‘You need patience to succeed’ – Sudhir on his journey to a successful business career

Iconic Businessman Sudhir Ruparelia is a big name in Uganda. A business leader of the reputable Ruparelia Group, a magnate employs over 6,000 people and more was named the 18th richest man in Africa by Forbes. He had an interaction with Monitor’s Edgar R. Batte to share his journey to a successful business career.

How did you end up becoming a businessman?
Well, doing business is probably many people’s vision. People will try self-employment or create business to support their families. Our family is by nature and background of business people and it has been for many generations. So to me doing business comes naturally.

What was your first business venture?
I sold salt and beer which I started in December 1986 with the capital of $25,000.

$25,000 is no small amount by any measure, where and how did you get the capital?
In 1972 when Amin (former Ugandan President) expelled Asians, I went to England so while there I worked so many jobs and I saved part of my earnings. I drove taxis, worked in supermarkets, worked in a butchery, a bakery, you name it.

At some point I worked in a factory during the night and would study during the day. Man, life has not been easy. I took my education important though.

What does it take to be a successful employer?
I think to be a successful employer you need to be down-to-earth. You need to be approachable and be able to have a one-on-one chat with your employees.
As an employer you’ll need to come down from your position and down to their (employees) level and show them you’re not different from them.

How big is your workforce?We employ over 6,000 people at 16 businesses which include Crane Bank, Crane Forex Bureau, Speke Hotel, Speke Resort Munyonyo, Kabira Country Club, Gold Star Insurance Company Limited, Dolphin Suites, Rosebud Limited, Sanyu FM, Kampala Parents School, Kampala International School Uganda and Meera Investments among others.

How best can you then motivate your workers? You have to at least reward your workers for good work done. Every year everyone has to get a pay rise of between 8 to 10 per cent and for others a promotion on the job.

You have been employed before and self-employed today, what’s your advice to the employee and self-employed? When I was still working for somebody I was committed to my job and did my work diligently.

They noticed and that’s how I was able to be promoted and rise through the ranks. It is these promotions that led to my success. People who are not committed to their jobs don’t go so far in life. In London I started out as a temporary staff at a factory and later became an accountant of the factory. I grew from earning as little as 12 pounds at one time to earning 18,000 pounds a year. Of course I did some side jobs because I also had a leg in real estate from which I made more money

How do you balance between your work and family?I start my day at 6a.m and I work up to 8 o’clock in the evening. After 8p.m I will have a meeting or two and then go home and try to spend time with family. I reserve Sunday for family. Of my three children the last one is joining university now. Miira the eldest has just completed her 16 houses in Kololo so she’s now going on holiday. Sheenah is at Crane Banks where she started as cashier and grew through the ranks until she became head of the credit department. Rajiv is at university in London but during holidays he will be here supervising sites. He is currently supervising seven building sites where he does the orders and purchase of materials as well as supervising personnel. Every evening we meet over light diner and take stock of the day as we bond as a family. As an employer, what’s your comment on the work attitude of Ugandan?Ugandans are very enterprising people. They always want to succeed very fast and there’s something wrong with that. You need to start from the bottom and climb up the ladder. Someone will leave university, get a job and after a year will want to become the boss. These are the majority. It is good to be ambitious but more important to allow yourself grown through the ranks. The other lot will be willing to climb the ladder slowly. The patient ones are normally better employees and go far in life.When not working, how do you spend your ‘free’ time?I like going out to Lake Victoria and I do this at least every fortnight.

What does the future look like for you? The future is bright.

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