Though decades of frontline journalism both in print and the electronic media has made me something of a cynic and one who prefers to call a glass half-empty rather than half-full, it is not very often that I take a liking to people on first meeting. But Rajesh Ram Satiija is someone whom I took an instant liking to. His simplicity, earthy demeanour and modesty apart, he exudes an aura of positivism that tends to dissolve the negative feelings in those around him. As our NRI Achievers editorial team interacted more with him, multiple other facets of a remarkable persona surfaced, oft leaving us surprised. In this special feature about this self-made tycoon, we bring you his perceptions and world-view, interspersed with our own reflections of him as an individual, weaving his world as his vision makes it to be.
If metals were to human civilization what gods are to pantheons of various sets of beliefs, they would indeed be centerstage – with mankind’s endeavours in societal development classified into successive metal ages. And metals, from the lowly iron and copper to the precious gold, platinum and their ilk, have had a central role to play in the lives of people, from rites and rituals harking back to the dim past to modern day high-tech industrial activities. Rajesh Ram Satiija, whose mettle has a lot to do with metals, is a mining magnate whose empire spans three continents – Asia, Africa and Latin America. One among those owning the world’s largest reserves of gold, uranium and rare minerals, he is also a top investor in the Dark Continent, where he commands respect from Premiers and Presidents alike. An electrical engineer by training, Satiija landed up in Lagos, the financial hub of Nigeria, in the year 1993 to work for a local Indian procurement authority. Reminiscing about it, he avers: “I had this foresight then that Africa would evolve into one huge market, and I very much wanted to be part of it when it did emerge ….”
After that, there has been no looking back for Satiija, whose global businesses have had a very good year in 2014-15 indeed, with soaring revenues and good appreciation in mining assets. He has substantial private assets, including homes in prime locations around the world, which place him high in Asia’s roll call of the richest – with his wealth notching up a conservative UK£ 850 million. Apropos, while we know that everyone loves a rags to riches story, we start with a very brief walk down memory lane, going on a short biopic journey of Rajesh Ram Satiija’s childhood, boyhood and youth, before we delve deeper into the nuts and bolts of Satiija’s fortune and how wins over people from across the world.
Born into simple, middle class family of Haryana to principled god-fearing parents, Rajesh’s father was a middle level government servant while his mother was a simple school teacher. Growing up in an simple, nondescript house markedly devoid of creature comforts, the austere setting and the piety of his parents more than made up for the lack of luxuries, building up in the mind of the young Rajesh a complex underpinning of ‘sanskars’ and an abiding faith in god. Sonepat on the Haryana-Delhi border was where Rajesh went through schooling, followed by an degree from the nearby Government Engineering College, from where he came out with a BE in electrical engineering. After graduation, his effort in building a career netted him the role of a Government contractor and supplier, which, soon enough, he realised that it wasn’t really his ‘cup-of-tea,’ pushing him to explore other options.
The India of the late 1980s and the early 1990s not presenting that many opportunities, he chose to take up a job offer in Africa and explore opportunities for trading from there in his quest for a viable alternative. ImpEx was big business those days, and his keenness to check out ground realities in Africa for himself clinched the deal. Soon after joining his job, he began to dabble in trading various goods and commodities. “God was with me,” he says, “and my meditation, my unshakeable commitment to my sanskar and the values instilled by my parents – all bore fruit. Even I cannot believe where my life has reached today.”
Soon after, Satiija established the Sun & Sand Group of Companies in Africa, with his 52 acre factory at Ogun, Nigeria, making ferrous and non-ferrous metal ingots widely in demand in the global automobile industry. His company became the first in Africa to supply such global leading brands as Toyota, Rolls Royce, Honda and Nissan. Later he branched out into gold, copper and uranium, thus transforming the fortunes of metal industries across the continent. His command over a large chunk of world reserves of many precious and non-precious metals, including rare earths and elements such as uranium automatically made him a key mover in the countries where his operations are present. Satiija’s firms today employ more than 6,000 people, and his ventures in Africa work closely with local communities, contributing in no small measure toward their development. Affectionately called “Lucky” by friends and business partners, Satiija has forged many a mutually beneficial strategic compact, and has evolved excellent commercial relations in Africa through his personal rapport with political leaders of the continent.
“Whoever l have worked with in the past 25 years, not one has lost even a single dollar,” he says matter of factly. “Many presidents of Africa, they call me when they have a problem. They say to me, ‘Lucky, come and sit with us, and our problems will be solved’.”
