Young Asian millionaires prove hard work does pay

Kathy Marks on how 200 people worth pounds 7.5bn impressed the prime minister
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THERE are no pop stars, no landed gentry, no idle rich among them. Most of them have built up their wealth from scratch. Together, they are worth pounds 7.5 bn. They are Britain's 200 richest Asians, ranked in a league table produced by Eastern Eye, a weekly newspaper.

It is a measure of their influence and economic clout that Tony Blair has agreed to attend a glitzy dinner in London on Wednesday at which the list will be published.

The list provides a snapshot of how the country's most successful immigrant community is evolving. Dynamic Asians are moving away from the corner shops and textile factories on which previous generations built their business empires, seeking their fortunes instead in modern, thrusting sectors: computers, media, telecommunications, financial services.

These new entrepreneurs are notable for their youth - there are 20 multi- millionaires under the age of 35 - and for their Midas touch. They include Ajaz Ahmed, 24, who set up an Internet consultancy five years ago which is now valued at pounds 8m, Alia Khan, 31, who runs her own pounds 5m software firm, and Waheed Alli, 33, managing director of Planet 24, the television production company.

Some of the Asian whizkids featured in a similar list produced last year, the first of its kind. Since then, they have not rested on their laurels. Reuben Singh, for instance, the flamboyant 21-year-old owner of the Miss Attitude chain of fashion accessory shops, has almost doubled his personal wealth to pounds 45m.

Mr Singh, who drives a yellow Ferrari and a red Rolls-Royce, exemplifies the community's new, more relaxed approach towards money. The reluctance of Asians in the 1970s and 1980s to display their affluence, for fear of provoking hostility, has largely evaporated.

Philip Beresford, who compiles the Eastern Eye's league table as well as the long-standing Britain's Richest 500 said: "Asians regard their list as a celebration of their achievements, a litmus test of success.

"The Sunday Times list, by contrast, is regarded with fury and embarrassment by 90 per cent of the people in it because they loathe their wealth being discussed. As one woman said to me: 'It's vulgar, vulgar, vulgar.'"

Guests at Wednesday's dinner will be eager to discover whether Lakshmi Mittal, the Bombay steel magnate ranked number one last year with an estimated fortune of pounds 1.5bn, has been knocked off his perch. Candidates for the spot include the Hinduja brothers, Sri and Gopi, whose oil and banking empire was valued at pounds 1.1bn.

This year's list contains two Lottery winners and two peers, Lord Paul, the metals tycoon, and Lord Bagri, chairman of the London Metal Exchange. There are two fresh entries in the top ten: Felix Grovit, 55, owner of the Checkpoint chain of bureaux de change, and Subhash Chandra, 47, whose interests include an Indian television channel. Both are worth pounds 300m.

But it is the youthful faces that are likely to attract most attention - people like Jayesh Manek, a former pharmacist who set up an investment fund three months ago that now contains pounds 95m, or Tej and Bobby Dhillon, a brother and sister team who own a group of five hotels worth pounds 20m.

Philip Beresford believes that the latest generation of Asians is so successful because it has not only inherited the traditional work ethos and the community network, but has also had the benefit of an excellent education.

Bobby Dhillon, 30, has a simple explanation. "We eat, sleep and dream work," she says. "It's in our bones; we just can't sit still. We're all driven by the urge to do well, to be recognised."

Some observers are astonished that the Prime Minister is to address an event organised by a small ethnic minority newspaper. But Sarwar Ahmed, publisher of Eastern Eye, points to the role played by Asian millionaires in investment and job creation. "Labour is the party of business now," he says. "This is an endorsement of Asian business success and, by extension, of the wider community."