Raj Narula lives a double life. At home in Ottawa, he plays hockey with his buddies, visits his family's Indian restaurant and organizes a gaudy annual charity ball. In India, where he visits about once a month, he is an international deal maker, criss-crossing the subcontinent to drum up Indian business for Canadian technology companies.
During a recent business trip from Bangalore to Mumbai, he brimmed with enthusiasm about the opportunities that await Canadians in fast-rising India. "Retail, real estate, IT, insurance, banking - you name it, they're all wide open," he said. "There is such an energy here."
If that's so - and even an occasional visitor to Indian can't help feeling it - then why aren't more Canadians hitting the road to take advantage of India's boom? Why aren't there more Raj Narulas?
A report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce last year said that, despite years of exhortations from Canadian government leaders to jump on the India train, Canada's exports to India represent only about one half of 1 per cent of its export total.
Similarly, India was the destination of just one half of 1 per cent of Canadian foreign direct investment.
At a time when the U.S. market for Canadian exports is sagging and Canada is trying to shift some of its trade to emerging economies, its failure to do more business in India is particularly striking.
The Chamber called these figures "underwhelming." With other countries beating a path to Indian's door, "it is clearly time for Canada to get serious about India or get left behind." If Canada wants to make India a significant economic partner, "we have to think bigger and bolder."
Mr. Narula couldn't agree more. "Google is in India. IBM is in India. Microsoft is in India. Canadian companies should take notice. Canada should be looking at India in a strategic way."
The son of an Indian diplomat, Mr. Narula grew up all over the world but did his high school in Canada. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Ottawa then worked for General Electric. He started the Indian restaurant, Haveli, with his brother and lost his shirt on a venture importing Indian beer.
Undeterred, he started travelling to India regularly in 2000 and has been bouncing around the globe like a pinball ever since. In India, he is constantly on the road, racking up the miles as he races between New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and other cities, juggling work on his Canadian BlackBerry and his Indian cellphone.
It's a frenetic existence, but he says he is making progress. He and his partner Mike Manson have helped arrange several deals through their Taraspan Group, which is part of IT entrepreneur Terence Matthews' Wesley Clover firm. They helped Ottawa's Recognia Inc. supply Indian brokerages with systems that provide technical analysis of the stock market. They helped another Ottawa firm, TrialStat Corp., provide Indian pharmaceutical companies with systems that automate clinical drug trials.
All the work is paying off. Taraspan has seen its revenue double every year of its three years in business. Yet, even with so many inviting chances to make money, Canadian companies balk at coming to India.
With some notable exceptions - Bombardier in transit vehicles, SNC-Lavalin in roads and energy, Magna in auto parts, McCain in frozen foods, Sun Life in insurance - Canadian companies are at best a modest presence on the Indian scene.
When asked why more Canadians aren't doing as he is and hustling for Indian business, Nr. Narula, 48, just shakes his head.
"Canadian companies have always been extremely reluctant to commit to India," he said.
"They think it's all about outsourcing."
In fact, he said, there are opportunities for Canadians in almost every sector because "there are so many products and processes that Canadian companies have mastered." Just consider infrastructure, he says. India is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in upgrading its primitive transportation network and "we have some of the best know-how in building roads, bridges and highways."
In Mr. Narula's experience, Canadian companies usually give four reasons why they won't consider India:
A: India is just not on our radar.
B: India is too far.
C: We don't know how to do business there.
D: We don't have the budget.
Others share the impression of Canadian reluctance. Peter Sutherland, a former Canadian high commissioner to New Delhi who now works for the Toronto law firm Aird & Berlis, says that Canadian executives are used to the comfort of doing business in North America, where doing a deal can be as simple as flying to Chicago one afternoon and coming back the next morning.
In India, "you have to get over there and build the relationships. That takes time, that takes courage and that takes commitment of resources." In short, it takes people like Raj Narula.