The engineer in him adeptly combining his acquired expertise in metal extraction, processing and then manufacturing and trading, with his vision and acumen for agri-business and corporate farming, he has so far successfully helmed his Sun & Sand Group to metamorphose from a nondescript though successful trading house into a formidable conglomerate with an ever-expanding supply chain, where Satiija has aptly harnessed foresight to transform disadvantages and challenges into opportunities. Today the products from his metals businesses, in demand by various prestigious organizations worldwide, are aluminium, copper, lead, stainless steel and tin ingots and alloys, with a capacity of 30,000 to 150,000 metric tons.
Despite his trading raking in profits worth several millions of dollars, Rajesh Satiija Raj, once he had clinched the Toyota contract and subsequently large scale orders from Rolls Royce, Honda and Nissan, began downscaling his trading activities, tapering it down to a full-stop since this business offered him an identity that the Impex and trading businesses did not. In 2004, all trading activity in Sun & Sand ceased and his concentration focussed fully on metals. By then he had gone into production of alloy ingots and metals other than aluminium, and this shift in focus brought such manifold returns that the group today is a valued member of the London Metal Exchange. “Today my company is a name to reckon with in Japan, and is the only one from India and from the whole of Africa to be listed on the London Metal Exchange,” says Satiija with some pride…
“I am the first person in all Africa, including South Africa, who started shipping engineering products to Japan.” Lady Luck, as alluded to earlier, has the habit of smiling on him augmenting his engineering and entrepreneurial skills, so much so that during his trading days, not a single transaction bore him any losses. In fact, it has oft rubbed off him onto his customers as well – once, when metal prices crashed just after he had transacted ten containers worth to a party who decried this loss, metal prices momentarily soared sharply before he was through with his lamentations and by the time the containers reached their destination, long enough for him to resell the ingots downriver, carving him a neat slice of profit on the deal. Incidents galore of this nature are what have earned him the sobriquet ‘Lucky’.
We queried him about his USPs in running his businesses so successfully in Africa, a place not all that easy to do business in. His response was surprisingly indicative of a CEO or industry captain with a spiritual bent of mind, one who staunchly believes in people-centric policies and good corporate governance centred upon responsibility to society and the communities that surround his business: “Any organization needs to grow and sustain itself, and that can happen if and only if it adopts and implements employee friendly policies. All my organizations enjoy high loyalty factors and we ensure that each individual gets an opportunity to develop and grow within an environment of belonging. With the emotional, mental and physical health of the employees being an important aspect that contributes to a positive atmosphere, we have provided various recreational and other facilities to keep monotony out of the work place, besides conducting training programs that help employees enhance and articulate their skills.”
“We employ 6000 plus persons, and it is not all that easy to run an industry or a business there, so in order to divert those involved in petty thefts for survival, we created teams of Area Boys. These are typically young boys who have no work and generally join in riots on the roads besides indulging in petty crime, just to get some money to feed themselves. We gave them a proposal of going around their area collecting scrap and then bringing it to us for money. Today some of these Area Boys have cars, houses, are married and settled, they are applying their minds to make a better life for themselves, and some are on their way to becoming businessmen in their own right. We are happy we changed their life-paths from petty crime to one of an honest life, and we were in fact given the National President’s Award for that. We made a difference.
“If l am in Nigeria and in the plant, I do not think twice about going to the shop floor and talking with the workers. As my setups enjoy a high loyalty factor, I know many workers by name. At times, someone may hand me a petition, or come up to talk about a problem. I always listen intently but do not respond, for that would mean breaking the protocols we have set. Yes, the problem will be dealt with, without bypassing the systems in place.”
Managerial acumen and skills find a high ranking in Satiija’s priorities in life. “Till about four years ago, | was quite hands on with managing our various plants and factories. That was because in the start-up phase you have to be deeply involved. I used to spend time on the shop ﬂoors of the factories, take decisions in consultation with the managers etc. But when we hit our growth phase and started growing at a frenetic pace, and I set protocols for management. You cannot grow without delegating responsibilities and having appropriate systems in place. Having done so the protocol must be followed, otherwise one merely ends up creating complications for the managers. There are reporting and checks-and-balances systems in place, so when required I would normally speak to the MD, the financial head and may be some of the other senior heads, and not get involved in the day-to-day management of my enterprises. For example if I require any information from the Nigeria plant, I shall probably speak to the MD.”
Talking about the ease or unease of doing business in Africa in general, and especially Nigeria in particular, he avers that globalisation, new businesses and industrialisation are surely bringing prosperity and alternate means of livelihood, but this movement away from traditional modes and means of sustenance in a society that is but partly ready for rapid industrialisation and new ways of work ethos has definitely had an adverse fallout with some pockets of society wanting to make easy money, just as it is the case with numerous other developing countries also coming to grips with such new challenges. One night in 1996, hearing some unusual noises, Rajesh awoke to find someone trying to break into his house. Five persons outside had a gun trained on him. He calmly let them in, asked them to put the gun down and help themselves to whatever they wanted. He went on to offer them food and liquor, inviting them to sit down and have a drink and eat. On the morrow, this had a somewhat unexpected outcome. The would-be thieves came back to return all they had taken.
