What you need to know:
He drove a taxi and worked multiple ‘kyeyo’ jobs as he pursued studies in London saving up USD25,000, which he has used to build a business empire now employing over 6,000 people in Uganda, Jobs and Careers. We exclusively speak to Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia on his journey to a successful business career.
How did you end up becoming a businessman?
Well, doing business is probably many people’s vision. People will try self-employment or create business to support their families. Our family is by nature and background of business people and it has been for many generations. So to me doing business comes naturally.
What was your first business venture?
I sold salt and beer which I started in December 1986 with the capital of $25,000.
$25,000 is no small amount by any measure, where and how did you get the capital?
In 1972 when Amin (former Ugandan President) expelled Asians, I went to England so while there I worked so many jobs and I saved part of my earnings. I drove taxis, worked in supermarkets, worked in a butchery, a bakery, you name it.
At some point I worked in a factory during the night and would study during the day. Man, life has not been easy. I took my education important though.
What does it take to be a successful employer?
I think to be a successful employer you need to be down-to-earth. You need to be approachable and be able to have a one-on-one chat with your employees.
As an employer you’ll need to come down from your position and down to their (employees) level and show them you’re not different from them.
How big is your workforce?
We employ over 6,000 people at over 20 businesses which include Speke Hotel, Speke Resort Munyonyo, Kabira Country Club, Gold Star Insurance Company Limited, Dolphin Suites, Rosebud Limited, Sanyu FM, Kampala Parents School, Kampala International School Uganda, Delhi Public School International, Premier Advertising and Meera Investments among others
How best can you then motivate your workers?
You have to at least reward your workers for good work done. Every year everyone has to get a pay rise of between 8 to 10 per cent and for others a promotion on the job
You have been employed before and self-employed today, what’s your advice to the employee and self-employed?
When I was still working for somebody I was committed to my job and did my work diligently.
They noticed and that’s how I was able to be promoted and rise through the ranks. It is these promotions that led to my success. People who are not committed to their jobs don’t go so far in life.
In London I started out as a temporary staff at a factory and later became an accountant of the factory. I grew from earning as little as 12 pounds at one time to earning 18,000 pounds a year. Of course I did some side jobs because I also had a leg in real estate from which I made more money
How do you balance between your work and family?
I start my day at 6 am and first I go to the gym then I have breakfast. I then catch up with all MDs and managers of all my companies to find out if there is any pressing issues, then I go sight visiting before I go to office where I work up to 8pm in the evening. After 8pm I will have a meeting or two, go to cocktails or entertain friends of mine and then go home to spend time with family. I sleep at around between 11 and 11:30pm. I also reserve Sunday for family.
How many hours do you averagely work?
On the average, I work for about a minimum of 12 hours
When was the last time you had a hearty laugh and what tickled you?
I always smile but normally I laugh when I am watching comedy movies and also, there is this health club I go to in Bangalore in India where they have yoga and one of the programmes is teaching us how to laugh.
Who is your favourite movie star?
I like Mel Gibson, Sharon Stone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean Caude Van Damme and my all-time favourite actor is Clint Eastwood.
Which of Eastwood’s movies stand out for you?
I like The Good The Bad and The Ugly and his Spaghetti westerns.
And music, are you a fan?
Yes. I normally listen to soft music, I don’t like the heavy beats.
How do you take off time to relax?
I normally relax over the weekend
What are your other hobbies?
Basically meeting people. I love meeting people and socialising. I like attending fashion shows and enjoy cocktails
How much time do you spend with your family?
We always plan the weekend in a way that we spend a lot of time with the children though they are now grown and have their own social life, and are working but we always try to find time for each other. My wife and I go for holidays together especially during Christmas time and other times when there are functions around the world we travel together.
What satisfies you about life?
As long as I can continue doing what I want and I am happy with it, it satisfies me.
What makes your day?
When I succeed in my property business or conclude a deal for any of the group companies, it makes my day.
As an employer, what’s your comment on the work attitude of Ugandan?
Ugandans are very enterprising people. They always want to succeed very fast and there’s something wrong with that.
You need to start from the bottom and climb up the ladder. Someone will leave university, get a job and after a year will want to become the boss.
These are the majority. It is good to be ambitious but more important to allow yourself grown through the ranks. The other lot will be willing to climb the ladder slowly. The patient ones are normally better employees and go far in life.
When not working, how do you spend your ‘free’ time?
I enjoy travelling, walking and trekking, fishing, going to exotic islands and one my favourite places is Seychelles Islands. Plus my job gives me the opportunity to create new projects which are people-related and always have a social impact on society. It gives me the greatest pleasure when I start something from nothing to something and it is successful commercially and otherwise.
What do you find boring?
Weddings and speeches. Weddings are meant to be fun but then some people speak for hours and you sit and listen to one after another.
In ancient times weddings were enjoyed because they were entertaining and the most you would get is a short speech but today the wedding ends up being torturous.
How would you change the industry within which you operate if given a chance?
Uganda has been quite competitive in every aspect of business and the economics itself will create enough competition and it has become a ground for survival for the fittest and anyone who cannot be fit will exit.
What does the future look like for you?
The future is bright.
What inspires you and why?
Every morning I wake and say it’s a beginning of a new day and I feel full of energy and wanting to go to work and have a full working day, and as long as I have the same feeling that’s my inspiration of going to work and continuing.
Do you look up to anyone?
Kindly skip that…
What are the latest undertakings you have made as a businessman?
We have supported all kinds of institutes like churches, schools, NGOs every year and now we have set up the Ruparelia Foundation where we will be supporting education, religious, sports and primarily the destitute, under-privileged and orphanages.
What does it feel like to be the richest East African?
Well, it doesn’t change my life. I feel I am now under the public eye more than ever.
If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you choose a different career?
I have been very fortunate that despite all hard work I believe I have the blessing from the almighty God and probably I have been in business at the right time and did the right thing and the right place. I would do what I have been doing. I would not choose a different career.
Icon. Sudhir Ruparelia is a big name in Uganda. A business leader of repute, the magnate employs over 6,000 people and more in his many companies under the Ruparelia Group of companies. Recently, Forbes magazine named him Africa’s 18th richest person. Edgar R. Batte sat down with him to ask about his work ethic.