Sunday, July 31, 2011

Uzbekistan: Alisher Usmanov -- Billionaire With Presidential Ambitions?

October 16, 2007
By Farangis Najibullah

Alisher Usmanov (ITAR-TASS)

October 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- He’s one of Russia’s richest men, an oligarch whose industrial empire stretches from mining and media to a stake in London’s famed Arsenal football club. But if Alisher Usmanov seems to have everything he could want, appearances may be deceiving. After all, the Uzbek-born billionaire is widely seen as a possible political heir to Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s authoritarian president.

Over the past two decades, the Russian tycoon, who hails from one of the Uzbek capital’s most prominent legal families, has amassed a fortune that is estimated at more than $5.5 billion. Yet outside the former Soviet Union, little was known of the portly 54-year-old until last summer, when Usmanov suddenly seized headlines in Britain and elsewhere with a series of sensational stories -- not all to his liking.

In Britain, Usmanov seemingly took the easy route to instant notoriety: In August, he went on a buying spree of shares in former English Premier League champion Arsenal, raising his stake in the team to 23 percent. In doing so, Usmanov put himself in a position to launch a takeover of the storied club, and became an instant target of criticism by English fans concerned about the future of the “Gunners.”

Currying Favor

Around the same time in Russia, Usmanov was winning praise for donating the entire collection of artwork of the late cellist Mstislav Rostropovich to the Constantine Palace in St. Petersburg, a presidential residence and venue for international summits. The works, which carried a reported price tag of $40 million, seemed to signal a desire to please President Vladimir Putin, whom Usmanov has called “a blessing” for Russia.

But back in Britain, more bad press beckoned. On his Internet blog, Craig Murray, an outspoken former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, made a series of allegations about Usmanov's business affairs and his alleged financial ties to Gulnara Karimova, Karimov’s eldest daughter. Murray also called Usmanov a convicted criminal in reference to his 1980 imprisonment for fraud, extortion, and rape. Usmanov, who says he was framed, calls himself a "political prisoner" who was later pardoned by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Murray’s blog sparked a legal storm in Britain, which boasts some of the world’s toughest libel laws. Usmanov's lawyers succeeded in having Murray's post taken down, citing libelous charges. Then, Usmanov launched a charm counterattack, flying several British reporters on his private jet for interviews at his retreat outside Moscow. The result was a series of profiles in the British press that portrayed Usmanov as an enlightened tycoon hard done by both the Western media and the Soviet system. “All my life I’ve been confronted with prejudiced people who are determined to turn me into a stereotype -- a Central Asian thief,” he told "The Times” of London.

The billionaire, however, perhaps didn’t anticipate the unintended consequences of his legal and media offensive. In recent weeks, a flurry of blogs and websites has popped up to post Murray’s original criticisms as well as other scathing remarks about the Uzbek-born billionaire. If Usmanov had sought to silence his critics, the effect of his actions has been to shine an even brighter light on his controversial story.

Checkered Past

Which is what Murray continues to do. "It's true that Russia is something of a gangster state now where the mafia in alliance with the KGB and former KGB operators really control the state,” Murray later told RFE/RL. “And this has enabled a small number of people to become ridiculously wealthy billionaires through seizure of state assets -- like the state's mineral resources -- for which they did not, in fact, pay a single penny. They simply, effectively, stole them. And Usmanov is one of that class of oligarchs."

Not that any of this has mattered back home. In fact, Usmanov's London buying spree as well as the latest brouhaha surrounding his alleged conduct have largely been ignored by the media in Russia or in his native Uzbekistan.

The tycoon himself says he has little to do with Uzbekistan. A Russian citizen, Usmanov says his ties to his native land are limited to annual pilgrimages home to visit his parents’ grave. Yet many people, including Murray, are convinced that Usmanov harbors significant ambitions regarding his Central Asian homeland.

Murray says Karimov and his family would like Usmanov to succeed the president, who is largely reviled in the West as one of the most oppressive leaders in the former Soviet sphere. Of course, any such move does not appear imminent, even if Uzbekistan is set to hold presidential polls in December. That’s because while Karimov is barred by the constitution from running for a third term, he is widely expected to change the law or hold a referendum to stay in office -- a common practice in the neighborhood.

"I've been aware for at least the last three years that Alisher Usmanov was looked on favorably by the Karimov family as a possible, eventual successor when President Karimov decides to give up in -- what Karimov hopes -- won't be for several years,” Murray says. “But the Karimov family has been very keen to find a successor who they trust will not take all the money and all the industries and properties away from the Karimov family."

Yevgeny Volk, who heads the Nasledie think tank in Moscow, says it is too early to speculate about a possible successor to Karimov. But he agrees that Usmanov would be a likely contender to take over when the 71-year-old strongman passes on. "I think [Usmanov] needs power because -- first of all -- he still is a stranger in Russia to some extent,” Volk says. “With his [ethnic] origin and roots, he belongs to the Uzbek nation. I think his political ambitions could be realized in Uzbekistan."

But it’s not just his native roots, as displayed in the gilded Central Asian vases that line the halls of his retreat on the Moscow river, that would make Usmanov the right man for the job. Usmanov, a senior adviser to Gazprom and president of one its subsidiaries, is arguably part and parcel of the Kremlin’s inner circle.

Kremlin Man?

Because Russia and its energy firms still play a significant role in Tashkent’s affairs, Usmanov could be uniquely poised to eventually take over in the Uzbek capital with pivotal backing from Moscow. "Usmanov's latest steps show his efforts to create a rapport with Russian leaders and demonstrate his loyalty,” Volk says. “His purchase of Rostropovich's collection for a significant amount of money is a kind of investment in exchange for the Russian elite's support for his future ambitions."

Like British-based Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who also owns an English soccer club, Usmanov is believed to operate freely in large part due to his support for Putin. In 2006, Usmanov bought the Russian newspaper "Kommersant," which once belonged to Putin's staunch critic and London exile, Boris Berezovsky. The newspaper can be relied on by Kremlin leaders for a steady stream of positive spin.

Usmanov has never said publicly that he would consider entering politics. Nor has he made any political comments about Uzbekistan. There could also be official and legal barriers for Usmanov to run for the Uzbek presidency. His Russian citizenship and years abroad could work against his candidacy. But with Russia using energy clout to reassert hegemony over the lands of Moscow’s former empire, few profiles might better fit the bill to lead Central Asia’s most populous nation than that of Alisher Usmanov.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service contributed to this report.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ishaq Shahryar: Afgan Success Story

The life of Ishaq Shahryar, the California success story who now finds himself in the unlikely role of Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, has had more twists and turns than Highway.

In his latest incarnation, the 66-year-old solar power entrepreneur has taken up his country's most-important diplomatic job in a post-Taliban world. America's security shield and public and private economic aid are keys to the future for the government of President Hamid Karzai as it tries to rebuild a nation devastated by two decades of war.

Karzai figures Shahryar's success as a capitalist, which one Afghan expert said had made him a legend among fellow emigres, his fluent English and previous life in America made him a good choice as his nation's top diplomat in Washington.

Long before, Shahryar was a Kabul-born child of Afghanistan's privileged class who King Zahir Shah sent to California to study in the mid-1950s, first at UC Berkeley and later at UC Santa Barbara.

