big in Texas’ agenda is really helping attract many of these businesses,” Yajnik said. “For Dallas, the single biggest thing we can do is to establish Dallas’s brand as the place to be for small businesses, for new businesses, for technology. And then the ecosystem surrounding that simply gets attracted to that area.”

AICEO’s other board members: 11 CEOs and counting

Besides Yajnik and Agarwal, the IACEO board includes CBRE’s Chandra Dhandapani; Compass Digital Acquisition Corp.’s Abid Neemuchwala; cardiologist Rohit Parmer; Tech Mahindra’s Manish Vyas; Bioworld Merchandising’s Raj Malik; HN Capital Partners’ Vipin Nambiarl and Saltoro Capital’s Vishal Bhutani.

“It’s a C-Suite board,” Agarwal said, referring to the board’s 11 CEOs. Likening it to a Business Roundtable, Agarwal says that ultimately there may be 30 to 35 CEOs on it.

But it’s not about the number of members, he says: “It’s about who really believes in the vision and is ready to support the cause. It’s not about fundraising. It truly is about the business of Indian American brands and how we can enhance them.”

“Post pandemic, we’ve decided that it’s not going to be solely Dallas- or Texas-centric, he added. “We are going to have U.S. members. The world has changed.”

“This is a big message: We are here to step in and help and get involved,” Yajnik said. “not just to enjoy the things that we’ve achieved. And in doing that, we want to inspire all of our young leaders to get involved so that we can create a really vibrant community.”

Impacting the funding landscape—with an eye on Dallas

Moving forward, the funding landscape is another area of focus for the IACEO. “That is one piece of the puzzle that we want to impact,” said Capital One’s Yajnik. “We want capital to flow in here, not only from different parts of the United States, but from all over the world. And, in particular, one of the focuses we had in our connections and trips to India was to try to attract some of that capital to come to Texas and to Dallas.”

“Dallas is really transforming itself and rebranding itself as the key place to be and an exciting place for new businesses in the new economy,” Yajnik said.

He added that the IACEO is working to attract venture capital “because it’s going to go somewhere. And I think it should come to Dallas, as well as great talent that wants to build stuff. The whole ‘Go Big in Texas’—come to Dallas and be surprised. That kind of challenge is not only looking for technology and a community, but they’re also looking for art and music and creativity.”

“You will see this every place that there’s a huge amount of innovation,” said Yajnik. “I was involved with the [Dallas Symphony], and we’ve done a lot to bring the symphony and the visual arts and all of that together.”

But tonight is for something else. Tonight, the beautiful music made by Indian Americans will be written in light—all across the Dallas skyline.

A 2021 celebration of the tricolor skyline. Last year was the first illumination, says Agarwal: “We could see the community was so proud of it.”


GALLERY

Mayor Eric Johnson and Arun Agarwal (center) [Photo: Vladimir Meyman]

Arun Agarwal [Photo: Vladimir Meyman]

[Photo: Vladimir Meyman]

Mayor Eric Johnson and Arun Agarwel (center) [Photo: Vladimir Meyman]

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