“Nobody is good or bad, circumstances make them so. If a child steals bread, it is because they don‘t have food to eat, so what is the alternative ? In India, especially in the larger cities, the difference in lifestyles today between the rich and the abjectly poor is so vast that soon a time will come when a child who grew up in deprived circumstances will not hesitate to use a gun to get what he wants. lt is us who must make the difference while it can have an impact to stem this trend towards violence, nipping it in the bud. There may be some hardened persona inclined to take the easy route with violence and robbery amongst the poor, but 90% of the people whom we tend to group as ‘bad’ would respond positively to being treated decently. If the system and government policies were to provide for a safety net at some cut off level, it might not make criminals an extinct breed, but their numbers will be reduced for sure.”
“When your intentions are honourable and good, you can motivate people to get on to the best path for them. l have been able to bring many of those persons who had different intentions on to the right track. Positive intentions radiate powerful energy and of course you need patience — a child cannot grow to manhood in a day, you cannot turn around your fate in an instance — you have to be strong and you need time. There is much that needs to be made aware to society and our children, to believe in themselves and to go ahead.” This not so hard-nosed, spiritual bent of mind to his approach to deal with situations and people, and his codification of these humane principles into the management style of his enterprises literally begged us to query him about how it is not in contradiction to the dog-eat-dog competitive approach of western capitalistic multinationals and enterprises … the very milieu in which he and his businesses operate.
Spirituality is equated with purity, according to Rajesh Satiija, and does not occur automatically by turning into a ‘brahmachari’ or ‘sanyasi’ renouncing family and home. Taking oneself off to the mountains to meditate does in no way guarantee purity. “Practicing spirituality is somewhat like cooking a meal,” Rajesh avers. “You ensure the foodstuffs are washed; the water used is clean and follow hygiene in the kitchen while preparing the food. Likewise, while conducting commercial activities, one needs to retain purity in the manner of managing business, by following principles – not through taking short-cuts, and delivering promised quantity and quality. Just as we make daily efforts to keep ourselves clean and presentable, so is a similar effort needed to keep your souls pure.”
“This ultimately finds its true reflection in business dealings, keeping transparency. Body, mind and soul are akin to three jewels, and just as we bathe to wash off external dirt, so is a cleansing of the mind and soul necessary to combat extraneous influences from taking root. Yoga helps clear and control our inner systems and the mind while mediation does the same for our souls, so one ought to go through this threefold exercise every day.” Rajesh is not only a practitioner of yoga and meditation, he has also been organizing camps and programmes on Reiki, as the Founder Trustee of the Reiki Healing Foundation Trust, the world’s largest group working towards an awakening for personal and global transformation, at the same time promoting it as an alternate source of healing and brotherhood. “Reiki is basically energy to heal. In Japan the average life expectancy is 95 years. Even though the Japanese do drink and smoke quite a bit, yet, even at 75 and above they are active, carrying on with their activities,” says Satiija.
“As a matter of fact, Reiki is said to have originated from India — Saibaba was healing through Reiki — in ancient times Buddhist travellers took with them the science of Reiki and the same after being systemized and codified by Japanese teachers who named it Reiki, it has been re-sent to us.” Satiija points out that if not for their harnessing and utilising of these united energies, the Japanese could not have coped with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the rampant destruction caused by earthquakes and other natural disasters. “Their resilience can actually be attributed to the system of Reiki, which shows us a way to unite multiple energies for a greater cause. Reiki, geopathy and other mystic sciences were practiced in India long before the world became aware of their existence, but their knowledge was restricted and utilized for kings and other powerful factions, the common man deliberately being kept out of this charmed circle, to heighten the mystery and exclusivity.
“Everyone has the power to practice Reiki and improve their lives — you simply have to tune your mind and focus. Reiki can even be used to get rid of corruption — one can even try to cleanse our prodigal polity.” And he goes on to aver that if all Indian politicians could devote one day selflessly for the greater good of the nation – just one day out of their 365 days in a year – India will change dramatically for the better, and in his view, the “time for change” is now overdue.