Shahryar then worked as an engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, became a proud U.S. citizen with a wife and two children and founded a photovoltaics firm, Solec International, that he sold to a Japanese multinational in the early 1990s.

Shahryar also was a member of the Rome Group, the informal circle that advised Zahir Shah after the king fled Afghanistan for two decades of exile in Italy.

He was a delegate to last December's congress in Bonn, Germany, on creating Afghanistan's first post-Taliban government. Karzai asked Shahryar, who had become one of his top advisers, to turn from the good life in Pacific Palisades and take up the ambassador's job.

"You never know where life leads you," Shahryar said recently. "I never dreamed I'd be an ambassador, on top of everything else."


Perhaps the most wrenching part of Shahryar's decision to help his homeland was that he had to give up his U.S. citizenship.

"It was a very difficult decision. I love this country. But when you commit to serve, you have no choice," said Shahryar, who now carries an Afghan diplomatic passport.

"And on top of being ambassador, I have to live in cold Washington," he said, bundling up in a heavy Navy-blue overcoat that he bought about 20 years ago for winter business trips to Europe. He says he sorely misses California, especially in the November chill.

Although Shahryar had lived in California for 45 years until taking up his new post, he says he is nostalgic for the Kabul of his childhood, untarnished by a quarter-century of war.

"When we were kids, there was no crime," he said. "We could run around outside all night.

"No one was starving. There was no poverty."

As part of Shahryar's mission, he has to rebuild his nation's impressive three-story, red brick embassy in Washington, and its adjoining residence. The building had been shuttered since the mid-1970s, when Washington broke relations with the Afghan regime of the time.

The ambassador is still living in hotels, and his offices are a construction zone, even on weekends, as the sounds of banging and buffing fill the air along leafy embassy row in Washington's Kalorama neighborhood. The embassy phones are still in chaos.

war on terrorism, a sophisticated web of security cameras now stud the building.

"I've run bankrupt companies before, but never a bankrupt embassy," he said.

"We're making progress."


Shahryar first saw America in the summer of 1956, when he arrived at the UC Berkeley International House for classes, concentrating on learning colloquial English.

"People asked me how I liked being around Americans," he recalled. "And I said, 'I don't know. All we do is hang around the I-House and play pingpong with Arabs and Iranians.' "

Shahryar decided he needed to leave Berkeley to get to know America and headed to UC Santa Barbara, then a new, tiny campus in rural California. He earned degrees in the unlikely combination of physical chemistry and international relations before setting forth to make his fortune.

The envoy's success has given him an international reputation among Afghan emigres.

"He is a legend among Afghans, a whiz who made a lot of money," said Thomas Gouttierre of the Center for Afghan Studies at the University of Nebraska, who has spent decades studying Afghanistan.

Shahryar says his biggest tasks now are to keep the Bush administration and Congress interested in the country they liberated from the Taliban and al Qaeda and to encourage the international community to fulfill its pledges of $4.5 billion in aid, including $2 billion from the United States. And he wants to convince private investors that even with its long list of problems, Afghanistan is a good place to put their money.

"Economic growth will bring stability, and stability will bring democracy," he said, adding that he realizes the questionable security situation outside the capital city of Kabul -- where multinational peacekeepers operate -- is scaring off potential business and aid organizations.


When he appears around Washington, Shahryar is up front about his homeland's extensive problems.

He ticks off some of the Afghan litany of woes: 5 million refugees, tremendous hunger, woefully inadequate health care, scarce jobs and shadowy elements of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

It's all enough to give an ambassador sleepless nights; Shahryar's aides say he works 12- to 14-hour days.

Still, "we have so many reasons to be hopeful," the resolutely optimistic ambassador said. "We are quite literally building a new country."

Steve Faryabi, president of the Afghan-American Association in Fremont, just back in the East Bay after two months in his homeland, says the ambassador has his work cut out for him.

"America is doing nothing -- I'm very disappointed," Faryabi said. "The American military presence was all I saw, and that was barely visible."

His fledgling association is reviewing how it can best help Afghanistan and plans to start by raising $50,000 to rebuild a school and clinic for women and children. But showing he shares Shahryar's boundless optimism, Faryabi is toying with a much bigger idea, trying to help Afghanistan's once-proud Ariana Afghan Airlines expand its tiny fleet of one Airbus A300 and two Boeing 727s.

Shahryar, who hosted President Bush at the reopened embassy in September, says he hasn't lost faith in the administration, which is now focused on a potential war in Iraq.

"Our relationship with the United States is special," he said. "It's a partnership. The United States defeated the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union. This time, the United States came again and liberated Afghanistan from the hands of terrorists.

"If Afghanistan wins, America wins."


Thursday, July 28, 2011

A fairy-tale like journey to self-made millionaire in less than a decade

A child of an Indian middle-class parentage, Hilur Sainudeen counted himself lucky when he was sent after high school to read medicine in Lugansk, Ukraine, in mid-1990s. However, three things happened to change his parents’ future vision of a lucrative profession in medicine for their son. First of all, after completing the mandatory one-year Russian language course, Sainudeen decided to switch the rural Ukrainian city for a more vibrant location. Normal logic would have dictated a move to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, but instead he moved to Moscow, which, as he put it during a recent conversation with TRCW editor-in-chief, has always been ‘a place with the best opportunities in the post-Soviet region.’

The second and third life-course-changing events happened while he was studying in Russia, first of all, at the renowned Moscow Medical Academy, and later at the Second Medical Institute, where he finally graduated as a medical doctor. “During this time, my family’s hitherto thriving business in the rubber industry got a double-edge hit as the rupee nosedived against the dollar, while the cost of one kilo of raw rubber fell dramatically from 100 rupees to 16 rupees,” he said. “This put a serious financial strain on my parents; as a result, it became extremely difficult for them to meet my educational expenditures. As an exit from this financial hardship, I decided to seek part time jobs in Moscow.”

The beginning of a life-and-destiny-changing journey

This was the turning point both in his private life and professional career as his searches for part time work were successful, having landed a job at one of Moscow restaurants on Prospekt Mira with a monthly wage of $100. “From here I moved to a multinational transportation company as a manager and later to a pharmaceutical firm. It was in these firms that I learnt the basics of entrepreneurship and business management, expertise that will later guide me into building a multinational corporation with offices in several countries within five years’ time,” Sainudeen said, recounting his first experience in the business world. After acquiring the basic knowledge, he decided to go into business as a sole proprietor, starting with helping students to get cheap air tickets to and from India and provision of other related services at equally beat-down prices. “It was the sparkling success from this entrepreneurship that encouraged me to incorporate a real company, and this was how STP Global, the initials standing for ‘study, tourism and placement,’ was set up in Russia.”

Initially, the company’s main specialization was business services, such as providing support for foreign individuals and companies trying to incorporate companies, secure required official licenses for licensable services and helping Indian students gain admissions into universities in Russia and other CIS states, etc. “Initially, I was everything in my company, as there were no secretary, no office, in fact, all I had then was just a laptop. But despite these shortcomings, I was able to raise serious capital within a few weeks that enabled me to rent my first office on Prospekt Mira, the street, where I began my business career,” he said. “However, by the end of the year I was able to hire six employees. My business strategy was simple: provision of top quality services at a fraction of competitors’ prices for the same quality of services. The logic was that by keeping prices lower than competitors,’ more clients would prefer to use my services. This policy, along with the ‘word of mouth’ about the quality of my services at competitively affordable rates, enabled me to generate more revenues.”

