A prominent figure in the Asian business community has challenged large institutions in the West Midlands to address an undercurrent of prejudice limiting opportunities for Asian business leaders.

Arun Bajaj, chairman of the Institute of Asian Business, has criticised key business groups in the region for failing to involve Asian businessmen in strategic decision making and for the subsequent under-representation of Asian business interests.

Mr Bajaj has also questioned why the key role played by Asian-owned businesses in bolstering the region’s economy is not reflected by a proportionate number of Asian directors on the boards of the region’s main commercial players.

“There are plenty of Asian business leaders in and around the West Midlands,” he said. “Just look at the larger companies like KTC, East End Foods, Latif’s, Awan Marketing, PAK Supermarkets and (Tata) the new Indian owners of Jaguar Land Rover.

“They are all making significant contributions to the regional economy but why aren’t they at the top table meeting ministers and government officials and shaping regional development?

“When people have different accents it makes a difference.

“It picks them out and deters people from listening to them properly. It should not but it does have a bearing and I think that is what has happened in the past.

“Our members at the IAB feel appreciated but at the same time feel there’s a cultural detachment.

“It’s a problem that needs to be addressed.  You need organisations to help these people so they can become the future.

“You can’t just go onto a big board you have got to build your way up.

“For more than 21 years the IAB has worked towards integrating Asian business leaders within the mainstream but we still need representation.”

Dr Sarindar Singh Sahota OBE, vice chair of the West Midlands Regional Assembly, believes the dearth of leadership opportunities afforded to up-and-coming Asian businessmen cannot be attributed to racism.

“It’s more about understanding the way different communities operate,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is doing it purposefully.

“If you want to get elected onto the boards of mainstream organisations the processes used are very difficult for Asians to get involved in.”