Modern United Kingdom’s economy has, given its hoary colonial past where the sun proverbially never set on it, metamorphosed into an incredible melting pot of ethnicities, cultures and corporate mores – with Asians, and among them Indians, playing an ever larger role in the business milieu of the kingdom. Where wealth creation and the accumulation of riches is a celebrated activity, the UK has it’s ‘Rich Lists,’ which are brought out regularly. While the venerable ‘Sunday Times’ comes out with an omnibus UK rich list annually, another media house with Asian leanings, the ‘Eastern Eye’, has also been bringing out a rich list of UK Asians for the past several years. NRI Achievers, with our focus on the Indian Diaspora, dips into both these ‘rich lists’ to bring you some a feature on UK Asians as a community in general, and people of Indian origin in particular. Read on …
Taken together, they are worth several hundred billions in pounds sterling. More than some 300,000 people are employed by them across the globe. Almost all of them are self-made, and they own some of Britain’s best-known brands. So who might these people be? They are Britain’s 100 richest Asians. This increasingly affluent and influential section of British society is beginning to be seriously courted by politicians as well, and during the past decade, we have seen Prime Ministers pay visits to mosques and temples, not to mention ministers and MPs doing their bit to woo this newly emerging power centre in the UK’s economy. This exemplifies the new paradigm in how the stiff-in-the-upper-lip British establishment looks at emergent communities and their clout in their boroughs, as in the past it has normally been that media surveys of the wealthy were typically treated with disdain by the same establishment.
Returning to our initial focus, we turn to the “Asian Rich List,” a list compiled and presented by Asian community newspaper ‘Eastern Eye,’ which enumerates “Britain’s 101 Wealthiest Asians.” Eastern Eye is a popular British weekly newspaper, first published by ‘The Guardian’ before becoming a standalone newspaper. The company behind Eastern Eye changed several hands since then – it was part of the ‘Trinity Mirror’ group before a management buyout and the creation of the Ethnic Media Group (EMG). In the year 2009, Eastern Eye was once again sold to the Asian Media & Marketing Group (AMG). AMG, since then, has continued with the title’s tradition of publishing the annual ‘Asian Rich List’ and staging the Asian Business Awards every year. The paper’s original founder, Sarwar Ahmed, still helms the publication as its editor. But enough said about the paper, let us get down to this year’s rich list, i.e., “Britains 101 Wealthiest Asians 2016,” and take a look at who all have made it into the top 10.
The ranking is unofficial. While the UK is home to numerous immigrant millionaires and billionaires from across the globe belonging to various ethnic communities, none other save the Asians have really made such a mark in the kingdom. Other minority ethnic groups like the Afro-Caribbean’s and Chinese have not really produced as many millionaires. The Asians though, have and are markedly different – some 350 of them among Britain’s 1.5 million Asians are millionaires. Almost every one in six Asians is self-employed, as compared to less than one in eight whites and one in 20 Afro-Caribbean. The nature of Asian business is also different: shops, fashion and hi-tech firms rather than trades such as plumbing and building. Many Asians came to Britain as penniless immigrants from East Africa in the Seventies, and Asians take their money-making seriously, not being too queasy or embarrassed at their success. So the list, according to Eastern Eye editor Sarwar Ahmed, is indeed ‘a celebration’ of the community’s achievements.
As was to be expected, those at the top-end of the list are the entrenched, relatively well-known industrial families often featured in media as Britain’s wealthiest individuals – like for instance the Hinduja brothers Gopichand and Srichand, whose estimated fortune from their world-wide oil, engineering, motors and trading empire is in the range of pounds 13 billion; steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, who despite his worldwide businesses taking a beating yet sits pretty with a net worth of £ 7.1 bn.; Sriprakash Lohia (£ 2.94 bn.) of petrochemicals major Indorama Corporation; mining magnate Anil Agarwal (£ 1 bn.); to name a few … and so too some unexpected dark horses in this stable of the top ten wealthiest Indians in the UK. But let’s turn to them a mite later.
Shifting focus to the ‘other’ rich list that came out a mere fortnight or so later, the maxim that fortunes are fickle was more than reinforced when we look at the changes wrought on the rich people landscape. The Sunday Times is Britain’s largest-selling national ‘quality’ Sunday newspaper, published by Times Newspapers Ltd, a subsidiary of News UK, which is in turn owned by News Corp., which also publishes The Times. In The Sunday Times Rich List, an annual survey of the wealthiest people in Britain and Ireland equivalent to the US Forbes 400 list, we see one of those dark horses we mentioned earlier, effecting a meteoric leap in net worth to capture the first place, just ahead of the Hindujas.
The global economic scenario has been unkind to many, with the number of billionaires living in Britain rising at its slowest pace since the financial crisis that saw the fortunes of some of the country’s richest plummet over the past year. Those who built their wealth on commodities such as oil and steel suffered multi-billion pound falls as rock-bottom prices ate into their personal assets.
But there were big rises for property tycoons, which explains the mammoth increase in the net worth of the latest table-toppers the Reuben brothers. Real estate values going on an upwards spiral added a neat 3.4 billion pounds to the kitty of India-born Reuben brothers David and Simon, clinching them the top spot on the Sunday Times Rich List 2016, what with a rising net worth amounting to 13.1 billion pounds, edging out the toppers of the Eastern Eye Rich List numero unos the Hinduja brothers with their wealth of 13 billion pounds. The downturn apropos hit steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and family where it hurts as well, bringing down the 2008-value of their fortune from the £27.7 bn. level that had outstripped any in British history, by more than two-thirds to a nadir of £ 7.1bn.
