Millionaire Dr Richie Nanda: from the streets of India to The Sunday Times Rich List | Video

European CEO interviews Dr Richie Nanda, Executive Chairman of the Shield Group, on how he moved from extreme poverty in India to being The Sunday Times Rich List


Millionaire Dr Richie Nanda has been on The Sunday Times Rich List for three years now, but his life wasn’t always so financially comfortable: Nanda grew up on the streets of India, surviving on a measly £10 per month salary. Aged 16 he discovered a talent for turning businesses around, first transforming his family’s failing restaurant, then, aged 22, a security business. Nanda, now Executive Chairman of the Shield Group, talks to European CEO about his rise from rags to riches, his leadership style, and whether rich people in the UK are given too much of a bad reputation.

European CEO: Well Richie, you’ve been on the Sunday Times Rich List for three years now, you’re currently ranked 490, but yours is really a rags-to-riches tale, you started out in India with your family’s restaurant businesses on just £10 per month. So how on earth did you grow to be worth £195mn?

Dr Richie Nanda: The £10 a month is a fact. This is not 60, 70 years ago, this is just 20 years ago. That’s when I entered the business, my dad had a paralytic stroke, so I entered the business of restauranting, and it was a tough life and I was there for six years, turned the business around, made it number one in Bombay, but I got tired of it. Knowing my personality of being an extrovert, reaching out to people, I couldn’t sit on my seat and wait for people to come to me, I had to go out to them, and then I started seeking out what could I do, whether I should do PR, advertising, marketing, I’m very creative, and then we had a small business called TOPS, it had a turnover of £2000 a month, nothing at all. I took the business on, and today we are where we are, we’re nearly $270m in revenues. We employ 93,000 people, we have 130 offices working in seven countries, we have 8000 customers, and yes, it’s been a tough journey.

Either my employees and my team members love me or they hate me

European CEO: Well you really did have a baptism of fire, so what’s your leadership stye would you say?

Dr Richie Nanda: I think I’m very hands on. I’m very in your face. Either my employees and my team members love me or they hate me, they can’t live with me. I’m very fast, and very true as well, which is very important. Your personality has got to be true, your customers, your employees, your partners, your shareholders, need to believe in you. And I think they do.

European CEO: You started in the business world at age 16, so that must mean that maybe you didn’t have any formal training, so where did you learn the art of business?

Dr Richie Nanda: Well, from the streets. In my restauranting business, I’ve cleaned dishes, I’ve picked up dirty plates, so when my father had a paralytic stroke, I didn’t sit on the boss’ chair and say, hey I’m the boss. So I had to spend nearly a year working outside the boss’ seat, because I believe that unless you work harder than the employees you don’t know more than the employees, and you’re not more committed than the employees, you can’t be the boss.

European CEO: Well how did you get people to respect you, because you started out at age 16, so surely thought you were just not capable of running a business?

Dr Richie Nanda: So the first day in my restaurant business, I was 16 and a half. There was a guy who was serving someone, the fork fell down, and I said would you mind picking that up. So he looked at me and he turned his face away. They were unionised at that time. So I asked somebody else who was cleaning the dishes, can he help. He said no. That’s the day I realised that people will only respect you when you do things before them, ahead of them, you work longer hours than them. That’s when they respect leadership.

European CEO: Well you obviously put a lot of importance on customer care, I actually read that you said that even if one of your clients says they owe you £20,000 less, then you’ll take their word for that, and so obviously it’s very admirable to have the mentality that the customer is always right, but is it really realistic in business?

Dr Richie Nanda: You know, business can’t be done with just realism, numbers and PNLs and balance sheets. It has to be done with the heart. If you see all the big companies when they get it wrong, there’s been this focusing on numbers only. You know when you’re wrong, and when the customer says listen, you’ve messed up, you can give them two things, you can give an argument and lose the customer, and they will go out and tell ten more customers, you know what, Shield is bad, TOPS is bad. Or you can say, you know what, it’s my bad, say I’m sorry and you’re right, we’ll go to the insurance company now.

[B]usiness can’t be done with just realism, numbers and PNLs and balance sheets. It has to be done with the heart

European CEO: Well I imagine the security business in India isn’t easy, especially 22-years-ago when you started I have heard you talk about the mafia, so how did you build a business in this environment?

