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Up Close with Yog Melwani

Yog Melwani, president of the Indian American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) in Orlando, learned early in his career the value of “working smart.” His first job at the student computer lab at Hofstra University in New York — in an age before personal computers and IT techs were common — proved to be a valuable lesson in customer service and crisis management. After graduating from Hofstra, he fostered his knowledge of investing on Wall Street in the 1990s, where his client transactions eventually totaled more than $10 billion. An interest in commercial real estate, along with a few too many cold winters up north, brought him to Orlando, where his real estate successes eventually led him to a very active role in the community’s economic development — and to his current role with the chamber.

How would you describe the path that led you to your current role?

While developing my business in Central Florida, I joined the West Orange Chamber of Commerce (WOCC) and had the pleasure of serving on the board of directors. This was my first opportunity to give back to the community. Shortly thereafter, I joined the IACC and became the first member of the leadership committee. Concurrently, I also became a representative and vice chair on the Orange County Membership and Mission Review Board (MMRB), then secretary of the IACC and chair of the MMRB.

I also have the privilege of serving on the BB&T Bank advisory board, as vice chair of the Orange County Planning and Zoning Commission, and on the City of Orlando Nominating Board. From the private sector to the public, each of these boards has similarities, but their differences are what help me grow as a board member and leader and help me develop my contributions for the improvement and longevity of the IACC.

Since joining the chamber in 2010, what have been your most valuable takeaways?

There is much to be said for people who volunteer their time and efforts to serve and make changes in and for their community. It takes a special type of person to not only make the commitment, but to follow through and actually participate in running and growing an organization like the IACC. Our chamber operates with a rotating board and executive committee. The expectation is that by the time you become president, you will have gained the experience and insight to lead the chamber and to help it to continue to grow and evolve as an organization that not only connects members, but also fosters business locally and globally. The experiences gained in each role I’ve held on the IACC board have taught me to be more receptive to other people’s input, and how to interact productively with a variety of personalities. Forging relationships and alliances with other organizations and people is key to a strong professional network.

How have the skills you’ve developed in real estate informed your role at the chamber?

I “walk the talk” and believe your word is your bond. Without that conviction, we have nothing. I also believe we should leave anything we are involved with better than we found it, including an organization. Additionally, treat everyone with respect, and eliminate any ambiguity, by putting everything in writing.

Can you describe some of the new initiatives you’ve been focusing on since becoming president in 2018?

Creating diverse events, such as our inaugural Smart and Sustainable Cities Collaborative (SSCC) in alliance with the City of Orlando, Rollins College and [planning and design firm] VHB, which attracted both members and non-members, along with creating an interest and momentum for another SSCC event in 2019. We’ve also focused on collaborative relationships with multiple Central Florida organizations, including the City of Orlando, University of Central Florida (UCF), Rollins College, Visit Orlando and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando.

Our volunteer organization has created a prominent presence in our community, as evidenced by being ranked as the 16th chamber of commerce in the Orlando Business Journal Book of Lists Top 25 Area Chambers. All of this has resulted in record-breaking achievements — including a 35 percent increase in our membership, renewed and increased sponsorships, an increase in followers on social media from 18 percent to 186 percent, and a 1,500 percent increase in traditional media coverage.

You’ve described the importance of increasing trade between America and India. Can you talk about the value in that and how you are going about advocating for it?

We are promoting this increase in trade through connecting people and fostering business here and in India. We provide value by connecting U.S.-based companies with companies in India for bilateral trade opportunities, ranging from mangoes to technological services.

This year the IACC, along with the City of Orlando, UCF and Orange County, co-hosted Vivek Aggarwal, who is principal secretary (chief of staff ) to the chief minister (governor) of the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, and Dr. Kartikeya Singh of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The meetings and discussions were focused on sharing best practices and resources for smart and sustainable cities. In July, UCF entered into an agreement with Madhya Pradesh to cooperate on economic, research, cultural and educational issues.

Recently, a member of the IACC leadership committee, Mital Hall, traveled with a delegation from UCF to India to explore smart and sustainable technologies. The trip focused on sustainable development and included in-depth discussions about how UCF could help the state in a number of areas, including renewable energy, transportation, tourism, environmental protection, ecology and cooperative research.

Can you describe some of the events the chamber has recently celebrated, such as the Gandhi Day of Service, and the community’s reaction to those?

We honor Mahatma Gandhi every year with a community project that is family-friendly and encourages the next generation to give back. Families and individuals take part in helping other people in developing countries or in areas affected by natural disasters in the U.S. A collaborative approach with the Central Florida Association of Physicians from the Indian Subcontinent (CAPI), Orlando City Soccer and Pita Hut Enterprises, held at the city soccer stadium, resulted in a record-setting 150 volunteers who packed 40,000 meals. Our Women’s Forum in October, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, had a strong turnout with many new nonmember professionals, and 2018 was the first year we created a team of IACC members for the Alzheimer’s Walk.

What do you hope for the future of the chamber?

I hope the leaders whose terms follow mine will not only lead the IACC into the future, but continue its growth, prosperity and advocacy for our members. Maintaining the energy and momentum we have established this year will continue to make our presence known in mainstream America. It has been a year of many firsts. We have set a high standard and will continue to build on it. The IACC’s goal is to connect people and foster businesses, not only amongst ourselves, but throughout Florida, across the country and around the world.

What motivates you, both professionally and personally?

Whether the goal is short-term or long-term, the will to succeed and reach my full potential motivates me. It gives me great satisfaction to assist those in need, both personally and professionally, without any expectations.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Something I read from Gandhi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” To me, this means if life and/or business are not going in the direction you want, then you need to change the way you are living and/or doing business. Stay humble and look ahead at the path that you walk on.

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About the author

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham is the managing editor for i4 Business, where she oversees the company’s digital media strategy, handles client relationship marketing for the print and digital magazines, and serves as one of the publication’s lead writers. A native of Brevard County, she splits her time between Central Florida and Nashville, Tennessee.

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