Neeraj Lala – an avowed Wellingtonian (born and raised in the capital city to a then-new migrant family from the Gujarat state of India) and a Kiwi who is equally proud of his Indian heritage – opens his heart about his personal life and professional excellence, including the journey to the top ladder of the corporate world.

Speaking with the Indian Weekender in our brand-new video show Lunch with Business Leaders, which aims to capture the stories of some of the most influential, rising and inspiring leaders from the business and corporate world, Lala gives us a peek into some of the most personal and important facets of his life - ranging from bagging his first job in Toyota by sending an “unconventional resume” to his hiring manager to the challenges of managing the disappointments of his mother and would be in-laws when he failed to live up to their respective expectations.

Part of a recent PM-led business delegation to Japan

Recently, Lala travelled to Japan – the home of the global automotive maker Toyota – as part of the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern-led business delegation, where she announced a hydrogen-powered car-sharing scheme.

Revealing more about being part of that PM-led business delegation, Lala said, “Yeah, that was humbling to be invited as a part of her business delegation to Japan.

“PM takes a unique business trade group on many of her trade missions, and most of them are NZ companies, prominent NZ brand companies. So for Toyota, that's a non-New Zealand Company to join her trade mission to Japan was a privilege and an honour to be invited. It was all around hydrogen technology. We had just announced a car-share initiative in NZ… to support her, and you know, the whole hydrogen opportunity for NZ,” Lala said.

A Kiwi with an Indian connection

Sharing his India connections, Lala said, “My mum and dad moved from India when they were very young. They married very young and had a very young family. My three elder sisters and I were all born in Wellington. So, we consider ourselves Kiwis, but of course, you know, being brought up in Wellington, in this Indian community, it was hard not to also be an Indian – a welder to the Indian heritage, culture and the values.”

Toyota – the only company where he has worked

“My passion was to work for Toyota right from when I was in university … I didn't have a resume. I just wanted to work for Toyota,” Lala said. 

Sharing more about his work history and the rise to the topmost rung of the ladder in Toyota NZ, Lala astonished with the revelation that he has worked his entire work-life (more than 25 years) in Toyota only (including a stint in the USA).

However, Lala clarifies that it in no way means that he was stuck in the same job.

“I haven't been in the same job for 25 years that's the key thing. I've been with the same company. But my role has changed every three or four years. In fact, I've tried to force the change,” Lala said.

Social pressure of living in a “close-knit” Kiwi-Indian community?

On being asked about his experience of being raised as the next generation Kiwi-Indian in a migrant family with strong cultural values and belief systems in an altogether new country, Lala said, “I think when you're in it, it's quite stressful. But when you reflect on it, that kind of shapes who you are...”

“I remember telling my mother that on one of my first trips to Japan that I ate beef as per the Japanese culture and she was disappointed… I could see the disappointment. Just one example of the standards [to be followed in the home],” Lala said.

When further quizzed about any questions being raised about his choices or potential choices while growing up on key matters such as choosing a life partner of the same ethnic and cultural background, Lala quipped philosophically, “there wasn’t a question for me, it was an expectation.”

Lala shared a lot of insights into his growing up days, which could easily reflect any other Kiwi-Indian migrant household with the confluence of two different cultures, the conversations, the contestations, and expressed rejoiced that he did not understand then but understands now.

“When you're growing up, it's hard to understand, I understand it now. But I'm going through the same thing now with my kids, Lala said.

Many more such hitherto untold and unseen aspects of the Kiwi-Indian CEO of Toyota NZ came out in Indian Weekender’s new Lunch with Business Leaders show. See full interview with Neeraj Lala here