From refugee camp to £225m fortune

Alfas parkedPA

It's some journey to go from an Idi Amin refugee camp to a £225m fortune. But it's a thoroughly deserved one for 52-year-old Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia who has just sold Euro Car Parts to a US Nasdaq-listed company. How did he do it?

Down at heel

Ahluwalia was just 13 when he and his family fled Uganda to escape Amin's horrendous military dictatorship. They arrived in London and Ahluwalia quickly became intoxicated by the sprawling London markets of Liverpool Street and Petticoat Lane.

By 1978, Ahluwalia had borrowed money from relatives and Barclays bank and bought a down-at-heel North London car parts shop. He immediately extended trading hours with the shop opening at 7am and closing at 7pm.

Sales soared, hitting £4m. Ahluwalia then went on a massive expansion drive. Today the company has 90 branches. Last year turnover hit £272m and profits climbed to £15.8m. "My philosophy is that the customer is always right, even when he is wrong," the businessman told the Telegraph.

Keep the customer satisfied

His philosophy is plainly also one of simplicity: get up early; finish late; focus on the customer. Ahluwalia also commenced his business at a time when service and quality in the car industry was frequently abysmal, as anyone who experienced any British Leyland products in the 1970s will know.

Apply the same attitude to an industry that has rotten standards and you are very likely to succeed. That makes it sound easy. It never is, of course. But stories like these should be celebrated, especially given Ahluwalia's start.
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