Ideas man inspires young people
In the fourteenth of our profiles to select the Jaeger-LeCoultre Telegraph Business Personality 2006 we feature Ram Gidoomal, who helps to create businesses that benefit the Third World.
WHEN Ram Gidoomal arrived in Britain, aged 16 and expelled from Kenya, he little thought that 38 years later he would hold the CBE, be at the top in business and have retired at 40 to use his acumen for the benefit of charity.
Forced to abandon their wealth, his family pooled their money for a corner shop in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, and with 15 sharing four bedrooms, survived without state benefits. Mr Gidoomal read physics at Imperial College. After lectures, he ran the shop’s finances. “That’s where my business experience started.” The one shop became six.
Gaining his degree, he switched to management and joined Lloyds Bank International as an analyst in the City, then moved into commodity trading in a company being started by his wife’s uncle. “Ten years later I was able to retire.”
In those years, he rose to become UK chief executive of the company, the Inlaks Group, which grew to employing 7,000 people in 15 countries in many enterprises.
In 1987, he went to India to investigate importing seafood to avoid laying off workers at the group’s speciality factories in Scotland. He visited communities in Bombay and was shocked by the deprivation. “This was more extreme than anything I’d been through.”
Born into a Hindu family in Kenya, brought up by a Sikh uncle and educated at a Muslim school, Mr Gidoomal had become a Christian, taking to heart the lessons of looking after disadvantaged people. “I never forgot my roots and said that whenever I reached the point when I could do something, I would.”
Back in Britain, he questioned his own business motivation. “There was more to this issue than just amassing billions.” He persuaded a Baptist minister in Tonbridge, Kent, who raised £5,000 in a month using teenagers to run a pre-Christmas restaurant “serving Third World food at posh prices”, to franchise the idea. With Mr Gidoomal’s planning and business connections, Christmas Cracker was born in 1988.
Fifty thousand teenage volunteers raised £5 million in seven years, through restaurants, radio stations, newspapers, fair-trade shops. “I wanted these kids to know they could run their own businesses and raise money for the developing world.”
He tackled the taboo subjects of suicide and forced marriages among young Asian women, publishing the first of several successful books. Taking non-executive business directorships, he was also appointed to cross-cultural government bodies, all within his aim of making sure people – British, Asian, African- Caribbean youth, women – integrated and did not get marginalised.
Today, aged 55, he still advises companies and start-ups.
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