There seems to be a serious shortage of playboys among the sons of rich Asians in the UK. Wherever you look, the children in the big business houses, who are taking over and expanding the empires their fathers built, appear to be disappointingly well behaved!
In the latest Rich List, the number of billionaires has gone up from three in 2011 to seven in 2012 despite the recession and possibly because of it (acquisitions are cheaper). The net worth of the 101 people on the authoritative Rich List, compiled annually by the ethnic Asian Media and Marketing Group, has risen from a total of £41.2bn to £45.6bn – an increase of 10.7 per cent. More significantly, the Asian business community has created tens of thousands of jobs in the UK, so that Asians can no longer be accused of living off welfare benefits as they once were.
In the rankings at the top end, it may be that the likes of the Hindujas and Lakshmi Mittal will play tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee in the years to come. Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, whose family has come out as number one this year, saw their net wealth increase by £3bn to £12.5bn. Mittal, chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal, the biggest steel and mining group in the world, is in second place as he is down £2.5bn to £11bn because of the drop in the global steel market. Mittal, relatively young at 62 compared with the heads of other Asian families, works closely with his 37-year-old son and heir, Aditya, who is the chief financial officer at ArcelorMittal (which is 40 per cent family owned).
What is remarkable about the Hinduja family is its unity, a quality not always apparent in premier Indian business houses. By any measure, 2012 was an exceptionally successful year for the Hinduja family headed by brothers Srichand (“SP”) and Gopichand in London, Prakash in Geneva and Ashok in Mumbai. Everyone seems to get on with everyone else, with due respect paid to elders, especially to SP, the 77-year-old chairman of the group. Below them are members of the next generation to whom the torch is being passed - SP’s daughters, Shanu and Vinoo; Gopi’s sons, Sanjay and Dheeraj; Prakash’s sons, Ajay and Ramkrishan (Remi); and Ashok’s film director daughter, Ambika.
All have their responsibilities and are adept at what they do. Sanjay is chairman of the Gulf Oil Corporation; Dheeraj is chairman of Ashok Leyland; Remi looks after IT enabled services from New York; Ajay, who is on the board of the IndusInd Bank, is focused on banking and healthcare; Shanu is involved with Hinduja Global Services and the Hinduja Foundation; and Vinoo is busy with the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai. Below them, their children are at school in America, Switzerland and the UK so there will be quite a spread of international experience and linguistic skills available to run a global empire in the decades to come.
The most important development in 2012 was undoubtedly the Hindujas’ acquisition for $1.1bn of Houghton, the US lubricants giant, with the bid led by Sanjay, 48, who has been chairman of Gulf Oil since August 2005. During six months of negotiations, Sanjay crossed the Atlantic from London to Houghton’s headquarters in Forge Valley, Philadelphia, several times and beat 20 rivals to win the game. “Of course, you get satisfaction if you succeed,” laughs Sanjay. “The thrill, as in any sport, is when you do well you just feel on top of the world.”
So why haven’t the Hindujas fallen out as so many Indian families do where there is money? “Because we have spent all our time with them (his parents’ generation) since childhood,” explains Sanjay. “We are seeing them in action and we are with them most of the time – in the office, at home. Since you are young, it’s instilled into you. Unity is our strength and we all recognise that. And if you believe in that, why would you harm it?” Sanjay adds, “All family members start working outside the family and then come inside. I had Credit Suisse First Boston and Chase Manhattan Bank and then came into the family. I must have been 23 or 24.”
Sanjay is a bit like Mahendra Singh Dhoni whom he has recruited to be Gulf Oil’s ambassador in India – quiet, understated but capable when the occasion warrants of being able to score the business equivalent of a fast century. Sanjay describes Dhoni as “very humble, very nice, down to earth, and easy to speak to. As you know in India cricket is a religion.” In his generation, Sanjay is the only one to have so far resisted the charms of marriage. His passion is motor racing. But here, too, Sanjay, who is known to have owned the odd Ferrari, mixes business with business. “Gulf Oil is the sponsor for Aston Martin at Le Mans in the 24 endurance race,” he points out.
It is also worth examining how the succession is working out in Lord Swraj Paul’s family. At 82, Lord Paul seems a happy man. Though the chairman of Caparo readily admits that “steel is going through a fairly bad period”, he is totally confident that his legacy is safe and that the company he has built over the last 40 years can be entrusted to his children and grandchildren. He has full faith in his younger son, Angad, who though only 42, has been chief executive of the entire Caparo group since 2003. “Number one, it is in very safe hands; number two, it is being guided very well; and number three, we have the business as strong as it ever was," asserts Lord Paul. Caparo makes such steel products as tubes and engineering products though it is also venturing into carbon fibre composites. Apart from its factories in the Midlands, where the workforce has remained steady at around 3,000, there are 32 plants in India and seven or so in the United States.
