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April - May 2004

Business Forum

Struggles and Successes: Paul Riat - Confident & Conscientious Businessman

Nirpaul Singh Riat, popularly known as Paul was Born in Kenya to an industrious Sikh civil engineer, Darshan Singh Riat. The family moved to Tanzania soon after the birth of Nirpaul. Struggles in his life started from very early age. His mother diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1963 was immediately flown to London for the operation. Sadly she passed away at a young age of 36 when Paul was only seven. His father, a very learned man, a poet with 3 books to his credit was also a successful business man. Death of his mother put the family in turmoil.

Paul & Kuldip Riat With Their Children, Ashwin (Left), Renu & Kurran

Describing the sad events of those days, Nirpaul says, ""We were all so young, we were all shipped to India for our education, this did not work out because the education system was so different. I was shuffled from one school to another. Eventually I settled in a convent school in Jullundhur. My elder sister, Gurcharan, played the role of mother and guided me through my school."

"Your father seems to have been one of the greatest influences in your life. Tell me a bit more about him, I asked.
"Yes, that is a fact. My father, a very learned man and a proud Sikh, was also very strict, a hard taskmaster.At times I hated him for throwing me at the deep end. But we had a love-hate relationship. As a toddler, I would be dragged, much to my resentment, to all his projects and his various meetings with architects, surveyors etc.

Now I realise that the knowledge that I gained in his company at that age, are coming useful in my present business. As a child I would sit in his office on the 5th floor in Independence Avenue Dar-es-Salaam and draw images of multi storey blocks or open his when when no one was around and play with his revolver which he always carried for safaris. All these incidents have had great impact on my education and working life."
The young Nirpaul was sent to Jullundhar at a very young age to study at a Convent school. After two years in India he was suddenly called back to Tanzania and within a week put on a plane to London during the East African exodus. He was only 13 when he arrived at Heathrow airport wearing an oversized leather jacket with £5 in his pocket. The flight was ten hour late. The relatives who were supposed to receive him had given up and returned assuming that Nirpaul had missed the flight. A fellow passenger delivered him to Peckham (S.E. London)
How did you face the world at that young age"? I asked.
"This was winter of 1968. I was a young turbaned Sikh, living in the rough parts of South East London. I suffered constant racial abuse both at school and on the street; but this hardened my determination to succeed. After a brief spell in Kent I moved to Shephards Bush, West London at the age of 16 and rented a very small bed-sit at £2 per week. The racial abuse did not stop and one Saturday afternoon I got so fed up I walked into the nearest barber shop and asked for a short back and sides."
In London to continued his education and learnt to survive the hard way. He subsidised his school studies at the age of 14 by working in the Strawberry fields of Kent and working evenings in the famous Martini factory on the Great West Road. The father, Sardar Darshan Singh always believed in hard work and honest living. The son naturally inherited these traits. After finishing his GCE 'O' and 'A' level, Nirpaul studied Civil Engineering at the Polytechnic of South Bank (now a University); and joined George Wimpey as an apprentice. He later joined Ward Ashcroft & Partners as a consulting engineer. He also worked for some time as an engineer with London Borough of Lambeth. It was an excellent training ground for his future success in property business.
With Channi SIngh & Mr. APS Chawla
Paul With Sathi Ludhinvi, A Journalist
Today, Paul Riat's diversified business activities are reaping rich harvest; and as a successful entrepreneur, he is one of the rising stars in the social and business life of West London's Asian community. His enormous portfolio includes hotel, apartments, import and export, bedding furniture and marble tiles. Moreover, he is always on the look out for expansion in related fields. I was able to corner this otherwise hard to find roving businessman at one of his outlets, the Marble Tile Centre, in Southall. Beneath Paul's polite, unassuming manners, there is granite-like determination to succeed in the competitive world of hotel and property business.
"How does it feel of being successful in the very part of London where you studied and collected 'Littlewood pools forms' from door to door", I asked.
"Oh, I am proud of it. I studied in Twickenham; and now I own quite a few properties in this area, including Bremic hotel, which is just next to the Rugby Club grounds. In nearby Hounslow, we own Park Court, a vast complex of modern, luxury apartments. It is all with the grace of God and my hard work. My day starts at 6.30 AM, I work out until 8 AM at the local Gym, and then make site visits to inspect various ongoing projects. The day is spent visiting the Marble Tile Centre warehouse, the hotel and inspecting potential projects. Although I have three offices in West London, my office in reality is my 4'4" Land Cruiser ", said Paul, with no trace of arrogance in his voice.
"How did you get the idea of marble tile business in this country where the house flooring is mainly wood or carpet", I asked.
"Yes. You are right. It was a difficult decision. However, I realised that all big houses and hotels tend to have marble floors. Instead of buying from others why shouldn't I invest in a business which will be a reliable supplier to my other business i.e. property and hotel business. For that very reason we invested in another line of our business i.e. bedding furniture business, which is also flourishing", said Paul Riat, his voice oozing confidence.
By this time fully convinced of Paul's business acumen, I turned to his other business-cum-entertainment interests. Paul is very fond of Indian music, especially classical singers from India and Pakistan. He has successfully introduced on the Asian circuit in UK some of the top vocal singers from the subcontinent including Talat Aziz, Ghulam Ali, Reshma, Mehdi Hasan among others. He promoted the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and on a local level he was responsible for promoting bhangra groups such as Alaap and Heera. He successfully organised concerts in Wembley Conference Centre and the Royal Albert Hall on various occasions. He was very actively involved in promoting Asian music in the 1980s and organised almost 200 concerts.
It is an interesting reflection of your personality", I commented; "But is it as profitable as your other business line", given that many people have burnt their fingers in this business.
"Music is my hobby, as are some other activities which are not profit-oriented. For example, I support G.K. Foundation, a charity that supports under-privileged children and cancer research. There are various charities which are actively supported by us", said Paul with some pride faintly reddening his cheeks
Paul Riat is very active in social and political field. He is Social and Cultural secretary of British Asian Conservative Link and World Punjabi Orgaization. He is also a trustee of G.K. Foundation. At present he is in the process of launching a new organization to assist in fund-raising for the underprivileged. He is founder of Spiritual Journey Foundation, and actively involved in raising funds for the Guru Nanak Sikh School , Hayes Middlesex.
Therefore, it is not all business. Paul Riat is essentially a family man. A devoted husband, he actively supports his beautiful wife Kuldip in all her social and altruistic activities. She is a biology lecturer. He is very proud of his three children, Ashwin, the eldest, studied Travel Tourism and Hotel Management, Renu (recently qualified medical doctor) and the young Kurran, still at St. Paul School in Barnes, creating waves in his own way in music & Maths. (Of him, we will say more at some other time. Suffice it to say that his first album of 'shabads' (religious hymns) is already out in the market. India Link International will send it free if you subscribe or renew your subscription between Baisakhi & Diwali 2004)

True to Indian tradition, Paul Riat's family is not confined to his nuclear family in West London. He considers his two brothers, one in Tanzania and the other in Essex as part of his family. The youngest, Arvind Paul Singh in Tanzania has been made the sole inheritor of the father's business. Hindpaul Singh in Essex also agreed to this initiative taken by Paul. This noble gesture, in these days when so many family litigations destroy family harmony, is worth admiring. This is a reflection of the spiritual strand in Paul's personality, a businessman with a conscience. When I asked him about his philosophy of life, Paul, unhesitatingly remarked; "Hard work, honesty and faith in God".

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