Power Couples

The continued success of Asian entrepreneurs testifies to the staying power of the Asian business community, but what about Asian couples? Spinder Dhaliwal reports

Whilst television programmes like the Apprentice and Dragon’s Den have popularised the brash go-getting entrepreneur, in reality it is hard work, family values and true grit that has seen the Asian business community flourish in the UK.  The emergence of more Asian female entrepreneurs, many of whom are featured at awards ceremonies and on various rich lists, illustrate the potential for achievement despite cultural, social and economic barriers. We are increasingly seeing and hearing about women who have made the grade and pushing forward with new ideas. 

But what about the dynamics of power couples? Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan, the world is littered with power couples from politics and music to media. Who wears the trousers? Who is more famous? Who will stay together? Marriage is when a man and woman become as one; the trouble starts when they try to decide which one.

What of the Asian entrepreneurs? It’s not always plain sailing, although in my study, Silent Contributors – Asian female entrepreneurs and women in business, when one of the business women became successful it led to a breakdown in her marriage as her husband refused to accept an increasingly confident, independent wife who earned more than him. 

So how does this impact on the success stakes of Asian entrepreneurs, and who are the power couples in our community. The growth of Asian enterprises has been a prominent feature of the business population. Asian entrepreneurs have been eulogised by the popular press keen to laud free enterprise heroes. Much less conspicuous has been the role of female Asian entrepreneurs and Asian women working in family businesses. Are women relegated a supporting role like Michelle to Barack? The intricacies of marriage and business are both interesting and complex. Women can be co-pilots, initiators or unsung heroines.

The Pathak’s are the perfect example of the Asian entrepreneurial power couple. Synonymous with the rise in the British love for all things Indian is the Pataks brand (they dropped the ‘h’ on the pickle), which was established in 1956 and is spearheaded by the high profile husband and wife team, Kirit and Meena Pathak. While on a buying trip to India in 1976 Kirit Pathak met former model Meena and after they married she became the creative force behind the company. Despite their phenomenal success, recent years have seen the Pathak’s embroiled in family disputes and court cases, with Kirit’s sisters claiming to be robbed of their inheritance. At the heart of the case is the question of whether they were cut out because they were women. An out of court settlement was reached and Kirit emerged as the 100 per cent owner. The couple remain strong.

Recognition is important. Mombassa born Ramesh Sachdev and his wife Pratibha formed Life Style Care plc in 1987 and, despite hard times, their core healthcare business remains resilient and they are expanding with the benefit of lower market prices. Ramesh proudly proclaims that he wouldn’t be where he is today without Pratibha and credits his wife for adding creativity and energy to the business.

Navin Engineer similarly praises his wife Varsha and her role in their pharmaceutical company, Chemidex. The Surrey-based couple began their pharmacy business in 1981 in Chertsey. They sold their pharmacies and now their success is built on a focused wholesale business and the development of their own generic pharmaceutical products. Varsha and Navin took every step together and now their daughter has joined the firm.

Others, like Perween Warsi of Derby-based S&A Foods were the initiator and driving force behind the business. Perween recognises that Talib, her GP husband, was firmly behind her and even quit his practice to focus on the business.

There are so many scenarios; was the business a joint venture or a joint dream?
Did one spouse marry into an entrepreneurial family and inherit their role?
Who started the business?

 Even multi-billionaire Laxmi Mittal’s wife was involved with the business on a daily basis in the early days and it’s only now she can sit back a little. Dinesh Dhamija’s wife Tani, a former air stewardess, gave direction to the choice of business sector and soon ebookers.com became one of Europe’s most successful companies. 

The Boparan’s are the definitive power couple, one of the richest Asian couples and amongst the youngest dual millionaires. The husband and wife team Ranjit and Baljinder Boparan have plucked their fortune from the chicken processing industry. Their West Bromwich-based Two Sisters Food Group was established in 1993 and over the years the company has evolved from a small scale frozen retail cutting operation into a world-class food company, serving the retail, foodservice and manufacturing sectors.

When German satirist Georg C Lichtenberg said, “Love is blind, but marriage restores its sights”, he could well have been referring to Asian power couples. Balancing work and family life requires compromise between spouses, as well as flexibility and clarity about life, career, and family goals. Communication, it seems is the key to the success of the couples who shared their goals.

However, to throw cold water on those looking for a magic formula to having it all, balancing career and family success is about giving up some things to have others. And it's a never-ending process, not a goal to be achieved and maintained. At their best, power couples illustrate the Asian entrepreneurial dream, striving against the odds with a confidante and trusted companion to build and sustain an empire. 

Dr Spinder Dhaliwal is the author of Making a Fortune – Learning from the Asian Phenomenon (www.makingafortune.co.uk) and compiles Britain’s Richest Asians.

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