Few Asian moneymen have ventured into the risky world of football, but when you are part of the world’s most successful Indian family, work with flamboyant multi-millionaires and have a track record of backing winners, then it’s a gamble worth taking.Amit Bhatia is part of the group dubbed the Billionaire Boys Club, who own a stake in Queens Park Rangers Football Club.
The 30-year-old is Vice Chairman of Queens Park Rangers and sits on the board along with father-in-law Lakshmi Mittal, and Formula One tycoons Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore. Their combined wealth has seen the west London club branded as one of the richest in England.
The Mittal family bought a 20 per cent stake in QPR in December 2007, hoping to help the club gain promotion from The Championship, just one league lower than the lucrative Premiership division in the English football league.
Two years on and the Hoops are on course for a playoff place and a chance of entering the coveted Premier League. If they gain promotion, it will mean mouth-watering clashes next season with Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and Manchester City, which is owned by billionaires from Abu Dhabi.So far QPR has not splashed the cash like Chelsea and City, but Bhatia told Asian Enterprise that the club is prepared to flex its financial muscle when required in the Premiership.
“It is a bit premature to say we will adopt the spending habits of a Chelsea or Manchester City,” Bhatia explains, “but factually there is a higher degree of spending in that league.”
“You have to pay for quality, so those clubs who have a great spending power are justifiably going to do just that. The dream is to have our club play competitively against the big 5 in the Premiership.
“When we have played Chelsea and Manchester United [in the domestic cup competitions] they have been memorable fixtures which have made me incredibly proud as a fellow supporter and Vice-Chairman.”
But for now the Mittals are happy at the steady progress of QPR, having bought the club when they were rock bottom of the Championship. Unlike a lot of football club owners, the Mittals and Bhatia are not looking at short-term success. The current season is fairing well for the Hoops who are positioning themselves in the play-off zone comfortably. Bhatia revealed he hopes QPR will achieve promotion to the Premier League in the next two to three years.
“Since the day we became involved with QPR, I have expressed that this is a long term commitment which would challenge us on a daily basis. Progress has been steady which is the most important factor.
“We were 24th, bottom of the Championship, when we bought QPR and that season we finished 14th. Last season we finished 11th and the 2009-2010 season is already seeing QPR positioned well above 11th . So you can see we’re making the climb and learning well as we do it. Our attack for promotion is conservative but it’s a smart strategy of building a solid team and foundation so when success comes knocking it will be sustained.”
This patient strategy is down to a wealth of experience in the boardroom at Loftus Road both in business and sport. Ecclestone, president of Formula One Management, and Italian Briatore, the former owner of the Renault team, provides the latter.Bhatia admits there are disagreements in the boardroom but it never gets out of hand. “Challenging each other and having constructive debate is very healthy. We agree on most things but there are times the board will disagree on certain issues. It is always resolvable and inevitably we come to a better solution.
“Bernie and Flavio have both been extremely successful in their fields, and our board is better off because of our combined experiences. I take an active role in the board and find it a great hands-on experience.”
But Bhatia’s main inspiration behind his business mind is father-in-law Mittal, owner of steel giant ArcelorMittal Steel and the richest Indian in the world.Bhatia, who married Vanisha at the Palace of Versailles in 2004, said he has learnt a lot from the multi-billionaire.
” He is the most inspirational of persons. Alongside the well documented professional successes are his intelligence and acumen; his warmth and compassion. Though we spend a lot of time together I am constantly surprised and continually motivated by him. There is no doubt that along with my father, my father-in-law is my ultimate role model -one I admire greatly and hope to emulate always.”
Bhatia, who was born in Delhi, appears to possess the same community spirit of his mentor in trying to help others less privileged. He is chairman of QPR in The Community Trust, a charitable organisation which helps 100,000 kids a year through co-hosted projects. Bhatia even ran a triathlon this summer to raise money for the Trust.The Trust is also extending a hand over to India with a football tournament in Mumbai.
“We are very excited to be involved The south Mumbai Challenger which is set to gather over 500 school teams to play in one of India’s largest football tournaments. At the end of the tournament 2 students will be chosen to come to UK for professional training at QPR for 6 weeks.”
“We are hoping to hold it in the middle of December, the student participation is overwhelming. “So many young children want to play football now just as much as they want to play cricket.”
Another initiative that showcases the family’s determination to help others is the Mittal Champions Trust, which nurtures India’s top Olympic athletes.It was set up in 2005 to assist Indian participation in the Olympics with the view to increase medal count as a very welcomed by-product. One athlete who came through the Trust was Abhinav Bindra, who became India’s first individual Olympic gold medallist with his triumph in the air rifle shooting event in last year’s Beijing tournament.Bhatia said he has high hopes for the London Olympics in 2012.
“We are getting the athletes ready for London 2012 by sending them to world class training centres, where the likes of Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods train. Until this point India’s talented athletes did not have the best training amenities, for my family this seemed an unfair disadvantage that we wanted to help erase.”
“We provide assistance to athletes from seven Olympic sports including; squash, badminton, shooting and archery. With investment and nurture we hope India will have a successful London 2012.
“I define success as doing better today than you did yesterday and better tomorrow than today; so more than one gold, more than one silver, and more than one bronze medal. It’s healthy to be ambitious and I am very excited for the games.”
Whilst he is undoubtedly a sports enthusiast, Bhatia is also a very successful entrepreneur. He incubated Swordfish Investments, a private equity vehicle in 2005 and has invested in a wide range