Focused parents were one of the key reasons behind the career choice of Wellington tax lawyer and Pacific business mentor Arti Chand.
Ms Chand grew up in Fiji and came to New Zealand to study law at Victoria University, completing LLB and BCA degrees. She was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in December 2003.
“My parents were very focused on education, hugely so. My dad came from a farming background and became a land surveyor, so he was the first professional person out of his family. My mum did not complete high school, but both of them were extremely committed about educating my sister and me.
“From an early age my dad told my sister that she was going to become a doctor and I was going to become a lawyer and now, she’s a doctor and I’m a lawyer. It helped that as I followed that through, it fit with what I wanted. My sister is a scientist rather than a medical doctor, but I think a little bit of brainwashing helps sometimes.”
Her experiences of coming to a different country to study have stayed with her. Ms Chand is actively involved with the Pacific Business Trust and its Hatch Youth Programme along with the Bridging the Gap mentoring programme with Victoria University law students which is run by the Wellington Young Lawyers’ Committee.
“As a Pacific Island student coming to New Zealand and to Wellington it was really daunting and the law school process was particularly scary.”
As a mentor in Bridging the Gap Ms Chand is concerned that in the 18 months she’s been involved, she has seen few Pacific students at functions and events. She believes the differences in cultural outlooks mean encouraging young students to bring a support person or people is important.
“If you don’t know what’s expected and you’re still new or you’re learning how a society works, you will not automatically assume that you can take a friend along. Many young students wonder who they’re going to talk to if they go by themselves.
“Even with the Pacific Business Trust workshops that I’ve run, people invariably bring friends or their partners along. I did a tax workshop in Wellington and there were 17 people along, but out of the 17, ten were there to attend the workshop and seven others had come because they came together. Understanding those cultural differences is really important.”
Arti’s work with the Pacific Business Trust has seen her nominated for the biennial awards programme in both 2016 and 2018. This year she was one of three finalists in the Pacific Women in Business category. The awards were held in July and are focused on celebrating success. The government-backed Pacific Business Trust was established in 1985, with the mandate of growing Pacific businesses into sustainable, viable and commercially successful enterprises.
One outcome of her attendance at Victoria University was that Ms Chand took the tax course taught by the legendary Professor John Prebble.
“I was hooked. I decided at that point that I was going to do tax law. And after that I just made sure that the rest of my degree was focused on doing things that helped with tax. Tax law is very complex. There’s no fact scenario that’s exactly the same. You might apply the same section, but if you don’t investigate the facts you won’t get the right answer. And I think it means it keeps you thinking. So I just really enjoy it.”
Following stints at Inland Revenue, Horwath Wellington and Ernst and Young, Ms Chand set up her own practice around four years ago. At the beginning of this year she joined forces with Julie Crengle to become a partner in the boutique Wellington law firm Crengle Shreves & Ratner.
In her work with the Hatch Youth Programme Ms Chand is able to combine her passion for helping young Pacific people with her skills in tax law. Launched near the end of 2017 as a partnership between the Pacific Business Trust and Massey University, the programme targets Pacific youth aged 16 to 26 with entrepreneurial aspirations. It combines flexible tertiary education with support to develop business ideas and accelerate commercial growth.
“It’s very very cool. Hatch called for applications from Pacific young people who either had a business idea, had already just started a business, or wanted to start a business. They selected six applications and the idea of the programme is to provide them with practical business resources so they’re setting up properly and they’re thinking about the right things,” she says.
As a speaker in the business tax structuring masterclass, Ms Chand was able to give advice on how to efficiently set up a business and the pitfalls involved.
“The wonderful thing about the programme is that it’s getting Pacific people to think about all the other compliance and real world stuff that you need to think about. A lot of Pacific businesses fail because they don’t understand all the things they need to do. It was wonderful and they were absolutely inspiring young people.”
Ms Chand was particularly impressed with the way the workshops were run, with a focus away from the traditional book learning approach.
“I believe this works really well with Pacific people because they want to know what’s going on, but they want to know in a non-academic way, in real understandable terms.”
Ms Chand is now turning her attention to other lawyers from Pacific countries in Wellington who can bring their skills and energy to helping law students and new Pacific lawyers, as well as giving the Pacific legal community more visibility in the capital. The response she received when she ran a fundraiser to help with relief for Fiji after the devastating cyclone in February 2016 showed her that there is the nucleus of a good community of Pacific lawyers in Wellington, which bodes well for the future.