As for Lord Paul’s elder sons, aged 55, “Ambar is involved in hotels”, while his twin, Akash, “looks at the commercial side”. His daughter, Anjli, spends some time touring the Midlands and also overseeing India’s biggest conference centre in Greater Noida in Delhi that is “not quite complete”. Grandsons Akhil and Arush work at Caparo in London. A third grandson, Shalin, is doing his internship as a lawyer. One granddaughter, Shaila, “has fallen in love with India so she is working there” for the family. Another granddaughter, Anika, is helping to run a family restaurant, Christopher’s, in Covent Garden in London.
Angad, asked whether the responsibility of running such a global empire sits lightly on his shoulders, does not seem the least bit cowed. “My father built a business doing certain things to a point – I have been doing it for 10 years,” he responds. “I was charged with it 10 years ago and I built the business to something different. My father gave me a responsibility 10 years ago and I have worked to that responsibility. We have got a company three times larger than the one I inherited which earns strong margins and which has expanded internationally. That’s all that matters.”
“The reason why I built it (Caparo) in India is actually because I was pissed off by the way my father was treated in the 1980s,” declares Angad, referring to the controversy caused by Lord Paul’s bid for Escorts and DCM. Singapore-based Sri Prakash Lohia, 60, the world’s largest polyester manufacturer, valued at £2.25bn, would have been included in list at number 4, since he is setting up in London, but his entry came too late for this year. He is Lakshmi Mittal’s brother-in-law as he is married to the steel tycoon’s younger sister, Seema. Lohia’s heir is his son, Amit, 38, who is also in the business (Amit, like Mittal’s son, Aditya, was educated at Wharton Business School in America).
Cash ‘n’ Carry
There are also a few Pakistani families on the Rich List, the most notable of whom is Sir Anwar Pervez. As the richest Pakistani in Britain, Sir Anwar, 78, is chairman of the Bestway group with a turnover of £2.5bn. It has cash and carry in Britain supplying 70,000 big and small shops in the UK, plus banking and cement in Pakistan – Sir Anwar wishes he could sell more cement to India. The young Anwar arrived in Britain in 1956 as a 21-year-old from Pakistan with only a modest education. He made his way to Bradford to work for a while as a bus conductor. He began with the proverbial small cornershop.
Sitting with him is his son, Dawood, 38, who is company secretary and assuming important new responsibilities at Bestway such as developing the export market. Dawood, himself the father of two young children, went to Eton College, then studied politics and modern history at Manchester University, followed by jurisprudence at Oxford. Asked why there is a noticeable lack of playboys among the children of wealthy Asian businessmen in Britain, Dawood treats what is meant to be a light question seriously and says, “This is more to do with the Asian work ethic. You will find that Asian business families are not very good at producing playboys.”
When they were still at school, Anwar would send his sons to work in his stores but told them not tell anyone they were the boss’s children. Sir Anwar agrees he has tried not to spoil his children: “Some fathers would say, ‘Have this or have that’.....” When Dawood was at University, his father wanted him to have a better, safer car. But Dawood insisted he was content with his Daihatsu Charade.
“When your father has made a success of himself, when you are brought up in the UK you are brought up with certain ethics,” he remarks. “You are brought up with a view that inheritance isn’t necessarily anything to be proud of. You have to feel you have to earn your own way in life otherwise you won’t be taken seriously.” Dawood makes an important point about why family businesses appear to be riding out the recession better: “With a business like Bestway you need part of the family managing the business. Yes, you can professionalise it but all that happens when you professionalise it is that your overheads start going up. The fact that owners are actively running and managing their own business makes a big difference to how a business is run, especially a low margin business.”
Father and son discuss how “values” are passed on from one generation to the next. Dawood says, “Let’s say my son wants to be a painter. Fine, he can be a painter if it makes him happy; maybe I will help him find a place to live but I don’t think he should expect to benefit from the rest of the business. If a family member or child wants to benefit from the business they should come and work in it. We are not a business that gives dividends to shareholders; it does not work like that. We reward people who work in the business.” He goes on, “The idea of passing values is that it takes two to tango. On one hand you should want to pass values, on the other hand, the other person has to be receptive. I am fairly receptive.” Sir Anwar murmurs proudly, “He’s never been a difficult child."