Young, gifted and Asian: the new tycoons

Politicians desperate for votes and cash are courting a community rich in success stories. By Chris Blackhurst
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The Independent Online
Together, they are worth pounds 5bn. They employ more than 250,000 people around the world. They are nearly all self-made and they own some of Britain's best-known brands, including Joe Bloggs jeans, Time computers, Horne Brothers and Ciro Citterio fashion shops and Binatone telephones. Who are they? Britain's 100 richest Asians.

This increasingly affluent and influential section of society is beginning to be courted seriously by politicians. Last weekend, Tony and Cherie Blair were photographed visiting the mosque at London's Regents Park. On Tuesday evening, Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, will also court the Asian community by launching the first list of the richest 100 Asians in Britain.

Produced by the Asian community newspaper, Eastern Eye, the ranking is unofficial. Normally, media surveys of the wealthy are treated with disdain by the Establishment. For a politician of the stature of Mr Heseltine, himself a multi-millionaire and doubtless usually disapproving of such studies, to put himself out in this way, especially for a minority newspaper, is unprecedented.

But this is an election year and the main parties are desperate to attract votes and cash; and while other minority ethnic groups, the Afro-Caribbeans and Chinese, have failed to produce many millionaires, the Asians are different: there are 300 among Britain's 1.5 million Asians.

Almost one in six Asians in Britain is self-employed, compared with almost one in eight whites and one in 20 Afro-Caribbeans. The nature of Asian business is different: shops, fashion and hi-tech firms rather than trades such as plumbing and building.

For many Asians, their first introduction to Britain was as penniless immigrants from East Africa in the Seventies. The list, says Eastern Eye editor Sarwar Ahmed, is "a celebration" of the community's achievements since.

Asians take their money-making seriously and are not embarrassed at their success. Normally, when other newspapers produce such lists, the entrants run for cover, afraid of being portrayed as rich. But when Mr Heseltine addresses the launch at the Cafe Royal in London, he will be speaking to many of those on the list: "VIP guests whose net worth is pounds 4bn," trumpets the paper.

Those at the top of the list are relatively well-known and have featured in other studies of Britain's wealthiest individuals, like the Hinduja brothers, Gopi and Sri, whose estimated fortune from their world-wide oil, engineering, motors and trading empire is more than pounds 1bn.

Another prominent Asian millionaire is Swraj, now Lord, Paul. The 66- year-old steel tycoon came to Britain originally to obtain treatment for his young daughter, Ambika, who was suffering from cancer. Sadly, she died. Consumed by her loss, he threw himself into his work and built his small steel-tube manufacturer into one of the country's biggest metals businesses. Part of his pounds 500m fortune has gone on refurbishing the Children's Zoo at London Zoo, now named in memory of the daughter he lost.

The Hindujas and Lord Paul are the leaders of the Asian business community, well-known and respected, mixing easily with their white counterparts, frequent visitors to the corridors of power.

There are no landowners on the list, few property developers and hardly anyone from the heavy industries. Nobody went to Eton, or was in the Guards, or is a member of White's, Britain's premier gentleman's club. What there is, is a much higher proportion of young millionaires in modern, thrusting sectors: computers, hi-tech electronics, fashion, television, distribution.

Born in 1962, Shami Ahmed left school at 17 and joined the family retail business in Manchester. In 1986 he branched out on his own, starting the Joe Bloggs jeans company. Within four years it was worth pounds 25m. Today the Joe Bloggs label is on all types of casual clothing, as well as cosmetics. His latest venture, into factory shops, should see his personal fortune, currently pounds 50m, rise even further.

Even Mr Ahmed looks old, though, alongside another Asian business star: Reuben Singh, 21-year-old owner of the Miss Attitude chain of accessories shops. Mr Singh has amassed a pounds 27m fortune in little more than two years from his jewellery stores which sell everything from 50p scrunch bands to pounds 700 handbags.

Miss Attitude already numbers 60 shops, mostly in the North of England, and is starting to move south.

Then there is Tamir Mohsan, also from the North-west of England (Burnley), also young - 25 - and also rich, worth an estimated pounds 50m. He runs Time, the mail-order computer firm, with his elder brother, Tariq Mohammed. What began with one advertisement, to sell an Amstrad PC in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph nine years ago, has grown into the country's leading mail-order PC supplier.

Also from the North-west is Mukesh Kejriwal, aged 34 and, thanks to a successful business importing textiles, wines and spirits, worth pounds 15m.

Fukhera Khalid, still in his twenties, has made pounds 12m from cash and carry warehouses.

Everyone has heard of Bob Geldof, 33 per cent owner of Planet 24 Television, producer of The Big Breakfast. But also owning 33 per cent of the business is Waheed Ali. Aged 33, Ali, a member of the Labour Party, oversees the day-to-day operations of Planet 24.

In addition he is also involved in at least nine other companies, including a property business, Fleetwillow, putting his total worth at pounds 10m.

"We did the list partly because it would be an interesting record but also to highlight that Asian business is changing," said Eastern Eye's Ahmed.

"We wanted to show that Asian business is more than just the corner shop and that Asians are now diversifying into activities which were once off-limits for them. Ten to 20 years ago it would have been unheard of for Asians to be based in hi-tech businesses and fashion."

Philip Beresford, the compiler of the list, said it showed that Asians are "tailor-made for the enterprise culture, with their emphasis on risk- taking, working hard and investing everything back in the business".

On Tuesday, they will be applauded by one of the champions of that culture.