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For Chokhani, Heflin, Relationships Key to Business, Community

3 min read

Little Rock business leaders Rajesh Chokhani and Jay Heflin spoke about the importance of relationships to the economy and community Wednesday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock College of Business’ Distinguished Alumni Luncheon.

Chokhani, COO of Welspun Tubular, received the Dean’s Award for Excellence, while Heflin, vice president of administration at Legacy Termite & Pest Control, was recognized as a distinguished alumnus. 

Recently appointed Chancellor Christina Drale also spoke during the event at the Little Rock Marriott in downtown.

“It’s important to remember that good business and good communities are about the experiences that people have. Good experiences equal good memories and positive associations,” she said during her comments. “If we teach people how to do business well, and if our successful business economy helps create the community with good services, quality education and a thriving arts and recreation culture, people will come back. They will stay. They will bring others in. We become partners in growth, both economically and culturally. Our honorees today exemplify this partnership in so many ways.”

Chokhani, who earned his master’s degree from UA Little Rock,  shared how his company wound up opening its first U.S. plant at the Port of Little Rock in 2009. Talks began two years earlier.

The native of India said that for months he traveled across the country and got no closer to deciding where that plant would be.

He was in Memphis when he saw the Port of Little Rock on Google Maps. Chokhani emailed its then-director at 4 a.m., asking for a meeting at 9 a.m. to discuss the project.

Then he joked with the luncheon audience that the first email garnered no response because “in those days, receiving a spam email, you know, from Nigeria, from India” was common.

But he sent a follow-up email and got a response. The meetings the following day went on until 9 p.m., with Chokhani meeting what seemed to him like everyone in the city, he said.

He said he was impressed by the warm welcome he received and praised those who helped in the project, especially a delegation who visited his country. 

“Welspun has been built on [that] relationship,” he said.

Heflin said “a strong UA Little Rock is good for Little Rock and our region. A strong college of business provides intelligent, creative thinkers that are willing to roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in areas to improve our entire community. Our schools, our local governments, our infrastructure, our social services. This focused involvement has the capability to enhance the quality of life for all.”

Heflin said a “partnership development mentality” is key for the business college and the business community at large. 

“As the business community, we must, we must look for ways to lean in and intertwine ourselves with the college of business and UA Little Rock,” he said. “Collaborative efforts between our community and the college serve to strengthen the development capabilities of our students. This, in turn, provides a fabulous return on investment for our community.”

Drale agreed.

“What I’ve come to realize is that running a company is fundamentally about finding the right business model for where you are now and where you’re going. It’s about adapting to an ever-changing environment with the right mix of product and labor and infrastructure and core values. It takes imagination, creativity and courage to get it right,” she said.

“This is what successful business leadership does, because, by getting it right, business leaders contribute to the economic growth and overall health of the community.”

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