April - May 2004
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.
& Kuldip Riat With Their Children, Ashwin (Left), Renu
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."
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."
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)
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."
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.
Channi SIngh & Mr. APS Chawla
With Sathi Ludhinvi, A Journalist
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.
does it feel of being successful in the very part of London where
you studied and collected 'Littlewood pools forms' from door to door",
"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.
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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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