“Initially, I was everything in my company, as there were no secretary, no office, in fact, all I had at the beginning was just an ordinary laptop.”

A real breakthrough came when some enterprising Russian partners approached him to help organize tours to Kerala, a pulsating tourist destination in South India, a business proposal that he readily agreed to. “However, the first batch of tourists encountered lots of problems, and to avoid a repeat of similar problems in the future, I decided to set up a company, STP India, with three offices in the region, to help our Russian tourists,” he recounted. “This proved successful, thanks to our personalized service approach to each client, meeting all their needs 24 hours a day,” he added. “Today, STP India plans to open more offices in such huge Indian metropolitan cities as Calcutta, Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai by the end of this year.”

Another chance for a new business venture came, when flying from Moscow via Dubai to India; Sainudeen met an Australian business executive running a tourism-related business in the United Arab Emirates’ largest metropolis. The end result of the chance encounter was the incorporation of STP Dubai. “This enabled me to send tourists from Russia and CIS to the UAE and India. Initially, I treated these tourist routes as two distinct destinations, but later decided to offer them as a single tourist product for our Russian travelers. For instance, a 10-day tour on this program would include a five-day stay in India and another five-day stay in UAE,” he said. “But when you take into consideration that shopping is much cheaper in Dubai, then this opportunity to simultaneously visit, stay over and shop at Dubai en-route from India to Russia made our offer unique and highly attractive to clients.”

Diversification of business ventures

Though tourism and related businesses and services in STP Global’s portfolios were flourishing, their marked seasonality, as Sainudeen put it, was an acceptable fundamental barrier to high-speed expansion of company’s growth and its capacity for rapid capital generation. “It was the need to eliminate these flaws that prompted the diversification of my business portfolios. First of all, I decided to move into retail, starting with shops in India, as this really offers a sure and regular cash flow.”

This summer Sainudeen opened his first four-level shopping center named ‘Banaraz’ in Venjaramoodu, one of the oldest and fastest-growing cities in Southern India. “Indeed, at the red-ribbon cutting ceremony during the official opening of the Banaraz shopping mall all high-profile politicians such as state minister, Bollywood actors and celebrities, etc., were in attendance,” he added. “The strategic plan now is to expand the retail portfolio to such trendy locations as Dubai, Riyadh and Dammam in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Doha in Qatar and Singapore. As you know, these countries are very business-friendly and have lots of investment-enhancement polices to attract foreign capital.”

Sainudeen said his strategy in the retail industry is not to open shops in well-established cities where competition is already at a cutthroat level, but rather in less developed regions with huge growth potential. “The advantages of this approach include the possibility to stamp one’s hegemony on the local markets, pay relatively lower wages to employees and also offer lower prices than those in bigger cities,” he said. “These advantages will enable me to have monopolist powers in these areas, and when I will have consolidated my positions and generated enough capital, I shall be in stronger position to challenge and compete with the biggest retailers on the more established locations on an equal footing.”

Apart from retail, STP Global has also turned its focus to the energy sector, with multimillion-dollar projects in pipeline in Saudi Arabia. “I’m currently at the final stage of launching a company, Rus Arabian, scheduled for March 2011, which will specialize in automation of business processes in this oil-rich Arab state’s petrochemical industry,” he said. “Here, we are offering the Arabs the best of Russian automation technologies and are currently translating the manuals for operating these tools into Arabic. I must note that this venture has the full backing of the Saudi Royal government.”

Sainudeen said that one of the reasons behind his comprehensive business diversification strategy is never to be dependent on one product, a single service, industry or country. “For instance, we have STP Infra, handling our businesses in the infrastructure development sector, STP Media in the entertainment sector, STP Education, STP Holidays, STP Alliance and other STP-branded companies offering different services in different sectors,” he said.

“By operating a highly diversified multinational corporation with business interests in different industries and countries, I’m insuring my businesses against any downturn in a single industry or a country.”

As parts of his future diversification strategy, he plans to move into the jewelry and textile industries by launching Banaraz-branded gold products and garments such as suits, traditional Indian clothes, saris, jeans, etc. “The future goals here include shipping these goods to our shops abroad, including Russia,” he said. “By operating a highly diversified multinational corporation with business interests in different industries and offices in several countries, I’m insuring my businesses against any downturn in a single industry or in a country or even a region.”

Reviving family business in the rubber industry

Sainudeen noted that now with most of his local and international business operations intact and running smoothly that his next target is to revive the family’s business in the latex industry. “It was the hard times in this industry in mid-1990s that forced me to look for part time jobs in Moscow during my studies. Now, almost a decade later, and in a much better financial position, the time has come for me to tackle this problem once and for all,” he said. “I will need lots of investments, and there are currently three international investors that have indicated their intents in this venture. Here, we are talking about $25mln-$30mln, a figure that can give a general impression of the scale of the project.”

“Today, my one-man firm has grown into a big multinational corporation with almost 500 employees on its payroll in offices in three countries. My long-term strategic objective is to have up to 15,000 employees by 2020.”

Commenting on his parents’ reactions to his sudden professional career change, Sainudeen said his relatives, especially his father, was initially not very happy because he always said he had sent his son to read medicine to become a doctor and not a businessman. “But all these initial disappointments have disappeared as things have changed with all the achievements, including making regular huge financial contributions to the family’s social obligations in our society, building the biggest villa in the region with all the modern amenities and also undertaking some vital charity programs, such as helping to subsidize wedding expenditures for the ‘less fortunate’ in our immediate community.”

Sainudeen said when he started on this ‘adventurous journey into the business world’ almost 10 years ago as one-man firm in Moscow he was confident that he would eventually succeed, but never in his widest dreams would he have imagined the magnitude of his current achievements and definitely not within such a short timespan. “I’ve got several awards, including the Youngest Entrepreneur Award in 2009, and another one is also in the pipeline, to be officially awarded in January 2011,” he said. “All these are in recognition of my successes. Today, my one-man firm has grown into a big trans-border multinational corporation with almost 500 employees on its payroll in offices in three countries,” he said. “My long-term strategic expansion objective is to employ a minimum of 10,000-15,000 people by 2020,” he noted. “And given the scale of intended projects in the pipelines, with the expansion of the retail business in India alone over the next couple years expected to attract a minimum of 1,000 additional employees, this goal is more than feasible within the stipulated deadline.” He said he likes running a multinational company because it is more challenging, but at the same time, is also very rewarding, if appropriately managed. “Today, I’m in Moscow, next week I’m in India, and from there I fly to Dubai, and so for a whole year.”

Asked to characterize his success story, Sainudeen said his life journey is a bit different from the traditional stories of ‘typical self-made millionaires’ because all the investments into all business projects were from his private capital made in Russia. “I’ve never taken loans or sought outside investments for projects,” he said. “Now local and foreign strategic investors are approaching me for investment and joint-venture business opportunities. For instance, an investor, who came recently to see one my showrooms in India, has indicated his readiness to invest in my company. This means that I have built an internationally recognized brand that is worthy of such investments.”

America’s First Female Self-Made Millionaire

The following story is about America's first FEMALE self made millionaire, Madam C. J. Walker.

Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 on a Delta, Louisiana plantation, this daughter of former slaves transformed herself from an uneducated farm laborer and laundress into one of the twentieth century’s most successful, self-made women entrepreneurs.

Orphaned at age seven, she often said, “I got my start by giving myself a start.” She and her older sister, Louvenia, survived by working in the cotton fields of Delta and nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. At 14, she married Moses McWilliams to escape abuse from her cruel brother-in-law, Jesse Powell.

Her only daughter, Lelia (later known as A’Lelia Walker) was born on June 6, 1885. When her husband died two years later, she moved to St. Louis to join her four brothers who had established themselves as barbers.

Working for as little as $1.50 a day, she managed to save enough money to educate her daughter in the city’s public schools. Friendships with other black women who were members of St. Paul A.M.E. Church and the National Association of Colored Women exposed her to a new way of viewing the world.

During the 1890s, Sarah began to suffer from a scalp ailment that caused her to lose most of her hair. She experimented with many homemade remedies and store-bought products, including those made by Annie Malone, another black woman entrepreneur.

In 1905 Sarah moved to Denver as a sales agent for Malone, then married her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a St. Louis newspaperman. After changing her name to “Madam” C. J. Walker, she founded her own business and began selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula, which she claimed had been revealed to her in a dream. (Madam Walker, by the way, did NOT invent the straightening comb or chemical perms, though many people incorrectly believe that to be true.)

To promote her products, the new “Madam C.J. Walker” traveled for a year and a half on a dizzying crusade throughout the heavily black South and Southeast, selling her products door to door, demonstrating her scalp treatments in churches and lodges, and devising sales and marketing strategies. In 1908, she temporarily moved her base to Pittsburgh where she opened Lelia College to train Walker “hair culturists.”

By early 1910, she had settled in Indianapolis, then the nation’s largest inland manufacturing center, where she built a factory, hair and manicure salon and another training school. Less than a year after her arrival, Walker grabbed national headlines in the black press when she contributed $1,000 to the building fund of the “colored” YMCA in Indianapolis.

In 1913, while Walker traveled to Central America and the Caribbean to expand her business, her daughter A’Lelia, moved into a fabulous new Harlem townhouse and Walker Salon, designed by black architect, Vertner Tandy. “There is nothing to equal it,” she wrote to her attorney, F.B. Ransom. “Not even on Fifth Avenue.”

Walker herself moved to New York in 1916, leaving the day-to-day operations of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis to Ransom and Alice Kelly, her factory forelady and a former school teacher. She continued to oversee the business and to work in the New York office. Once in Harlem, she quickly became involved in Harlem’s social and political life, taking special interest in the NAACP’s anti-lynching movement to which she contributed $5,000.

In July 1917, when a white mob murdered more than three dozen blacks in East St. Louis, Illinois, Walker joined a group of Harlem leaders who visited the White House to present a petition advocating federal anti-lynching legislation.

As her business continued to grow, Walker organized her agents into local and state clubs. Her Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention in Philadelphia in 1917 must have been one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in the country.

Walker used the gathering not only to reward her agents for their business success, but to encourage their political activism as well. “This is the greatest country under the sun,” she told them. “But we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice. We should protest until the American sense of justice is so aroused that such affairs as the East St. Louis riot be forever impossible.”

By the time she died at her estate, Villa Lewaro, in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, she had helped create the role of the 20th Century, self-made American businesswoman; established herself as a pioneer of the modern black hair-care and cosmetics industry; set standards in the African-American community for corporate and community giving, and became the first self-made female millionaire in America.

Tenacity and perseverance, faith in herself and in God, quality products and “honest business dealings” were the elements and strategies she prescribed for aspiring entrepreneurs who requested the secret to her rags-to-riches ascent. “There is no royal flower-strewn path to success,” she once commented. “And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”


Thailand's 6 coolest self-made millionaires

All over the age of 50, these wealthy Thais managed to rise from the masses to build some pretty hefty fortunes

While the world may tend to think of Thailand chiefly as a vacation destination, it is, of course, home to a US$300 billion economy and a population of more than 67 million.

Though most of today’s top money makers come from old wealth, the country’s laid back atmosphere has given rise to a few serious entrepreneurs.

Here are Thailand’s six coolest self-made millionaires –- and in a couple of cases billionaires -- all over the age of 50.

1. Chaleo Yoovidhya: Giving the world its wings

Red Bull
Chaleo Yoovidhya is the cofounder of Red Bull, in which he owns a 49 percent stake. In 2009, the company had US$4.4 billion in sales, with the caffeine-rich, super-sweet mixture popular with ravers, nightclub denizens, and tired workers the world over.

Red Bull made its debut in 1987, and now enjoys a significant market share among energy drinks. Its expanded product line now includes small “energy shots” and even sugar-free versions of the drink.

Chaleo, age 78, is one of Thailand’s richest citizens, with a net worth that "Forbes" recently estimated at some US$4.2 billion.

You might not know: Red Bull was based on Chaleo's very own Thai energy drink Krating Daeng, which means roughly -- you guessed it -- “red bull.”

2. Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi: The brewer

Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi's ThaiBev, or Thai Beverage Public Company Limited, is one of Southeast Asia’s biggest alcohol producers. The company is perhaps best known for producing Beer Chang, the potent, elephant-adorned brew that has wet the whistles of countless Thais and launched a million backpackers’ “Chang-overs.”

ThaiBev is also a sponsor of English Premier League team Everton Football Club, and Chang’s iconic pachyderms adorn the club’s shirt. ("Chang" is Thai for elephant.)

The company also produces the local firewaters Sang Som and Mekhong rums (the term “rum” is used loosely here), as well as the inexpensive brews Archa and the German beer-inspired Federbrau.

Charoen is estimated to be worth more than US$4 billion -- not bad considering the 66-year-old is the son of a fried mussel pancake vendor.

You might not know: Charoen also reportedly owns Bangkok’s Pantip Plaza, where gadgets of every stripe can be purchased.

3. William E Heinecke: Expanding waistlines nationwide

William Heinecke
When you see restaurants like Dairy Queen, Burger King and Swensen’s in Thailand, you have one man to thank -- or curse -- in the name of globalization: William E. Heinecke.

The 61-year-old founded his company, Minor Group, in 1967, and now owns more than a thousand restaurants and 27 hotels in Thailand and throughout the Asia Pacific region.

Other brands his company controls in Thailand include the Marriott, the Four Seasons, Pizza Company and Sizzler.

Thailand has been good to Heinecke: he is thought to be worth $425 million. Heinecke was born in the U.S. but his family moved to Thailand when he was a teenager. He is now a Thai citizen.

You might not know: The resilient Heinecke beat Pizza Hut at their own game. He bought the Pizza Hut franchise in Thailand in 1980 but had a contract dispute with its U.S. parent company.

Pizza Hut then closed in Thailand, but Heinecke built a new company -- Pizza Company -- using Pizza Hut’s old store locations. The result: he captured some 70 percent of Thailand's pizza market in just six months.

4. Kraisorn Chansiri: Baffling brains with 'Chicken of the Sea'

Chicken of the Sea
Kraisorn Chansiri, 75, is the founder of Thai Union, one of the world’s biggest canned tuna firms. The company is Thailand’s biggest producer of canned and frozen seafood and last year became a truly global force by purchasing European tuna canner MW Brands for $860 million.