The adage that the whole be greater than the sum of its parts holds true in Satiija’s case, who balances his spirituality, abiding belief in god, and the various ‘sanskars’ drilled into him by his parents with an ear-to-the-ground approach to dowsing for business and economic intelligence, a humane approach to corporate governance and workforce management; blending all of these to present a well-rounded persona who has built his globe-girdling business-industrial conglomerate from trading to metals and mining to engineering goods and a sunrise agri-business. Satiija’s belief that a sound mind can be encouraged through calming and serene surroundings, his ability to listen to others and make people feel extra special is aptly translated through his business approach to creating environs in which people can ﬂourish and reach their highest potentials. Satiija effortlessly injects positive energies into that powerful connection for the exchange of passion, trust and effort between like-minded individuals and business communities, making it a pleasure to work or deal with him.
Satiija is of the view today that London is the best hub for growing his businesses, which are getting increasingly global in nature. He says, “I could stop working and continue to develop my passion and hobby for breeding horses and farming.” However, at 47, Satiija is today a man with a larger mission, who wants to expand his metals and mining business, in particular gold and uranium mining around the world. Satiija’s extensive interests in Africa have yielded him great rewards and he is today one of the continent’s largest individual owners of gold reserves, a holding that in itself has given him tremendous inﬂuence in the countries where he operates.
Satiija has been honoured with the 2014 ‘Entrepreneur of Year’ Award at the Africa International Business Forum (AIBF), in recognition of his leadership as a change-agent for Indian companies investing in Africa. While he is committed to developing the mining sector and infrastructure in Africa and meeting the world’s growing demand for raw materials, he is also very serious about reducing the adverse impact of his own industry sector on the environment. This conviction has seen the group incorporating a ‘business for social change’ model, enhancing human development through technology transfer, access to renewable energy, and sense of responsibility towards the well-being of society. His extensive diversiﬁed portfolio of interests in Africa and India is driven by a sustainable development approach in every respect. It is Satiija’s intention to increase the existing number of mines in Africa and Latin America from 50 today to a 100 in the next two years.
Satiija is a strong networker and understands the power of international relations — he has built links with the UN and has been involved in global charitable endeavours that have earned him attention and respect. He has been honoured by Human Achievers Foundation (HAP), in association with Indian Council for UN Relations (lCUNR) and Africa India Premiership Association (AIPA) in 2012 for his endeavours in international business, and his contributions in the ﬁeld of mining, manufacturing, imports and exports of metals.
Behind his seemingly simple personality is a steely determination to make a difference to society and a plan to accomplish it. In the past year, he set up Sun & Sand Foundation, a not-for-profit entity mandated with the provision of high quality education to poor children in India, and there are plans afoot to expand this programme to Africa as well. Among his pet projects is the one on quantum speed reading, a system of learning introduced by a Japanese expert where children can learn to read a book in a very short span of time, for instance, in as little as 30 seconds. “Over the next 10 ~ 15 years, our children can compete with rich politicians, business people,” he says.
Satiija’s own children have set out to go about their lives without being “spoilt” by his immense wealth. His daughter is studying Law in London while his son is an undergraduate student in the US. Family is a very special institution for Rajesh Satiija: “Like all parents, I adore my children. So when it is family time I let them choose the activity. When my wife and children want to see a movie — to a theatre we go and once inside I switch off my phone so that all my attention is focussed on enjoying the movie with them. At times my kids will decide I should cook them breakfast, or sometimes it is dinner, and l am quite happy to go into the kitchen and delight my children with a dinner turned out without domestic help. Apropos, I am a good cook too! “So when it is family time I spend it the way they want — if they wish to play chess it is not much use my saying we go for a walk instead. But I and my wife have brought up our children to be well-grounded in our ‘sanskar’. Though well off, we have tried to instil a sense of social responsibility in them, and avoid overindulging them. Prayers and meditation form an essential part of their routine too.
Talking about his personal likes and dislikes, he says that, “When I have the time I watch the news on TV. Sometimes it does irritates my wife when late, and I switch to something light hearted or romantic … I think it’s always better to go with the flow …. Reading is another means of updating myself with info necessary for my work and the world political scenario, as that does have an impact on our businesses. lf there is a choice though, l would pick a book with spiritual content. As for my favourite drink, in the mornings it’s a nice cup of tea ! In the evenings, I enjoy a scotch with soda and ice. I am a single-malt man and have a collection of limited edition single & triple malts. There is nothing as nice as being at peace with oneself and the world sipping single malt … and that is my only indulgence.
“I feel it is important to enjoy each and every day with all it brings, every hour, every day of my life, I want to live it to the hilt. Not every day turns out to be wonderful, but then you have to get on with it, deal with it without regrets. I for one am happy when I feel I have managed to lead a well balanced life, keeping in mind my workers, staff, family, brothers, my commitments to society AND to myself. It does not mean that untoward happenings will not take place, they do and they will. It is the state of your mind that can deflect it so it does not damage you too much.”
