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Sudhir finally gets recognition

By Independent Team

For over two decades, he has been contributing to the growth of business and industry in Uganda

Sudhir Ruparelia, the chairman of the Ruparelia Group of Companies, who has for over two decades been contributing to the growth of business and industry in Uganda, has finally been official recognised.

President Yoweri Museveni on Oct.9 awarded Sudhir a medal in recognition of his contribution as an industrialist in Uganda. He was awarded together with four others in this category.

The 57-year old who is listed by Forbes magazine among the richest people in Africa with a net of US$1.1 billion runs an empire that includes interests in banking, insurance, education, media, hospitality, property development, and floriculture.

The Independent traces Sudhir’s business story in Uganda to December 1986 when he started a beer and spirits shop in the area next to the Uganda Railways Station in Kampala just off Jinja Road.

President Museveni’s Nation Resistance Army (NRA) rebels had been in power for about a year. Sudhir, aged just 29, had returned to Uganda in 1985 and had no connection to the new political who-is-who then.

He noticed that almost everything was scarce and decided to venture into importing beer, spirits and other household good like salt.

He has said he arrived in the country with US$25,000. It is difficult to place a value on that because the dollar was scarce and anyone doing import business had to watch the rising dollar and sinking shilling carefully.

In 1985 the exchange rate was Shs600 per US$1 but had climbed to Shs1,450 in 1986. It dropped to Shs60 to US$1 after the 1987 conversion but was already at Shs450 for US$1 a year later.

Ever alert to money making opportunities, Sudhir soon moved into the foreign exchange business and opened Uganda’s first Forex Bureau in 1989. It was called Crane Forex Bureau and is still in operation.

In the 1990s he ventured in the lottery business and appears to have made good money.

Then he diversified into the real estate business. He recently demolished the first house he bought in the upscale Kololo suburb and intends to replace it with a palace that befits his billionaire status.

In his own words, Sudhir has said his forex business was raking in US$10,000 per day and easing it gradually into a commercial bank appears to have been a logical progression.

His Ruparelia Group of Companies opened Crane Bank in 1995. Eighteen years later, it is the fourth largest bank; just behind Barclays Bank and above Centenary Bank in term of capitalisation. He has since forayed into insurance, construction, media, education, and hospitality sectors.

He owns the prestigious Commonwealth Resort at Munyonyo and top local and international schools. He recently acquired Victoria University from Edulink Holdings Ltd.

His approach to business revolves around hiring the right personnel and letting them get on with the job. He is a hands off and eyes on manager who demands daily reports on the operations of all his over 15 businesses and involvement in all major business decisions.

Based on these, he usually gets up as early as 6am and works on strategic interventions up to early evening.

In a revealing comment about Sudhir’s management style, President Museveni once spoke of how he approached a local commercial bank for a loan and was kept waiting in bureaucratic logjam. But, Museveni said, he was promptly attended to once he approached Sudhir. Many local business people have similar testimonies and Crane Bank’s halls are daily swarming with business people cutting quick deals.

Sudhir, with his lovely wife Jyotsna ever by his side, appears to be living his business philosophy which is doing what you love.

Fun-loving as ever, his trademark cigars have become the hallmark of high class parties, and avant-garde recreation like the annual Royal Ascot Goat Races at his Speke Resort Munyonyo.

My next legacy is to build a hospital, says Sudhir

In November 2012, Forbes placed him among Africa’s 40 richest people in Africa with a net worth of US$900 million. He is the chairman of the Ruparelia Group that has over 20 companies including banks, insurance, hotels and resorts, and schools.  Sudhir Ruparelia spoke to The Independent’s Joan Akello about what the medal he received during Uganda’s 51st Independence Day anniversary on Oct. 9 means to him.

Congratulations upon receiving a medal recognising your contribution as an industrialist.  How do you feel about this medal?

It’s quite an honour especially during the celebration of Uganda’s 51 years of independence.  This medal was not just recognising me but all the people in other categories for our contribution to the Ugandan economy.

This is the greatest honour bestowed to citizens and I am proud that I have been a recipient   of this medal.  Two other people in this category all come from two established family names; Madhvani and Mukwano that have been in business for a very long time.

These businesses were started by their grandfathers yet I am honoured because I started my business alone and built it in the last 25 years. I really appreciate the country for this medal.

You are an Asian who is also a Ugandan.  What does it mean to you in getting this medal?

I feel even prouder because it is a big moment for me as an Asian who is also Ugandan.   I have always considered myself more Ugandan than Asian because my father and I were born here. Most of my friends are Ugandans. The Asian community who are Ugandans have been here for over 150 years. It is a tribe we are always asking the country to recognise.  So this medal means a lot to this community.

What are you planning to do in the future now that your efforts have been recognised?

We plan to employ 7,000 people directly in the economy through banking, insurance, education, hospitality and floriculture. We are in the process of acquiring  200 hectares  for rose farms  which will  create  jobs for  more 7,000 people and we  hope to generate around US$ 100 million(about Shs251 billion) in gross revenue.

Some of this revenue will go to the government through taxes.  We hope to have 41 Crane Bank branches by the end of this year, and expand to 80 branches in the next four years. In March next year, we will open our first branch in Kigali.

My other vision is to create the best facilitated schools to have a strong education system.  Education is part of my legacy that I look at as pay back in terms of Corporate Social responsibility. For instance, we have had success from Kampala Parents primary school, and now we are looking at higher education.

The doors of Victoria University are now open. We are currently running three courses but our big intake will start in January 2014 with 20 programmes.  My next legacy in the next five years is to build the best facilitated hospital in Kampala. Just watch out to see if I succeed in this.

Quick facts

  • Sudhir Ruperalia has a net worth of US$1.1 billion
  • Born in Mengo Hospital in Kampala in 1956.
  • Has two sisters and a brother.
  • Studied at Bat Valley Primary School in Kampala from P1 to P6, sat PLE at Main Street Primary School in Jinja, and attended Jinja Secondary School and Kololo Secondary School in Kampala up to 1971.
  • Left for the UK in 1972.
  • Finished his A’level in the UK
  • Did odd jobs (kyeyo) in factories, supermarkets, butcheries in UK.
  • Returned to Uganda in 1985.

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