Kraisorn is worth an estimated $430 million.

You might not know: There was a Thailand connection when Jessica Simpson wondered aloud, on her TV show several years back, whether cans of "Chicken of the Sea" contained chicken or tuna. That brand belongs to Thai Union. (And yes, it’s tuna.)

5. Vichai Raksriaksorn: The king of duty free

Vichai Rakriaksorn is one of the younger members of our list, and at age 52 he’s amassed a cool US$180 million fortune.

That’s thanks to you, me and everyone else who’s shelled out hard-earned dough in Thailand’s King Power tax-free shops. The outlets are in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, as well as airports in Chiang Mai and Phuket; there’s also a downtown Bangkok shop.

You might not know: Thailand’s ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- also a self-made man -- grabbed headlines when he bought the English Premier League side Manchester City in 2007, though he has since moved on from the club.

But Vichai is a lesser-known soccer owner: he and his consortium of investors took the helm of Championship side Leicester City last year. And interestingly, the manager of the club is currently Sven-Goran Eriksson -- who managed Manchester City under Thaksin. What a tangled web we weave.

6. Tan Passakornnatee: Mr Oishi

Oishi Tan
Tan Passakornnatee, 51, is the founder of Oishi Group, famous for its extremely popular Japanese restaurants.

There are Oishi sushi buffets, there are Oishi “expresses,” there are Oishi ramen bars, there are Oishi teppanyaki, and more. There’s even an Oishi green tea brand. And Tan isn't even Japanese.

Malaysian-born Tan started out as an unskilled laborer at 17 before purchasing his first business -- a newstand --and eventually moving into real estate. He lost it all in 1997, then rebuilt his fortune starting with a chain of wedding studios. (Read his full story here.)

A few years ago Tan sold the Oishi brand to Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, owner of ThaiBev and number two on our list. He stayed on as CEO until last year.

He has since embarked on other restaurant and drink endeavors through his new company, Mai Tan. Though Tan's net worth is unknown, according to the Bangkok Post he is now investing 2.4 billion baht (US$78 million) in a beverage production plant in Ayutthaya to create his own functional drink brand.

You might not know: Tan is a strong believer in giving back. Until he reaches the age of 60, half of Mai Tan’s net profits will be given to his Tan Pan Foundation, which will focus on education and the environment.


Female bus tycoon rags to riches story

Ever wonder exactly who owns the hundreds of buses at gigantic Bangkok bus stations like Morchit?

Probably Suchinda, Suchinda Cherdchai, the bus tycoon who pulled off a PR stunt recently that made her famous. Dressed up in an old Chinese opera costume, she met with Prime Minister Surayud and managed to win a 30 satang per kilometre fare increase to make up for diesel price hikes. (See photo on right) Her early life:

Mrs Suchinda, 71, is better known as Jeh Kiaw, and she owns the coach assembly company Cherdchai Industrial Factory and the passenger bus company Cherdchai Tour in Nakhon Ratchasima...

She was born into a poor Chinese family in Nakhon Ratchasima, but now runs businesses worth a billion baht.

She was brought up according to family tradition, which meant a daughter did not need a high level of education but had to work to help generate income for the household.

Consequently, she finished only some early grades of primary school.

How her successful business was founded:
Nearly 50 years ago she entered the passenger bus business with capital of 120 baht.

She started with a small bus route in her home province.

The business grew incredibly and became one of the largest coach assembly companies in Thailand, with production capacity of 800 buses a year and a workforce of more than 3,000.

Mrs Suchinda also has passenger bus concessions in the North, Northeast and East.

The secret to her success?

Besides perseverance, saving is another key factor behind her success. Demonstrating her frugality, Mrs Suchinda still wears the cheap trousers her friend gave her in 1985. Of course, the 22-year-old trousers have been repeatedly patched up, but Mrs Suchinda simply says they are still usable.
Definitely, an inspiring story and a life to emulate.


Shi Zhengrong: Rags to riches

Shi Zhengrong
Philip Gostelow for TIME

In 1988, Shi Zhengrong arrived in Australia as a foreign-exchange scholar from Shanghai with a master's degree in optics. To have come this far was already a significant achievement. Shi and his twin brother were born in a farming community on Yangzhong Island in 1963. Destitute after the great famine and already supporting two children, Shi's parents gave him, the younger twin, up for adoption. The boy excelled at school and his adoptive parents honored his teachers with a great banquet before their 16-year-old son left for university in Manchuria.

In 1989, Shi knocked on my office door at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney seeking full-time work. Instead, I offered him a scholarship to do solar-cell research.

Shi earned his Ph.D. quickly, and in 1995 we appointed him deputy research director of a university spin-off that was developing next-generation solar technology. But in 2001, he forsook this relative security and moved to the Chinese city of Wuxi to head a solar-cell start-up company. With $6 million in backing arranged by Wuxi's government, plus the assistance of ex-colleagues at UNSW and his own unrelenting drive, Shi soon had his first factory operational. Sales boomed as the market for solar technology rapidly expanded, stimulated in part by Germany's new renewable-energy legislation. In 2005, Shi organized a buyout of his Chinese investors by U.S. firms, and in December that year Shi's firm, Suntech Power, became the first private Chinese company to list on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, Shi is a billionaire — one of the wealthiest men in China and, for that matter, one of Australia's richest citizens.

But this is not the end. Suntech Power continues to grow at a startling rate, with a current market value of $6 billion. Shi envisions his company growing to the size of oil conglomerates as the world increasingly shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy. His trailblazing efforts have also inspired six other former UNSW students to play a leading role in successful Chinese solar ventures of their own. As a result, China seems poised to overtake Japan as the global leader in solar-cell manufacturing. A worthy legacy for a farmer's son from Yangzhong.