Speaking about the stage of life he is in today, he says: “I am currently in the fourth phase of my life – as you might be aware there are four phases in a person‘s life — as a child you are guided by your parents, then it is youth, followed by the family phase and its responsibilities. In the fourth phase your eyes are open and your decisions are based on experience. My fourth phase is very interesting and exciting, and I have a lot to accomplish – in business, in society, for my workers, for my family, along with branching out into real estate in India and London.”
One of his biggest and most innovative projects in the hospitality and real estate sectors in Guyana and in India is the construction of new homes with a difference, through his Aqasia Homes Business. Satiija is looking to create “geopathic stress-free areas”. This means paying particular attention to the surroundings of the home and making it as attractive and as peaceful as possible. In Satiija’s own words, “I now want to get into affordable housing, as there are too many realtors in the luxury segment. What I offer will be unique – geopathic stress free areas with no negativity … and believe me the people living and working in locations constructed by my firm will be more powerful than those occupying the luxury segment spaces. My first project starts in Bhiwadi, in the Rajasthan State of India. In a geopathic stress-free environment, mental and energy levels change dramatically. Normally corrections are made to the exteriors and interiors within the existing structure, as in Vaastu. There is no awareness of geopathic stress, which you need to control. Yes, there are instruments which can measure stress levels and negativity. Though it might sound complicated, it is somewhat akin to driving a car. If you do not know how to drive, it appears complicated but once you have mastered driving, you do not give much thought to the act of driving, and go from one point to the other with your mind on other things.”
It’s crystal clear that Satiija has big dreams, big promises to keep and maintain the continuous faith in him by his employees and business partners. “I don’t want to merely make more money, I want to do something different. I find that society, especially my society in my home country, is turning more and more materialistic, and greed seems to be the name of the game. While greed is good if put to achieve overall positive outcomes and objectives, it is indeed despicable if put to selfish purposes, and leads to the detriment of a majority. I see this happening all across northern India, which matters seem to somewhat better in southern India. I have given this a lot of though and have already drawn up the beginnings of a blueprint in my mind, on how I plan to change society for the better.”
As a path-finder and innovator of the Indian Diaspora community, Satiija by default plays an active role in the community, as a leader and a key bridge to access knowledge, expertise, resources and markets not only for the development of India, but also for the rest of the world. A noticeable and laudable effort he has taken on this direction by setting an example himself is his predilection today to expand into agri-business, and harness his energies and vast wealth to make a positive impact on the sector. While thinking big is second nature to the tycoon, his plans are impressive indeed. He has already kicked this off with an initiative to acquire more than 2.000 acres of land, in Canada in North America and in the Republic Georgia that straddles the cross-roads between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, for the agricultural development of apple orchards. Satiija has set up two controlled atmosphere cold storages in northern India for preserving the apples grown in Canada and Georgia to market them across India.
In Canada, he has zeroed in on the Prince Edward Island (aka PEI), a province in the state of Halifax for his agri-venture, where he is looking to acquire approximately 2500 acres of lush green agricultural land, for growing various varieties of apples hitherto unseen in Indian markets. Once established, this would probably be the biggest such orchard in the world. Talking about this new venture of his, Satiija says, “This is my ‘Gold to Golden Apples’ project … My way of ensuring that various delicious apple genera are not merely conserved and protected, but also become part of the genetic diversity of this fauna, in the form of a gene-bank. There are several varieties of the fruit that have immense rejuvenation and medicinal properties … though I suppose I would make money in this venture as well, it is not my primary motive – because any well run business will turn in a profit, I am not worried about that. One of my intentions is also to combat this adverse trend in commercial farming worldwide, which is ringing a death knell for diversity and killing off many astounding genera that nature offers us as part of its bounty – the benevolent apple genera I am talking about growing in my orchards is among them as well – there are such varieties of apples that are simply fabulous – like the proverbial apples that will keep doctors away. I will bring such varieties to India, and onwards take them to other parts of the world as well. In Canada, Prince Edward Island is an ideal sitting for this project, given its wondrous pastoral endowments and its ideal climatic conditions.”
He says the Canada part of his ‘Gold to Golden Apples’ project will kick in once he is successful in tying up all loose ends and the Canada – Halifax – Prince Edward Island venture starts bearing fruit. One thing at a time, he says. Simultaneously, Satiija is also mulling the expansion of his trading activities in the agri-business industry further by accessing the cashew and cocoa markets in Nigeria and Côte d’lvoire. We at NRI Achievers do wish him all success in his endeavours …