The starting point of an entrepreneur’s life is always challenging and that of many successful Asians in the United Kingdom, of the first generation or the second is no different. But there is a special group of Indians, those that arrived from Africa in the 1970s whose early beginnings in the UK before success came as entrepreneurs, were even more so. But we really need to create proper perspective to make a good entrance into the story of someone you can easily describe as the ‘new entrepreneurial kid-on-the-block’, Deepak Kuntawalla.
Now, here is Kuntawalla’s story’s historical true perspective. In the United Kingdom, you are likely to find an older generation of people who are originally from the sub-continent of India, but who are also Africans.
Their children do not really claim to be Africans so proudly anymore, having become immersed in the British way of life and having been born in the UK now see themselves as British. If you were an African and you ran into this second or third generation Anglo-Indians, they will regal you with tales their parents told them, about their parents’ time in Africa.
You will find a few times when the stories would be warm; but many times, you will hear stories about how they strongly felt short-changed or hard-done-by by a continent they settled in and called home. This reference draws largely from the expulsion of Indians from Uganda by the late president Idi Amin. A good number of them had found their way to the UK where they settled to begin life anew. There were also those in neighbouring countries who had voluntarily upped and left, fearing that a similar fate might befall them. Arriving in the UK almost without anything, many of them had to start from scratch; even those who had been well established and had made money in Africa with established businesses had to begin to find out how to do it in a country they new very little of.
Things have since moved on, however. Many Indians, Africans by birth, who moved to the UK, have made success of their lives there, including Deepak Kuntawalla, whose father was already well established in Zambia before they migrated to the UK in the 1970s. His success as an entrepreneur has become a reference point, one that has won him recognition as “Entrepreneur of the Year”, the second in three months came last week when British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, presented him the award of Global Entrepreneur of the Year in the UK House of Commons. The awards have with their specific international appellation have come because Kuntawalla is an entrepreneur who is constantly looking outward in terms of his business expansion. He particular sees the Middle East and Africa as areas of special interest. This is what has led him to places such as Kenya, Malawi, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Now he has set his eyes on Africa’s biggest market, Nigeria, with plans to open shop in Lagos in April.
“When we immigrated to the UK in the 1970s, inspired by my father, my brothers and I emulated his success by creating the London based Kayson’s trading. It was from there that I had my first taste of international trade and soon found myself working during school holidays etc. Then in 2000, as a fully-fledged member of the family business, it felt only proper to launch my own venture and DVK was launched,” Kuntawalla tells BusinessDay.
But he also let you know that playing in the world of global business, as an entrepreneur, does not come easy. “When looking to expand a business to an international level, the main issue for many is establishing a reliable, accountable and affordable supply chain network. The task of trading in international markets without the right financial support and contacts can be daunting, add into this various risks – the demand risk, the supply disruption risk, the exchange rate.”
His company, DVK, he says has experienced all these difficulties in its quest to expand internationally. But it has not allowed this to dampen him in his resolve to break the barriers that are often in the way.
“My company, DVK, also experienced this same difficulties,” he tells me.
According to him, “DVK traces its roots back to the 1900s when my grandfather began supplying blankets, articles of daily use, clothing to the British Army, locals and people working in mines in Zambia.”
He said he quickly immersed himself in the textiles and clothing trade and built a considerable business empire with his department store Kuntawala & Co, becoming one of Southern Africa’s major men’s department stores, importing goods from the UK, Germany and Europe.
He is proud of the way DVK has developed and gladly tells you: “DVK is engaged in high-growth global expansion and we recently launched our office in Saudi Arabia. The Middle East market is ripe for global business and we are exploring business opportunities with several deals in hand across Banking, Commodity Trading, Aviation, Sharia Financing, Private Equity, Infrastructure, Real Estate, Mining and Exportation.”
Kuntawalla loves to work abroad and talks happily about the opportunity for networking that it opens up to entrepreneurs. “Working abroad opens the door to far more networking possibilities and allows for different thinking and ways of working to interact. Working with different people and cultures around the world provides your business with an international flavour and ethos.”
Doing business in Africa has enabled him to learn how to be patient and endure. “It’s who you know not what you know. 95% of my time in Africa has been establishing contacts and building my networks. Eventually the contacts that you make will help reap rewards,” he enthused.
Kuntawalla has a strong view about a successful entrepreneur. It is someone who relishes a challenge, he says. “I think many wrongly assume entrepreneurship is a quest to acquire money, it really isn’t. It is much more about entering into an adventure, challenging and pushing yourself to your limits. An entrepreneur needs to be confident, creative and have bags full of self-belief. My motto has always been “global thinking, locally connected”.
This global thinking has driven him to Nigeria where he now wants to play in Africa’s biggest market. According to his minders, “having already a strong and stable footprint in strategic geographic regions and within key emerging markets, the company’s move into the dynamic financial metropolis of Africa, Lagos, signals that DVK is set to make their presence known in the internationally reputed economic hub of Africa.”
There are wider plans for DVK in Nigeria. For instance, apart from the creation of the Lagos division, DVK also plans to form a board in Nigeria with expertise in petrochemical trading and structured finance.
Kuntawalla’s DVK, apart from having exclusive rights and allocations on leading commodities such as oil and gas, it continues to offer the following services – aviation, infrastructure, real estate, mining and excavation, agriculture, metals, alternative investment vehicles and leading commodities.
He was born in Zambia in Africa and spent time in South Africa, Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa. After immigrating to the UK with his family in the 1970s from Zambia, he studied Business at London Business School, the Said Business School in Oxford, studying Private Equity, Mergers & Acquisitions, and has attended the Growth Programme at Cranfield.