David Davies: Rags to riches

On 18 April 1854. David Davies was born in a cottage near Aberlash Farm, which was situated near Ammanford in Dyfed.
.....He had been born into a large poverty-stricken family and his father, William Davies, earned a living as a labourer on Aberlash Farm.
..... David Davies, however, was destined to become one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the Swansea Valley by becoming a successful colliery proprietor. The life of David Davies is one that took him from rags to riches.
..... In 1860, William Davies decided to take his wife and their children to live at Pentalwn in Godre'rgraig, near the town of Pontardawe, in the Upper Swansea Valley. William Davies soon found employment in the Ystalyfera Iron and Tinplate Works, which was owned by a local businessman named James Palmer Budd. David Davies, who was then six years old, also went to work in the iron and tinplate Works. At such a young age, he had the grueling experience of having to work sixteen hours a day at a daily wage of 6 pence. As there were several David Davieses working in the ironworks, David adopted his father's name as his second name. Thus, he became known as David William Davies. He also became known by the surname of 'Davies Aherlash' after Aberlash Farm.
..... David William Davies had no schooling, as his life was spent in the iron and tinplate Works, but he improved his knowledge as best he could by attending Chapel and Sunday School.
..... He became a frequent competitor at the Penny-Readings and local eisteddfodau. He also learnt chapters and psalms from the Bible, which he sometimes recited before the congregation at Pantteg Chapel, in Ystalyfera, where he would one day become a senior deacon.
..... Throughout the years of his life, David William Davies was a very religious and God-fearing man and he once said, "The Bible will teach you how to live and how to die".
..... When the ironmaster James Plainer Budd inspected the iron and tinplate Works every Monday morning, he was shown the best tinplates and, after he had gone, the shining tinplates were then stored safely away as, unbeknown to the ironmaster, they were the same tinplates shown to him in his weekly inspections. David William Davies then decided that, if he ever became an employer, he would he wary over such dirty tricks ever being played on him. (See Note 2 below)
..... The early 1880s was a time when the Upper Swansea Valley was hit by a depression as work became scarce. James Palmer Budd died on 9 December 1883 at the age of eighty, and the iron and tinplate works began to deteriorate until it finally closed down in 1886. Many families moved away from the area in search of employment, but David William Davies was to bring prosperity back to Ystalyfera and the neighbouring villages.
..... In 1886 – the year when the Ystalyfera Iron and Tinplate Works closed down – Davies Aberlash decided to reopen the old Pwllbach Colliery in Ystalyfera. The colliery had first been opened by a colliery proprietor named Daniel Harper in 1812, but the colliery had been idle for many years.
..... Many people believed that his venture to reopen this old colliery would end in failure, and it was a very hold and daring venture, as Davies Aberlash had no experience at all in coal mining. A few local friends, however, believed that the reopening of the colliery would he a success.
..... A story goes that the men employed at Pwllbach Colliery by Davies Aberlash found coal in the mine, but the miners soon struck a fault and they lost all trace of coal.
..... Davies Aberlash told his workmen that he had spent all his money and, therefore, he couldn't pay their wages.
..... As the men had no work to go elsewhere, they continued to dig in search of coal for a fortnight and, to the astonishment of many people, a rich vein of coal was discovered beyond the fault.
..... Davies Aberlash paid all his men the wages owing to them, and so Pwllbach Colliery became a great success. It made David William Davies Aberlash a wealthy man and the colliery brought employment to hundreds of men from the area.
..... Davies Aberlash then took Mr. Edmund Cleeves of Swansea into partnership and they formed the Pwllbach Colliery Company with Davies Aberlash as its managing director.
..... The colliery under his supervision provided employment for nearly forty years. And was later handed over to the Amalgamated Collieries Ltd., employing between 600 and 700 men. (See Note 3 below)
..... Encouraged by the success of Pwllbach Colliery, Davies Aberlash took advantage of the experience he had as an employee of James Palmer Budd's Iron and Tinplate Works.
..... He acquired the Phoenix Tinplate Works, in Ystradgynlais and thus he brought more employment into the area.
..... A few years later, he opened two other collieries – The Diamond Drift Colliery in Ystradgynlais, and the Tirbach Colliery in Ystalyfera. (See Note 4 below)
.....David William Davies Aberlash had now become a much respected man in the Upper Swansea Valley. Though he was known as 'Davies Aberlash', he was also known by the surnames of 'Davies Tycoch', after his red-bricked house in Ystalyfera, 'Davies Pwllbach', and 'Davies Tirbach after the collieries which he owned.

David Davies Aberlash in later life, looking every inch the prosperous coal magnate and chapel elder.

.....Though he became a very wealthy man, Davies Aberlash didn't forget his poor and humble beginnings. He became known in the Upper Swansea Valley for being a philanthropist as well as a leading industrialist – he supported education of others in many ways, such as giving scholarships to his employees, and he donated £1,000 to Ystalyfera's Grammar School.
..... His generosity knew no bounds and he often gave donations to clear the debts of many local churches in the area.
..... He took particular interest in Pantteg Church in Ystalyfera and he donated £600 for the rebuilding of a vestry at the Pantteg Church. It was a proud moment in his life when he was elected as a senior deacon at Pantteg Church in 1901.
..... In 1924, now at the age of seventy, Davies Aberlash gradually retired from the coalmining industry which he had re-established in Ystalyfera. He did, however, devote himself to public and social duties during his retirement.
..... In May 1935 he gave a gift of £10,000 to Swansea General Hospital (now Singleton Hospital). The gift was given on condition that a new hospital block would be known as the 'D. W. Davies Block' and it would have a ward named the 'Martha Davies Ward' alter his wife. The gift was a thanks-offering for his wife's recovery from an illness.
..... The money was handed to Dr Clark Begg in a sealed envelope at the opening of the new block. The amount of this generous gift covered the cost of the building materials, and so the new hospital block was opened free of any debt.
..... After giving the gift of £10,000 to the hospital, Davies Aberlash maintained a lively interest in the hospital, which he often visited to meet the doctors arid patients. He also became the president of the hospital's contributory scheme at Ystalyfera, and he often discussed at his home the running of the hospital with hospital officials.
..... One of his last public duties was in the summer of 1937 when he opened the outdoor swimming pool in Ystalyfera which had been built for the people of the village.
..... The life of David William Davies Aberlash came to an end in the early hours of the morning of Friday, 26 November 1937, when he died at his home in Ystalyfera at the age of 83.
..... He left hehind a widow, Martha Davies, but their marriage had remained a childless one.
..... His estate was estimated as being £750,000, and some of the estate, known as the 'Aberlash Fortune', passed to his younger brother William Davies, who was a colliery official with the Amalgamated Collieries Ltd. The funeral of David William Davies Aberlash took place on Wednesday, 1st December 1937, at Pantteg Church, and he was laid to rest in Pantteg graveyard. (See Note 5 below)
..... Many colliery official attended his funeral service to pay their last tribute to David William Davies, Aberlash, the industrialist and philanthropist of Ystalyfera.



6 Self Made Millionaire Case Studies

The other day I was on HARO… actually, let me rephrase that: The other day my virtual assistant was on HARO… looking for case studies of people who had become self made (my all encompassing obsession as of late). Lots of people responded to our query, but 6 stood out as legitimate and inspiring self made millionaires and I thought I’d share their stories with you.

Now do note that these stories aren’t written or really edited by me, they were either written by the person’s publicist or by the millionaire themselves (you can guess which one is which). I decided to leave them this way so my thoughts or personality wouldn’t taint the information a savvy reader can gather from these 6 self made case studies.

Enjoy and let me know your thoughts afterwards… I’m impartial to their stories but I think each has interesting and inspirational lesson to be learned from.

self made millionaire - jessie connersJESSIE CONNERS

If there is a strong go-getter, self-made, female entrepreneur who has followed her passions to launch not just one, but four successful small businesses; it would be Jessie Conners.

Her life is a true rags-to-riches story – she went from a trailer with no running water – to an orphanage – to opening a marketing company at 17 – to buying her first piece of real estate at 19. At 20, Jessie was a published author, then a reality star at 21 (Donald Trump’s The Apprentice).

Jessie became a national speaker (speaking at over 1500 real estate conventions) and by 27 started her e-tail company Now, at 28, Jessie is finally a multi-millionaire – and she achieved all of it by chasing the dream of becoming self made.

This year, real estate magnate, author and owner of newly minted expects to shatter glass ceilings with sales reaching close to a million from her latest endeavor.

By having a unique member model coupled with featuring over 300 designers that appeal to women from all walks of life, she’s looking for her Minneapolis-based one stop, online shop to almost 10 thousand members.

