Much has happened in the UK since my last column. The UK has voted for Brexit, PM Cameron has stepped down, PM May now leads the nation and whilst all of this was happening, people could be forgiven for missing a very important announcement for the Indian community. I bring to you the appointment of a good friend of the Indian community, a champion for the diaspora and now, the Lord Gadhia. To be accurate the title is: Baron Gadhia, of Northwood in the County of Middlesex.
I have known Lord Gadhia for a number of years and it was clear from the start that in him the Indian community had a champion of Industry, of Commerce, of Public Service and a man whose core is based on the values of Sanathan Dharma. Indeed, Lord Gadhia sought the blessings of the Rig Veda during his swearing in ceremony in the House of Lords. A first in British history.
Lord Gadhia is a British Citizen of Indian origin, born in Uganda and raised in the UK. His family came to Britain during the expulsion of 50,000+ Asians from Uganda in 1972. He was educated at Cambridge University and also the London Business School.
He is an investment banker and has worked with major banks like Barings, ABN AMRO and Barclays before joining Blackstone as a Senior Managing Director, and is an expert on BRIC economies.
Lord Gadhia has demonstrated an active record of public service deploying his financial experience, strategic skills and international networks for the benefit of public bodies and helping the UK’s public global business relationships. Indeed, he has been recognised as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum, which convenes with world leaders in Davos.
In April 2016, Lord Gadhia was appointed by HM Treasury to the Board of UK Government Investments (UKGI), which brings together UKFI and all the other assets owned by the UK Government under one umbrella holding company becoming the Government’s centre of excellence in corporate finance and corporate governance.
Lord Gadhia has provided significant input in strengthening UK-India relations and has accompanied delegations to the subcontinent with former Prime Minister David Cameron, former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. He is a Member of the UK-India CEO Forum which was established during Prime Narendra Modi’s historic visit to UK in November 2015.
I met up with Lord Gadhia and asked him a few questions:
- What is your current position?
I now have, what is euphemistically called, a “plural” career. I thought this would give me greater flexibility and a better work-life balance, but I am busier now than ever, particularly given my recent appointment to the House of Lords.
On the private side, I am a Director of BGL Group, which owns comparethemarket.com. I also advise Intas Pharmaceuticals, a global generic pharmaceutical company headquartered in India which has just made the largest investment by an Indian company in UK, post-Brexit, of over £600 million.
- You have had an extraordinary journey from your birth country to your home now in the UK. Can you tell us a bit about your toughest challenges, your proudest achievements and of course, your incredible success as a businessman, and now also within the political arena?
It has been quite a journey from a village in Gujarat to the suburbs of London via the hills of Kampala. Having a triple identity – Indian origin, born in Uganda and raised in Britain might seem challenging for many but I see it as a unique advantage. The beauty of wearing “three hats” – either separately or all at the same time – is that you don’t feel confined to any one culture and you can transcend them all.
As a young banker, I lived through the collapse of Barings in 1995. It was a “Black Swan” moment for all of us working at Barings and, indeed, the City fraternity more widely. We eventually came through this difficultly but the whole episode taught me to “expect the unexpected” and this has helped me develop a sense of perspective about similar events.
- Who/What inspires you?
I am most inspired by people who have been successful and yet retained their authenticity. Whether it’s an investor like Warren Buffet in US, an entrepreneur like Sir James Dyson in UK or a politician like PM Narendra Modi in India. They all have a gift for articulating a powerful vision and at the same time they also demonstrably “walk the talk”.
- What has been the biggest obstacle in your career?
When RBS took over ABN AMRO, I found myself in a difficult situation. My team faced an uncertain future in a new organisation which had an ambiguous commitment to our business area. I was loathed to see our successful franchise lose momentum and break-up but I could foresee a period of slow but sure attrition ahead. Fortunately, I was able to find safe harbour for 50 people at Barclays Capital – but these type of large team moves, en masse, happen very rarely in the City.
- Who has been the biggest influence in your career to date?
It is difficult to point to a single individual but I would say that the quality of experience which I gained working at Barings in the corporate finance team during the 1990s has been an enduring influence through my subsequent career. I had the best training possible and worked with some outstanding individuals who have gone onto excel in different roles.
- What would you like to achieve before GE2020?
I would like to see all the political parties select more British Indian candidates for winnable seats in the House of Commons. There are currently 9 people of Indian origin (and one more if you count Bob Blackman MP, who is an honorary Indian and a great friend of our community). It would be wonderful if we could double this to 20 British Indians in the House of Commons by 2020.
- If you were Prime Minister, what one policy would you like to implement?
Our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, speaks of making Britain a great meritocracy, a place where advantage is based on merit not privilege; where it’s your talent and hard work that matter, not where you were born, who your parents are or what your accent sounds like. This is music to my ears.
British Indians were promised during the EU referendum that being outside the EU would enable more talented people, including Indian students and professionals to come to the UK. I believe this promise needs to be honoured.
- The Prime Minister considers you as a leading expert on UK Indian Diaspora relations, can you share with us your thoughts on the special bonds between the two nations and how this will develop over the coming decades?
It is no exaggeration to say that the next decade for Britain will be dominated by Brexit and therefore the bilateral relationship with India will be framed in this context. It is a defining moment in British history as we grapple with these new realities. We stand at a crossroads for the UK and its future relationship with the rest of the world. In this context, I hope that India will view us as: “a friend in need is a friend indeed” and recognise both the necessities and opportunities opened up by our departure from the European Union.
We also need to constantly work on the relationship and can’t be complacent. A respected Indian businessman described the UK-India relationship to me as being like a long married couple. We are so familiar with each other that it is easy to take each other for granted and sometimes we need to find a new spark to revive the relationship. I hope some of us can encourage those new sparks.
- Your faith is very important to you; can you tell us how it has helped you in your life?
Being anchored in a set of timeless values provides you with a sense of perspective and balance. I believe that both Dharma (right conduct) and Karma (you reap what you sow) are also good ways to approach other aspects of your life – be they personal or business relationships.
As a result, you shouldn’t seek to be “somebody” but achieve “something”. If you do your duty, then everything else will fall into place. In the political world this philosophy is sometimes considered as naïve. But we need to change that mindset and encourage more people to get on with doing the right thing.
- If you were marooned on a desert island, whichever historical figure would you like to spend your time with, and why?
Since being isolated on a desert island could become quite depressing, it would have to be an entertainer that has made me laugh the most: Robin Williams, a great comedian and actor from films like Good Will Hunting, Mrs Doubtfire and Dead Poets Society. And, together, we could seize the day.
KK: I trust you found my ‘Konversation’ with Lord Gadhia interesting. Watch this space as I bring many more interesting personalities to you over the coming months. Do remember, you can also follow me on twitter, though you might need to have a robust constitution since I don’t mix my words and can be rather blunt on occasions.