Dr Richie Nanda: You know, when I got int o the security business 22 years ago, I was a young boy, and the mafia was at its peak in Bombay at that time, and we secured most of the Bollywood guys, all the actors, producers, and the mafia wanted to extort money from these guys, or get money or do whatever. We came in their way. So it was a tough fight. So I remember producers coming to me and saying, Mr Nanda, what do we do, how do we handle this? I said, listen, the bad news is they’re against you, but the good news is the police and we are with you. So if criminals think they’re smart, we can be smarter.

European CEO: Did you have to deal with much corruption, and if so how did you overcome that?

Dr Richie Nanda: When I used to live in India earlier, I just thought corruption is the way the world moves there. Only when you start working here or other parts of the world you realised there’s nothing called corruption here, and it’s so amazing. In India, when you’re working, half the time you’re spending handling other issues, like corruption, union issues, and political issues, and bureaucracy. Here it’s just plain work. And it was difficult, but then I think a stage came when we said we can’t do it. So we’ve lost some businesses, we’ve lost some friends, because we didn’t allow corruption, and I think it’s in a man’s own strength if he can say I don’t want to be corrupt, and we took a tough stand to say we won’t do it.

European CEO: Well obviously India is one of the BRIC countries, so how do you think the business environment in India is changing?

Dr Richie Nanda: Now Narendra Modi is the new Prime Minister of India, so it’s a big thing for India. This is the first time ever in the history of India that non-congress government has come in majority power. Things are looking great for India, like my shareholder and friend Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, who’s India’s Warren Buffet. He says look at India, invest in India, be happy in India. India is the future now, India is a huge market, it’s growing well, Modi’s got big ambitious plans, the corporate world is happy, the stock market is happy, people are happy, we are happy.

European CEO: Why did you decide to buy the Shield Group, and why target the UK for expansion?

Dr Richie Nanda: India is quite similar to the UK because when the British ruled India, many many hundreds of years ago, we still followed the same processes, the same laws as there. And we wanted to go to an English speaking country. So China and France and Spain were ruled out, it had to be the UK or America or Australia. America was too far for us, Australia was too far, and the UK was right there. And besides, I think Shield was a fantastic company.

I make the poor rich and I keep the rich rich

European CEO: What transferable skills have enabled you to build your business then in the UK?

Dr Richie Nanda: The need for speed. One of the strong points of the Indian community is that they’re very resilient, they’re very aggressive in business. They’ do things faster, so someone here would say, we’ll do it the day after Richie. I’ll say I want it today and it happens to day. We’ve also introduced more verticals. Earlier Shield was just into plain vanilla guarding, and now we’re into systems investigations, screening, technology, close protection, event security. So we don’t just provide a manpower security anymore, it’s an end-to-end solution provider.

European CEO: My final question to you is of course centred on inequality, it’s a massive issue at the moment, and following Davos, the World Economic Forum, I know Oxfam brought up the statistics that 85 of the richest people in the world hold the same amount of wealth as half of the poorest countries. What do you make of this kind of statistic?

Dr Richie Nanda: I think it’s very sad. We don’t realise how much these poor people really contribute to the economy. TOPS and Shield, we do our fair bit as a group. We employ 93,000 people in our company, which every person in our company has at least four members in his family, has a wife, husband, two children. So in effect we nearly support 400,000 people. So we do our small bit to make them richer. So my usual joke to all our guys, they say what do you do, I say I’m a security guy, they say what does that mean? I say, I make the poor rich and I keep the rich rich.

European CEO: Well obviously in the UK rich people do seem to get quite a lot of bad press, do you think this fair, do you think they’re demonised a little bit?

Dr Richie Nanda: You see me on the Rich List now and you think, look at this guy, he comes in a Bentley, he’s got style, he’s got money. But you’ve not seen the 26 years of my hard work I’ve done behind that. You’ve not seen how I’ve slept at night without food. I didn’t have money to have a cup of tea at times. My daughter’s growing up and she expects the same lifestyle for her, and I said no, you’ve got to work the hard way, you’ve got to work in a Tesco, a Sainsbury’s, work down there. And she said, look at mum, she has everything. I said she has things now. 24 years ago, she used to earn maybe £100 a month. So we’ve seen bad days. And all the guys who are rich today, they’ve all really worked hard in their life.

European CEO: Richie, thank you.

Dr Richie Nanda: Thank you so much.