Jessie’s fearlessness and tenacity has wowed the likes of notables from Donald Trump when she appeared on the first season of The Apprentice as the youngest contestant to date.

self made millionaire - Bert MartinezBERT MARTINEZ


The keys to becoming self made and a self made millionaire are:

The saying, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he“, not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.

So all people are self made, the real difference between a millionaire or a billionaire
or a zillionaire is knowledge and fear. Most people know what to do but are afraid to take action. They are afraid of money, success, criticism, work, failure, success and the list goes on. Their self-esteem or unconscious belief controls their results.

Through marketing I became a self-made “millionaire” by the time I was 30 and filed bankruptcy at 32. My self esteem surrounding money reared its ugly head, then marketing and sales allowed me to hit millionaire status again at age 35.

My company Bert Martinez Communications is dedicated to teaching small business owners strategies to grow their business and their self image so they avoid the mistakes I made.

self made millionaire - Todd TresidderTODD TRESIDDER

Company: Money Coach

I’ve been coaching clients to wealth for the last 12 years after achieving financial independence at age 35. I’ve written extensively on the keys to self-made wealth. It is my passion.

From a sound bite perspective the key to building wealth is to make more than you spend and invest the difference wisely. Rinse and repeat until wealth is achieved. No secret there. The key is not in knowing what to do, the key is in getting it done

* You must have a plan.
* The plan must be based on proven principles that lead to wealth including leverage, risk management, and much more.
* You must set up support structures to pull you through when you run into the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.
* You must understand the concept of “enough-ness” and the tradeoffs involved because the goal is happiness and fulfillment – not wealth. Wealth is a tool or vehicle but never the end goal.

I retired at age 35 by saving roughly 60-70% of my earned income and investing it wisely. I published an article explaining exactly how the process works here.

self made millionaire - Debra CohenDEBRA COHEN

Company: Home Referral Network

Becoming a self made millionaire, doesn’t only require hard work, it requires discipline. Earning millions of dollars is irrelevant if you spend more than you earn. Living lean and saving for the future have always been my mantra in addition to maintaining an affordable and conservative lifestyle.

As soon as my Homeowner Referral Network business started to generate a good income, my first priority was to save at least 1/2 of what I made. The millionaire next door doesn’t necessarily drive a Bentley–it may be a 10 year old Honda.

Several years ago after the purchase of our first home, not only were my husband and I struggling to make ends meet but we faced the all too familiar challenge of finding reliable home improvement contractors. Based on our experience, I decided to create a business to address this need in our community.

HOME REMEDIES OF NY, INC. is a Homeowner Referral Network (HRN) for homeowners seeking reliable home improvement contractors. I pre-screen and represent a network of more than 50 home improvement contractors ranging from painters, plumbers and carpenters to general contractors, architects and decorative painters. Contractors in my network pay a pre-negotiated commission on any work secured and my service is free to homeowners.

I started my business with just a $5000 loan from my husband’s retirement savings plan and Home Remedies has grossed more than $4 million to date.

self made millionaires - AJ KhubaniAJ KHUBANI

Company: TeleBrands

TeleBrands markets “As Seen on TV” products to the consumer audience. From the PedEgg and Windshield Wonder to today’s new Chef Basket and One-Second Needle, TeleBrands helps consumers find a common solution to everyday problems.

AJ Khubani founded TeleBrands at the age of 27 with his life savings of $20,000. While in college, Khubani began marketing an AM/FM type radio in the back of the Nation Inquirer for $10.

He broke even. But, that lead him to creaing many new products and moving into television infomercial advertising. In the late 1980s, he began marketing the AmberVision Glasses for $10 at retail establishments — the first time an “As Seen on TV” infomercial product was available in a bricks and mortar environment. The product became a household name and a new approach to the direct response television (DRTV) industry was born.

Khubani offers the following advice:

  • When you have a new product idea, start by “Googling” the idea — see if someone else invented or marketed it before you did. Take the time to do your research.
  • Apply for a provision patent for just over $100 at There is no need to begin with expensive lawyers and spending your entire savings on your product/idea.
  • Learn the marketplace. If you are creating a consumer product for a specific audience, is that potential audience large enough to result increased revenues? Be realistic in your goals.

And most importantly — enjoy what you do!

self made millionaire - Tony HartlTONY HARTL

Company: Planet Tan & Selling Sunshine (book)

There are several keys to becoming a wildly successful, self-made millionaire. Creatively solving problems is important, great stewardship of money is a must over the long-term, and a large tolerance for risk is key as you start out.

But what really separates the successful from the unsuccessful, in my experience, is an unrelenting desire to accomplish your goals.

This is NOT an unrelenting desire to make money; it’s the passion for making your ideas into reality. Money hasn’t been the main drive behind any of the successful people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. There are more interesting things in the world than currency, after all.

People with passion who solve problems in new, relevant ways will make money, and those who deal with adversity, take logical risks, and put their money where it matters the most will grow their businesses quickly.” – Tony
Tony Hartl founded Planet Tan in 1995 and built the company into one of the most recognizable brands in the Dallas area. He currently sits on the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship Board and has been a guest lecturer at the Caruth Institute of Entrepreneurship at SMU’s Cox Business School. He has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Inc. magazine, Fortune Small Business, and the Dallas Morning News.

Transbrasil - Rags to Riches

"The owner of a regional air taxi company who started out as an aircraft cleaner on Tuesday took over Transbrasil SA, Brazil's fourth-largest airline, grounded since early December after failing to pay fuel bills.. . . .Dilson Prado, the 36-year-old owner of Fly Brazil air taxis, a small regional company based in the interior state of Goias, was taking over the company and planned to inject an initial dlrs 25 million to get the ailing carrier flying again, according to stock exchange statements.

Over the next six months, the statements said a further dlrs 85 million would be pumped into the company that currently has debts of more than dlrs 380 million.

A ruling by Brazil's Civil Aviation Department said Transbrasil must get its aircraft back in the air by Feb. 3, or lose concessions on 22 domestic routes and one to the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Brazil's two major carriers Varig and TAM were both said to be interested in picking off the most profitable of those routes.

Prado got his first job in the aviation business at 14 when he started cleaning planes for a local carrier. He went on to become an air traffic controller before founding Fly Brazil.

There was no immediate comment from Prado but Marco Antonio Barbosa, a trade union representative at Transbrasil, said the new owner met with employees in Sao Paulo Tuesday.

Prado promised to operate a fleet of five passenger aircraft and two cargo planes and pledged to reinstate about four-fifths of the 1,350 workers dismissed by the former management, Barbosa said.

"It's a solution. We are very relieved,'' Barbosa said, adding that the company's remaining 1,700 workers had gone unpaid for five months.

Transbrasil was grounded Dec. 3, when its fuel suppliers refused to extend further credit to cover its bills. Since 1999, Transbrasil has posted losses of 365.5 million reals (dlrs 155 million).

Former Transbrasil President Antonio Celso Cipriani has been accused by former company executives of creaming off Transbrasil funds to develop a resort in the United States.

It was not clear whether Cipriani would stay on in some capacity under the new management."


Monday, July 25, 2011

Building his own legacy : Atul Punj

Atul Punj comes from a well-known business family, but his success story diverges from that of most scions of the privileged.

