They’re young, they’re rich, and they’re Asian! Bold young Asian millionaires are the new captains of industry, says Spinder Dhaliwal
Fast and furious. That’s the pace of Asian wealth for the new generation. At the cutting edge of the British entrepreneurial community are Asian businesses. Asian wealth in the UK is now more diverse and crosses from first through to second and third generations. This emerging and evolving Asian business community is driven by a shift towards higher value industrial sectors. We’re now seeing more and more young entrepreneurs appear on the Sunday Times Rich List and it’s worth noting the pace and direction of this movement and what sectors they are in.
The global economy has provided these high-tech young entrepreneurs with new, strategic and creative ways to get ahead. The dot com boom created enormous wealth, ebookers.com founder Dinesh Dhamija once told me that the internet works best for pornography, travel and gambling. He should know, he created an enormously successful global brand and survived the dot com bubble, SARS and beyond while others fell. The new generation of Asian entrepreneurs are set to embrace this fast route to wealth, with many of them making their first million by 40.
So how did these young magnates make their money? It’s interesting to see the pace and direction of the next generation of Asian entrepreneurs. Do they have the drive their parents had, or has education hindered repeating the entrepreneurial success story. They may be too quick to purchase their first Mercedes, but they still have much to offer. Whilst they are more integrated, more educated and more IT literate, they lack the family backing and access to subsidised family labour that the first generation enjoyed. It doesn’t seem to have slowed them down though.Several of them found their fortunes in IT. Gibraltar-based Anurag Dikshit is worth an estimated £812m. Still under 40 and already retired from the business he built his fortune on, the internet gambling dynamo found success after writing the software for the online poker site PartyGaming. Philanthropist Azeem Ibrahim, 31, started his own IT consultancy company in 1997 and is now worth in the region of £60m. Despite starting in IT, this Glasgow-born entrepreneur has made his fortune in finance. European Commerce and Mercantile Bank specialise in accounts for corporations and wealthy individual clients involved in commodity trading. Some young guns combine new tech with good old fashioned bricks and mortar. Shaf Rasul, 37, made his £82m fortune by creating Edinburgh-based E-net Computers and then investing in property, with his portfolio now extending to Dubai.
Telecoms based fledgling giant, Yoganathan Ratheesan, 32, launched his own London-based telecoms company, Lebara, in 2001 and is now worth around £50m. The company started selling international telephone calling cards, helping immigrants to keep in touch with family with cheap call rates. The company has moved into the mobile phone market, going into partnership with Vodafone last year.
Ajaz Ahmed, chairman of AKQA, made his fortune from advertising and at 36 years old is worth around £45m. AKQA is a pioneering digital advertising firm set to expand worldwide and boasts premier league clients such as Nike, Unilever, Microsoft and Coca-Cola.
Afzal Khan, 39 is worth at least £40m through his Bradford-based company Khan Design, which designs and styles cars for high profile clients including footballers and WAGs.
However, it’s not just IT that’s made a fortune for the new Asian wealth creators. There’s been a move away from the traditional ‘rag’ trade associated with many first generation businesses to high class, high street and cat walk design and fashion.
Manchester-based Rajan Group is run by brothers Rajan, 46, and Sanjay Kumar, 38, who have made their name and fortune in fashion and are worth around £65m. Meanwhile, father/son-in-law team, Raj Sehgal and Sanjeev Mehan, have made the grade with their fashion empire Visage, and are worth at least £47m.
The Asian love affair with property continues with Manchester-based developer Aneel Mussarat, 38, who tops the league with a whopping £145m accumulated through property. Another young Asian entrepreneur has stayed with the tried and tested cash and carry formula. Walsall-based Raj Chatha ran his first retail shop at the age of 18. Now 38 years old, Chatha and family are worth £70m through the family’s European Food Brokers group. The Whittalls Wines operation is part of this group. The attitude of today’s young Asian business entrepreneurs differs from the first-generation immigrant business people. Young people are more willing to make contacts outside the community and, unlike their parents, are more likely to trust non-family and friends for advice and financial backing. Their work ethic is different too. Young people want to work smart rather than work hard. But can long hours and hard work yield big rewards, like it did with the first generation?Perhaps today’s young entrepreneurs spend their money on designer clothes and luxury cars more readily than their parents did, but this extravagance is at odds with how their parents lived. The first generation looked at enterprise as a survival strategy. They were faced with prejudice, so they often pooled money from the community to start their businesses. They made a lot of sacrifices, but never spent their hard-earned money, especially not on designer clothes or even taxis. The next generation of Asian entrepreneurs may lack the fire in their belly, which drove their mothers and fathers, but they are gaining competitive advantage by capitalising on their education, skills, cultural knowledge and business contacts, both here and overseas. The success of the Asian business community is based on self-reliance, family involvement and incredibly hard work. The new generation have the adapted to a huge amount of change and their story teaches us the value of flexibility.
Dr Spinder Dhaliwal is the author of Making a Fortune – Learning from the Asian Phenomenon (Capstone £14.99) and has compiled Britain’s Richest Asians for the past five years.