UJA Portraits of French Entrepreneurs and SMEs Settled in India

Learn more about Elisa Khetty, Director of Helma India, China & Germany, Helma International, Group Seegmuller & Cie French Trade Advisor based in India, Vice President Bangalore. Being of Indian origin, her strength in understanding cross-cultural distinctions in business practices in a global economy is multiculturalism.

Elisa Khetty
Director of Helma India, China & Germany, Helma International, Group Seegmuller & Cie French Trade Advisor based in India, Vice President Bangalore
UJA: Why did you choose India?

Elisa Khetty: The choice of India was driven by both professional and personal factors. Professionally, as a graduate from a business school, I recognized that the future economic growth would mainly occur in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). These countries presented significant business potential, and India stood out among them.

On a personal level, I had visited India as a child and was captivated by the country. It felt natural for me to consider India when starting my career. Additionally, I have distant Indian origins, tracing back to my great grandparents. Despite not having much knowledge about India, there was always a desire to explore my roots, even though my parents, like me, were born in France.

Coincidentally, I met my husband, who is Indian, and he further reinforced the idea that India was a place to be for career growth. Thus, the decision to choose India was influenced by both its economic situation and its culture, which piqued my interest.

UJA: You attended a business school in France, and the BRICS countries attracted you. How did you become the head of Helma in India? Was this your first professional assignment?

Elisa Khetty: After completing my business school education in France, I was actively seeking a job in either India or France. However, as a 22-year-old without experience, it proved challenging to find a job in India. I did not want to take the risk of coming without a proper job, as I wasn’t adventurous enough at that time.

Interestingly, I ended up finding a job in France by applying for an interview without knowing the name of the hiring company. The job required 10 years of experience in India, which I obviously lacked as a fresh graduate. Nevertheless, Leroy Merlin, a company from the ADEO group, found my profile interesting because they were planning to expand into India and needed someone to lead the project.

Consequently, Leroy Merlin offered me a position in Paris as a lighting and decoration manager, providing me with training and the possibility of eventually being sent to India. It was an incredible experience and introduced me to a great corporate culture. Although the project in India was delayed, my personal life took a turn as I decided to marry an Indian living in India. That’s when I made the decision to leave my job in France.

When I arrived in India, I was initially apprehensive about coming without a job. However, I discovered that many foreign companies were seeking individuals capable of bridging the gap between India and other countries. Therefore, I had the luxury of choosing from various job opportunities.

In 2008, I started working for HELMA International in Bangalore, where I am currently based.

UJA: At that time, what was the size of HELMA, and how did you enhance HELMA's reputation in India?

Elisa Khetty: At that time, HELMA was an SME in France. Let me provide you with a brief overview of HELMA. We specialize in international mobility services, assisting companies with various advisory services (package calculation, Cost to Company calculation, fiscal and social services, remuneration packages, compliance audits, etc.), immigration (work permits, pre and post arrival), and relocation services (orientation, home search, school search, tenancy management, intercultural sessions, assistance with movers and packers, etc.).

When HELMA France was established 30 years ago, our initial clients were major Indian IT companies, and they continue to be our clients today.

The founder of HELMA INTERNATIONAL in France decided to open offices in India and China in 2007.

Like many other French companies, HELMA initially sent a young VIE to start the business in India. Sending a VIE to India under such circumstances is an excellent scenario. It confirms the local business opportunities (VIE or International Volunteers for an Enterprise refers to young graduates hired by a company to work abroad for a maximum of 2 years).

I joined a few weeks before the VIE returned to France and took charge of HELMA’s development in India. It was akin to being an entrepreneur because the company had just been incorporated when I arrived, and I had to establish everything on my own. Today, we have over 20 employees at HELMA in India and 70 in France. We are proud to have retained our original clients while also welcoming new ones and diversifying our services.

UJA: So, you assist Indian expatriates appointed in France or other countries, as well as expatriates from France coming to India?

Elisa Khetty: Yes, we assist any corporation that needs to relocate their employees abroad for professional purposes. This includes both French expatriates coming to India and vice versa. However, we also cater to individuals of various nationalities.

India has become a significant destination for companies aiming to grow and expand internationally. Indian nationals, especially IT engineers, constitute one of the largest sources of foreign employees worldwide. Therefore, it explains why we facilitate interactions between India and France. Moreover, we have offices in Germany and China, and our services cover more than 125 countries globally.

The COVID-19 pandemic compelled us to reconsider our services and study future growth opportunities. The management at HELMA firmly believes that India and China will be crucial sources of development for the group in the future.

UJA: In terms of cultural aspects, is the majority of your staff in India comprised of Indian nationals who possess local knowledge and can guide your clients, or do you have an international staff or individuals who studied abroad?

Elisa Khetty: Most of our employees are Indian nationals.

An essential aspect to note about India is the abundance of talent available here. Many people are highly proficient in languages as well. The challenge lies not in finding these talents but in retaining them.

Not every position requires an expatriate to be physically present. While the majority of expatriates in India occupy important positions such as CFOs, CEOs, or technical supervisors, the rest of the team mostly consists of Indian nationals. India boasts numerous talented individuals who can effectively manage subsidiaries and establish good communication with headquarters.

For larger companies, having someone to bridge the gap between France and India and be stationed in India is necessary. However, smaller and medium-sized companies today do not always appoint French nationals. India offers a pool of talent capable of efficiently managing subsidiaries and establishing strong connections with headquarters.

UJA: What have you learned from setting up in India?

Elisa Khetty: I would like to share the advice I give to my own children and to anyone else: if possible, travel the world!

Leaving France at the age of 22 and coming to India has been an extraordinary experience for me. It has completely changed the way I perceive the world. I firmly believe that such an experience, wherever you go, can be an eye-opener both personally and professionally.

Coming to India has been a significant catalyst for my growth. At the age of 24, I was already a country manager with a team to manage and numerous responsibilities. I doubt I would have progressed so rapidly had I stayed in France. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to interact with numerous delegations, which I don’t think would have been possible at my age if I were in France.

There are only a few countries in the world that are experiencing such rapid economic growth. With its vast and youthful population, India offers abundant opportunities, whether you are an entrepreneur or working for a company.

Indian people are very open-minded toward foreigners. They are eager to share their culture and understand that you come from a different country and background. It is a remarkable experience. So, if you are hesitant, I strongly encourage you to travel and consider expatriation. I wholeheartedly recommend India to everyone, not just because my husband is Indian or because my children were born here, but because my experience in India thus far has been truly incredible.

For more information on this portrait or on UJA contact Olivia@uja.in

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