THERE is a saying that family wealth does not last more than three generations. This was anathema to Atul Punj. His grandfather, Kanahya Lal Punj, had built up a thriving business selling construction materials in the earlier half of the 1900s. But by the 1990s, when the business was divided up among Kanahya Lal's many descendents, all that Atul Punj inherited was a small construction company that was deep in debt.

The construction company did have a top line of about Rs 3 crore (less than S$1 million at today's rates) but it also had a debt of Rs 5 crore. 'I was broke, I had no money. The first two years after I had taken over were nightmarish times,' he remembers.

The company Mr Punj had inherited eventually became Punj Lloyd, now India's second biggest construction company, estimated to be worth around US$2 billion.

Atul Punj's success story - he is now in the league of India's Top-20 richest men - diverges from that of most scions of the privileged. There was no financial support to fall back on, for starters. And while his company did bear the family name, he decided early on that he would be independent.

Still, the legacy of coming from a well-known family was hard to shake off. 'To come from a three-generation business family and to have to start as a first generation entrepreneur was much worse because of the baggage of the family name and history,' says the 50-year-old Mr Punj.

Perhaps even more of a handicap to his business was that it was difficult to change the public perception that he was rich, making business loans hard to get. 'People thought I was wealthy because of my family, but I really had nothing,' he adds.

Big break

Jobs were also not plenty in India at the time when Mr Punj took over the reins of Punj Lloyd. So with business lumbered in red tape and his staff working without pay, he decided he had to leave India to look for work.

He found it in Indonesia.

It was the time of the 'Asian Miracle' and his first big break - a US$13 million contract to lay infrastructure pipes in Indonesia - was perhaps not so uncommon.

However, by the time Punj Lloyd had been offered the contract, the company had already run out of money. 'We didn't even have money to send people to Indonesia to finalise the contract,' reveals Mr Punj.

Unperturbed, he sent his Indonesian client a fax inviting them to India instead, expounding on the clement weather and lovely sights, while cleverly diverting attention away from the company's penurious state of affairs. It was a gamble but the Indonesian client came.

Without meeting Atul Punj personally, it is perhaps difficult for anyone reading this to understand the sense of sincerity and earnestness that the man can invoke. The re-telling of this brief encounter serves to address this:

Preceding the interview that would lead to this article, the interviewer was led into an unremarkable room in an ordinary office tower. The room was barely furnished and the man with a slight build sitting behind a computer without a tie, and who was also obviously hot-desking, turned out to be the CEO of Punj Lloyd.

After being introduced by his minders, a particularly over-zealous one asked if the CEO would put on a tie for the photo-taking, upon which Atul Punj replied: 'I never wear a tie when I work so I don't see why I should wear one now.'

Everyone appreciates a straight-talking businessman and Atul Punj is certainly one. Still it took Mr Punj a while to secure the bank guarantee he needed to kick-start the Indonesian contract. 'I had already had 50 to 60 meetings with bankers and there was not any effort that I did not make,' he remembers of those early futile meetings.

Despite being treated to the lovely sights of India, the Indonesian client was also threatening to rescind the award if a bank guarantee was not obtained.

A last-ditch attempt to see then ICICI chairman N Vaghul turned his fortunes, and those of Punj Lloyd around. 'The meeting was one of the shortest I have ever had. I had no security to offer but I told the chairman that if he would trust me, I would not let him down,' he recalls, the memory of the meeting still vivid.

Almost instantly persuaded, the ICICI chairman then picked up the phone to an assistant and told him to make the necessary arrangements. ' 'Give the boy what he wants', he said, and then he put the phone down and looked at me,' Mr Punj remembers clearly.

But when the chairman looked at Atul Punj, he only saw a face downcast - 'I was actually disappointed because in my mind, I was thinking it seemed like a weak sort of instruction. The chairman must have sensed this because he picked up the phone again and this time he actually yelled over the phone that I was to be given anything I wanted and that there would be no discussion on the matter.'

After this, all that was left for Mr Punj to do was to build the company, its reputation, and address certain lingering biases.

On the day the pipe-laying project in Indonesia was completed, a director of the company actually confided that when he heard the job had gone to an Indian company, he believed that he would be attending the ceremony only to assess how much work still had to be completed. Instead, the project was completed four months ahead of schedule. It was quite a feat considering Atul Punj has no training in engineering or construction. Indeed, he read commerce at Shri Ram College of Commerce at the University of Delhi.

But as many know, a degree will only get you so far. And even if you are lacking in terms of letters, you can always ride on those who are not. 'My philosophy in life is to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am. I don't try to impose my weaknesses on others,' adds Mr Punj.

Also, what he lacked by way of hands-on knowledge, he made up for with a flair for business.

Since its success in Indonesia, Punj Lloyd's strategy has been to focus on international markets. Today, about 50 per cent of its business comes from the Middle East and only 20 per cent from India. The rest comes from the Caspian, Asia Pacific, Africa, China and Europe. 'Its a natural hedge,' he says.

Engineering, procurement and construction makes up the bulk of Punj Lloyd's business. But its aggressive growth through acquisitions has also helped revenue grow from US$50 million in 2001 to about US$3 billion today.

In 2006, it diversified into urban construction, when shareholder Temasek-linked Merlion Fund brought the acquisition of Sembawang Engineers and Constructors to the table. Through Sembawang, it also got a foothold in Europe by way of Sembawang's UK subsidiary Simon Carves.

More recently, it acquired Technodyne International UK in 2008, a cryogenic storage tanks and petrochemicals design firm.

The complete package

Giving some insight into the acquisition, Mr Punj said: 'Technodyne was a great multiplier event. We can now bid for the complete (contract) package.'

There was a 'small ticket price' for Technodyne but Mr Punj said that the overall impact has been 'phenomenal'. 'And this is the kind of acquisition we are looking for. We are are not looking at headline acquisitions,' he added.

Mr Punj is someone who believes in scaling up quickly. 'As a group, we are now in almost every aspect of construction. We started by doing pipelines, then highways, and then power. With Sembawang we went into housing. Ordinarily, it would have taken us 20 years to build up such a track record.'

With the acquisitions of Pipavav Shipyard Ltd and Air Works India as well, Punj Lloyd also hopes to rule the air and seas.

Weapons manufacturing is also in the works with a deal with Singapore Technologies Kinetics Ltd just signed in June.

Punj Lloyd was listed on the Indian stock exchange in 2006, and the growth of the company has been 'phenomenal'. But it is a growth story that is somehow overshadowed by Mr Punj's own.

He appears to have out-grown the mantle of the Punj family name. Comfortable in his own skin, he can also speak candidly of that other name - Lloyd - which actually belongs to no one and was only adopted because in post-colonial India, a European association still somehow mattered.

Now, whenever he is asked where Mr Lloyd is, he is no longer demure but says with a smile: 'Mr Lloyd is on his way.'

Atul Punj, however, has arrived.


  • Chairman of Punj Lloyd Group since 1989
  • Born 1957, married with one child
  • Graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi, in 1979
  • Established Punj Lloyd Engineering Pte Ltd in 1988
  • Awarded Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 in the infrastructure and construction category
  • Member of the Construction Federation of India, Construction Industry Development Council and the National Council of Confederation of Indian Industry. Also director of Jacob Ballas and member of GE's India Infrastructure Advisory Board.