From the days of penniless existence to a multi-millionaire, Afzal Kahn prides himself as a truly self-made man. He speaks to Asian Enterprise about the power of dreams and hard work.
There are few entrepreneurs who can boast of being the designer of choice for Hollywood stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Daryl Hannah and the entire Chelsea football squad. The reason is hardly a mystery as Afzal Kahn is among the top five designers of bespoke vehicles in the world.He excels in taking on world class car brands like Aston Martin, Bentley and Range Rover, stripping them to the core to create a whole new Project Kahn car. His strength lies in unique wheel designs and state of the art accessories created by his automotive design company in Bradford. “I loved cars right from the age of 10. Even as a kid I couldn’t help looking at car dealerships and knowing deep down that I could, in some way, totally re-invent it. That is what we do here with a team of 60 talented staff. We are the Gucci of the car industry,” says the 37-year-old design and property tycoon.A classic example of his genius is in the James Bond car, DB9S, that sells for £120,000 or the swanky McLaren SLR that he cruises in. His company sells an average of 250 bespoke vehicles a year but Kahn is not one to rest on his laurels.
He is developing a parallel property business under Kahn Landmark and has a buying power of over £75 million with properties worldwide. He has also stepped into the world of watch design and is on the lookout for a talented fashion designer who can help launch the Project Kahn fashion label.He recently purchased the UK’s most expensive number plate, F1, and plans to roll it out with the relaunch of the unique Range Rover Cosworth.“I wouldn’t call myself a car fanatic but more of a designer. Kahn watches is something I am still experimenting with and I would like to work with a fashion designer who has ambition and passion for his or her work, may even have a small set up that they are willing to take forward under the Project Kahn banner. “In the meanwhile, I jumped on to the property ladder at the right time and now am in the process of building 2,000 apartments in Bradford city centre.
These will be one or two bedroom canal front affordable houses called The Channel. The boom that was witnessed in every other part of the country is happening in Bradford now. Businesses are growing from strength to strength with a number of cash rich people. It is a great place to invest with all the city centre regeneration going on,” he explains. The son of an ice-cream man originally from Pakistan, Kahn recalls the days when he had to go to school in Wellington boots because his family could not afford proper school shoes. But it was his sheer passion and hard work that refused to let that be a barrier to his success.
At the age of 14 he took up his first job selling eggs door to door – far removed from his design ambitions.“Ok, it wasn’t the perfect start but it was while I was walking around selling eggs that I began to aspire to somehow becoming involved in the car industry. I worked for free in a plastic moulding factory in order to get some experience in the manufacturing industry. The hours were long and tiring, but I gained the knowledge I needed and it held me in good stead. That part of my working life is vital.
My parents taught me the value of hard work and had instilled in me the ethics of being a good worker,” he recalls.He started out by selling tyres manufactured by others from a small shack for 10 years before setting up Kahn Design, a company specialising in couture wheel manufacture and design. In 1996, Kahn Design’s first set of wheels came into being. Launching the completely new and innovative RS-R and the RS-S alloy wheels, it wasn’t long before Kahn’s designs began to cause a stir in the international automotive industry.
“I was the first manufacturer to design a wheel with a spoke that ran to the very edge of the rim. It’s strange that now this particular style has become one of the most replicated in the world. It’s just good to see that all those hours of hard work finally paid off.”
Before long, Kahn had expanded his business from wheels to designing car accessories, exhausts and body kits. In 2001 he set up V12 Power Ltd, now one of the most prestigious bespoke vehicle specialists in the UK. But keen to move away from dealing with standard manufactured vehicles, Kahn decided to go one step further and bring his own touch to bespoke vehicles and Project Kahn was born. Now the most successful automotive design house in the UK, Kahn is adamant that his company ethos remains unchanged. “The company’s ethos is all about European styling. We make tailored vehicle solutions for bespoke clients who want to break free from the conformities of standard manufactures. I’ve no interest in the bling aspect or culture. Other people can do all that if they wish. For me, it’s about meeting people who are creative and talented, coming up with fresh ideas and developing new tactics and concepts that can take my company forward.
“I’m still working long hours, still trying to make time for my family and ensure when I have children they grow up in a safe and secure environment. I have never forgotten the hard times, nor my roots.
Don’t listen to anybody who says that you can’t achieve your dreams and be prepared for a hard slog. You don’t get anything on a plate – be prepared to work at a hundred miles per hour,” he stresses.
That is exactly the mantra he has lived by and his list of achievements speak for themselves. As for the future, it’s simple: “I want to be the No. 1 designer in the world