Rajiv was known as a rich man’s spoilt son. Many people downplayed his potential but when we met for this interview, the picture we saw is far different.
He is a busy man running different businesses his father Sudhir set up over the years. He is signing documents, reading reports, answering phone calls, emails and all the responsibility that comes with running a multimillion business.
While he has the option of going out to spend his father’s fortune, Rajiv keeps himself busy working to expand it and ensuring that it doesn’t crumble under his eye and employees. In this interview we delve into his life and much more.
Briefly tells us about Rajiv Ruparelia, that side of your life that people don’t know?
I was born on Jan 2nd 1990, I’m 25 years old. The perception people have of Rajiv is of a wealthy man’s son. People knew him for partying, drinking, going out, networking and socializing.
How does it feel to be Sudhir Ruparelia’s son?
It’s a lot of pressure, inspiring, motivating, but all in all, it is quite pleasant to have a father that you work with and listens to you and lets you make the day to day decisions as opposed to always having to go and conflict with your father because he is your father in business and believes that because he is your father he is always correct.
One thing about my Dad is that he will always take the best decision for the company. He will never take it for himself and he will never take it for selfish reasons. He will look at how the company benefits, how does the company benefit and how do people benefit.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from your father?
Work hard and it paid off.
Have you ever looked for a job or been interviewed for a job?
Yes, I have done a few internships in the UK to build my CV; I also worked for a charity shop in the UK. I extended some help but not really at a professional level.
Besides working for the Ruparelia Group, I have never had a full on experience with a professional job. I have always aspired to start a business for myself.
What is your education background?
I was a very naughty kid. I didn’t believe in education when I was much younger. I found it very theoretical than practical.
But as I grew older all that changed and I started seeing the importance of theory as opposed to just being practical. I also learnt that in order to succeed, the day you stop learning is the day you become stupid.
What do you do for a living?
I manage the Group’s property investments in Uganda and Rwanda. I also help in the day to day running and ensuring that the macro point of the businesses is looked after. I set targets and budgets.
I am also involved in running of the hotels, education sector, flower business and Meera Investments among others.
What inspires you to go through the day, keeping up with the family and life generally?
The reality is I don’t need to work. I don’t need to do anything, I can easily get a trust, and I can easily get money from my father and live a good life. I work for other people actually. I work because I know I’m creating jobs for other people.
I put my money in investments where I can see people coming out of poverty, Uganda developing, that’s why I work. And as a good businessman, I work to make sure my company is profitable. I also work to see other people around succeed
What are those key lessons learnt from your father and family?
Being good to people and people being good back to you. I also learnt to respect other people. People drive this world.
How does it feel to be a young Asian-Ugandan with such a background and family like yours?
I don’t look at myself as an Indian, I see myself as a Ugandan. I don’t believe that the color of your skin defines who you are or where you are from. I think that is a narrow minded thought process.
Frankly, I think people who say that jobs are being taken by expats should do something about it, they should train themselves better, and they should get the ability to compete with those expats.
The problem is not that people prefer to employ expats in Uganda; we don’t have the technicality skills and productivity here to be honest.
Who is to blame?
I would not blame anyone per se; I would blame it on the individuals. If you want to do something, don’t sit around and talk about it, go and do it!
You can talk and talk as much as you want, until you are doing it, you don’t know anything. You will only find a problem with the ground when you are doing things.
How do you spend your free time?
In my office working.
You started business at a tender age of 17, when you opened club Sway, and it folded, people said you will never emulate you father, did it ever occur to you that you doubted you abilities of being a successful businessman after that fail?
I never listen to what people say. People will always judge and they will always criticize you.
In my opinion, if you are not doing anything wrong, you are not hurting people, whatever they say is their opinion; there is nothing wrong with that.
What people don’t understand is that I didn’t fail at Sway; I leased the property and travelled to the United States. I even have the contracts.
When I came back, Sway was in trouble. I worked 17 hours a day; made sure we generated enough revenue and income to clear the debts and bailed it out
I had an ultimatum then, I said either I stayed in Uganda and forfeit my higher education and continue running my business at a young age or take this opportunity and go to the UK to study.
However when I decided that it was time to go back and study, I said I am not going to leave the club with the same management that had failed me.
What I did was to sign a lease agreement with a party though they didn’t pay me. When I came back after all those years, I had actually learnt so much more.
You see most people in Uganda are scared to start businesses; they can’t put their money where their mouth is. They can talk and talk but they can’t start.
At least at 17, I tried and made an investment. Maybe it wasn’t as successful as it was supposed to be but I wouldn’t call it a fail.
One thing you must understand is I still tried and did better than most people, for example how many times did Donald Trump go bankrupt? Would we still call him a failure?
People can talk and talk but when it comes to actions, they shy away. It’s not about being rich, that’s where narrow minded people are stuck.
They just want to be rich, they don’t want to come up with great ideas nor see the world evolving, they just want to be rich.
What did you learn from the venture?
You have to work, no one is going to work for you, work for yourself.
How do you raise capital for your businesses? Do you get bankrolled by your father? Do you get loans from his bank?
People need to understand that money is available if people with money believe in your idea and you as an individual.
The problem is everyone wants money they don’t want to sell themselves as being the right person to do that investment.
What do you intend to do with your life? What are your future aspirations and plan?
As long as I work hard, come up with new ideas, come up with investments, invest in new sectors, ensure that my management is stable and strong, I just see myself working in the next 50 years and my work will justify where I be.
What kind of challenges have you faced as young upcoming businessman? How did you overcome such challenges?
I don’t face many challenges. I have been to places; I meet people who manage huge funds, CEOs etc. If you ask me in general what the challenges youths find I will say that youths fearing to put themselves out there and fail is the real challenge.
My advice is don’t be scared to fail, failure is just part of every success story. As long as you learn from that mistake, and by God will, make it a ritual not to repeat that mistake again.
General election period is a tough time. The inflation is one thing we should look out for. Inflation is going to kill the average consumer.
What advise do you have for other young businessmen who are starting especially those who less privileged than you in terms of access to finance, advice and entrepreneur education?
I believe that youths want everything too easy. When they watch MTV and see all these rappers getting rich from music they think the rapper got it easy. They don’t know how much hard work the rapper put in.
A rapper could have spent 15 hours every day in studio trying to come up with an album, or a song. His passion is his music and from his passion he generates his income. Youths should learn to work passionately.
How do you suggest that they are solved?
At the end of the day, if this exchange rate keeps going up, the cost rises and when it rises, a certain class of people will be able to afford, but the low end person, the famer will not be able.
The more the costs go up, the more imports flock in which exhausts the economy. It’s still impossible to manufacture locally with this kind of cost.
People need to focus on increasing the dollar base into the country by exporting our products. Exporting our bananas, exporting our water melons, pineapples, the only way to increases dollars in Uganda is to increase exports.
How is the Ruparelia group as a whole coping with the current economic dynamics?
The Ruparelia Group is able to do business with anyone. We’ve made partners with international companies in order to give us more accessibility in to large capital markets because funding in Uganda is very limited. In Uganda you are not able to borrow 5-6 million dollars to do projects locally.
Recently Prudential Group took over Goldstar Insurance, will there be more take-overs involving other subsidiaries in the Ruparelia group?
In the future Crane Bank will have to list itself once the market is ready for it. Other markets will also but today majority of Ugandans don’t know what stock exchange is. One must understand the benefits of being listed.
Any last words
I want Ugandans never to judge a book by its cover.