Dark horses interest us, and it is indeed worthwhile learning more about them. So we pick some of those families who really made it big, big enough to make it to the top 10 in a short while, upsetting many an applecart in the process. Here goes …
THE REUBEN BROTHERS
The Reuben brothers David (77) and Simon (74) were born to an Iraqi-Jewish family which harks back to the Byculla area of Mumbai, Maharashtra. Their family is said to have lived in British India in the 1800s. The duo moved to London when they were still teenagers, when their parents separated. They were raised by their mother and grandmother. They made their fortunes via investments in metals and real estate. Initially, David had moved into trading of metals, while Simon forayed into the carpets business. Simon was an importer of carpets before he went on to buy a manufacturing unit in 1965 and sold it at a profit years later. These proceeds he invested in real estate. David on the other hand was involved in trading of metals before he set up his own metal trading firm – TransWorld – in 1977.
The duo carved out their fortune by taking the ‘brave’ move of entering the Russian aluminium market – and purchased huge chunks of the business there. Their business in Russia was marred by controversies, with their partnership with Lev Chernoy, alleged to have ties with the Russian Mafia, raising many eyebrows. However, it was also reported that there was no evidence to suggest that their dealings had not been legal. In his defence, David told a publication, “I was the only westerner to succeed in a place that’s said to be like a toilet – and you always come out of a toilet with a smell.” They had to eventually wrap up their Russian operations as the business climate in the CIS is said to have turned hostile after Vladimir Putin took over. But their real estate and other businesses in the UK stood them in excellent stead, helping them reach where they have today. Back home, the brothers also had a hand in bailing out Sahara chief Subrata Roy, where they had inked an INR 5,500-crore refinancing deal that included three marquee hotels from being sold off on default.
Currently, the brothers own many prominent properties in London, including Millbank Tower, the John Lewis Partnership HQ in Victoria, shops in Sloane Street, London Oxford Airport and London Heliport. They are said to be leading investors in Metro Bank, which was floated last month. Overseas property and metal businesses added 300 million pound to their wealth. Apart from their investments in real estate and metals, the brothers are said to be involved in philanthropic work. They have set up the Reuben Foundation to participate in such activities. Their website lists work in the areas of children and education and health, along with contributions for several charities and organisations.
SIMON, BOBBY & ROBIN ARORA
The Arora brothers, who have built up their fortune over a relatively short period through innovating thinking and back-breaking hard work, had fetched up at number four in the 101 wealthiest Asians 2016 list, with a net valuation of £ 2.1bn.
Simon, Bobby and Robin Arora are the owners of B&M European Retail Value S.A. (comprising discount retail chain B&M Stores, B&M Bargains and the larger B&M Homestore). The company was formed in 1978, and is now one of the leading variety retailers in the United Kingdom, employing more than 22,500 people. It is listed on the LSE and is also a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index.
Their father, on coming to Britain, had started with just a market stall, graduating later on to a wholesale and Import Company. His sons though had a different vision and hankering. The brothers sold this company to acquire B&M in 2004. From a modest start of only 20 stores and a £ 50m turnover, B&M has today grown to an estate of 490+ stores across the UK, with the firm growing at a healthy 20 percent year on year. “In the last 10 years there has been a cultural shift in the UK towards discount retail and it becoming socially acceptable, and yes, it is indeed being seen as smart shopping,” says Simon Arora.
The young entrepreneurs acquired the chain store in December 2004 from Phildrew Investments, at which time the company traded out of 21 stores. Today in 2016, B&M, which sells branded goods from food and toiletries to toys and electrical, opened its 500th store.
The business also operates under the JA Woll brand in Germany. B&M has been hugely rewarding for the Arora brothers, who have seen their wealth rise by almost £ 200m in the past 12 months or so to stand at £ 2.1 bn. They sold £ 204m of shares in the business last July after a £ 2.7bn float a year earlier. Their remaining stake in the B&M business is worth £ 704m and they have other property assets in the Far East and the UK as well.
RAJESH RAM SATIIJA
48 year old Rajesh Satiija, or ‘Lucky’ as he is known to many, is a chartered engineer who ‘lucked’ out in Nigeria, so much so that today, he has become a classical business blueprint for Africa. A man who made his money capitalising on all the opportunities the dark continent had to offer in the 1990s, setting up his Sun & Sand group of companies in 1993, to work in Lagos and Nigeria. Satiija figures at number ten on the Britain’s 101 wealthiest Asians 2016 rich list, with a net worth in excess of £ 900m.
He landed up in London a mere three or so years ago, attracted by the lifestyle and the oft-quoted fact that London’s location makes it easier to run globally spread out concerns. The empire Satiija has succeeded in building up spans across Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America, having diversified significantly from his original mining and industrial manufacturing activities.
More recently, Rajesh Ram Satiija has moved into large-scale corporate agriculture, real estate and hospitality as well. With a sharp focus on agro-business and corporate farming, he speaks of expanding his apple business, and says he is seeking upwards of some 2500 acres of orchards to make a signature statement … and putting his money where his mouth is, he has been quietly building specialised cold-storage infrastructure just outside Delhi in India, with a view to import and sell some of the world’s best apple varieties in India. He avers that his controlled atmosphere cold-chain is capable of being rapidly rolled out all across India, which can help Indian agriculture and horticulture become more efficient and cost effective.
Born in India into a middle class family where his mother was a school teacher and his father a middle-level government servant, Satiija still carries all the humbleness and is a down to earth person. His intercontinental conglomerate continues to wax eloquent, growing into newer geographical areas and into new sunrise sectors. A person and business to keep track of …