Life eh? It’s a funny conundrum at times when it comes to success and aspiring to achieve.
Is success based on some degree of luck? Hard work? Or maybe a little bit of both?
Is it 99% inspiration and 1% perspiration, or possibly the other way around?
Do you need lots of money to start building a business empire, or will a tiny ‘acorn’ do?
Is it about whom you know that can give you a proverbial ‘lift up’ on the ladder of success with financial means?
How about being in the right place at the right time with a bit of luck thrown in for good measure?
Or is it gut feelings and common sense the true measures of success?
Are you born with a ‘success gene’ or can you acquire the skills to be successful with experience and knowledge?
Is it a mixture of everything or nothing?
It certainly is a conundrum alright, in a world full of constant contradictions.
We appear adrift on our own ambitious isolated islands surrounded by the modern minute that we live in.
The constant hubbub of somewhere to get to, professional and private sensibilities, social familiarisation are constant circles that seems to be the ‘norm ‘of our human lives.
Time for work, time to play; time to make money, time to spend money, time to put an important meeting in the diary, time to ignore inconsequentiality, a time for everything. Yes indeed, there is a time to pick your nose and a time to leave it alone.
So we travel down innumerable separate paths that separate us yet box us into generalised groups.
We are conscious of our own needs selfishly and at the same time subconsciously. Until perhaps disaster strikes and we experience and feel things we thought we’d never have to go through.
Then the aspect of the world is seen through eyes that know the bitter slap of suffering and most of all the lonely roads of harsh understanding. That is when the strangers that you once thought you had nothing in common with; you incongruously find you have something in common. An illness, bereavement, poverty and so much more we experience at some point in our lives, shows we all have shared experiences that do connect us. Has John Donne said ‘no man is an island’.
And I suppose going through the ordure makes indomitable spirits, even though at the time you feel week and frail and you just don’t want to go on.
Yet in my experience we all may smile but there are a thousand ‘human experiences’ lurking behind a simple smile.
We sometimes forget people with wealth also have their own problems too. Some are born into wealth, others acquire it. Nevertheless their lives are not free of complications and their share of problems too. We assume the rich may just buy their way out of misery. But no amount of money can buy good health or integrity.
Which reminds me of one of my favourite songs ‘More money, more problems’.
And so I was to learn there is more under the surface of Businessmen – Bhikhu and Vijay Patel.
I hadn’t tainted my thoughts by reading any of the media blurb about the brothers. For me I wouldn’t have found it helpful in writing this piece.
To get to know someone, you kind of got to speak with them. Spend time with them. Talk and listen to nuances, reactions and gestures. See where it leads…
So Thursday the 13th August 2015 was a rather eventful morning for me.
I had an interview with the ‘Pharmaceutical Entrepreneurial Prodigies’ Bhikhu and Vijay Patel. What should I expect? Would I be overwhelmed or worse underwhelmed.
On arrival at Waymade /Atnahs (which is based in Basildon Essex. Yes Basildon with its interpretation of the ‘Hollywood’ sign, in this case BASILDON proudly displayed on a mound on some busy road.)
I was rather surprised by the buildings size. I suppose I had expected a vast expanse of corporate extravagance. I imagined a ten storey plus brick and steel building, big new age windows and vast amounts of polished floors and mahogany! Maybe that is more in keeping with my megalomaniac vision.
But what my bespectacled eyes beheld was to the contrary. A low square, long, rectangular structure, in the quiet setting of what appears to be an industrial estate.
My first thoughts were ‘this isn’t what I quite expected’. My second thought was ‘just go with it girl. You might be surprised’. And so I took a deep breath and scolded my inner imagination for its preconceived ideas on what wealth should look like. Which I must say may be a disservice and supports those divisions between the labels we put on the rich and not so rich.
Arriving at reception, again I was in for another surprise. (Would these surprises not stop?)This wasn’t a huge expanse of space or polished marble floors and chandelier lighting and security guards at the ready.
On the contrary it was a small rather cosy, friendly reception area. To the left when you enter through the doors, there greeting you, is a framed photograph of the smiling and looking not so young and not so old – the Patel Brothers.
The reception area is an intimate space with clean sea blue deep carpet.
I liked this. I liked being surprised by the clean cosiness of the reception area. It imbues a degree of singular consideration when greeted. There is a familiar easiness to the building and its staff.
With professional, welcoming efficiency I was signed in, given a visitor’s badge and told to take a seat in a rather oversized comfortable sofa chair.
Whilst the receptionist rang through to my contact – Sara Ebsworth who is EA to Bhikhu, my eyes slowly evaluating and processing it all. I liked what I saw.
I was at ease. For now at least. It was a good start.
There is a big wide screen TV behind the reception desk, further on there were doors at the end of reception which I assumed led to the factory floor. And to my left where I sat were stairs leading up to the upper floor offices.
I’m a regular Sherlock full of deductions and curiosity.
At the same time my mind was wondering what to expect.
I would like to point out ALL the staff I came into contact with at Waymade were extremely welcoming, friendly, and helpful (I don’t use those words flippantly) and had very positive words to say about their work and the brothers. I also noted during my conversations with some of them, how they were long serving employees. Waymade maintain their staff because they enjoy working there. There is no large turnover of staff leaving from what I gathered.
Bhikhu and Vijay have an ‘open door policy’, which means their staff can speak to them directly without having to go through a beauracratic management chain. I really like that policy. It allows their staff to engage confidently with the brothers and promotes good communication and wellbeing amongst the workforce.
Because Waymade is a happy, pleasant working environment, Bhikhu and Vijay know tall there staff by name. How many successful folk can same the same? They make a point of going amongst the staff on the ‘shop floor’. The brothers mingle and engage with their staff? What a forward thinking idea compared to ‘bosses’ that cocoon themselves away in their offices with no time for their staff.
Corporate companies and bosses should take heed and learn from what these brothers practice. There is a lesson here on good working practices, retaining staff and sociable work environments that promote wellbeing. This is the way forward. It’s called vision and dynamacy.
Anyway getting back to sitting and waiting (I was 35 minutes early) I sat there, and like Buddha I pondered if Bhikhu and Vijay would be friendly or excessively obnoxious and flippant about their wealth?
Would they be all gold and cosmetics and designer brands (not that I would be able to tell the difference. That sort of thing goes above my pretty little head).
Would I like them or worse not like them!! Or flip that around and maybe they wouldn’t like me and think I was the insufferable one!
I pondered these random passing non-essential thoughts that seem to fill my head at the most unexpected times.
I then heard the clickety click of heels, coming down the wooden stairs. I was greeted by a pretty smiling, blonde lady. Who made me feel at ease with her friendly demeanour. This is Sara the Executive EA to Bhikhu. Sara and I had exchanged emails regarding organising this interview, and she was very helpful throughout the process.
With a warm smile, Sara shepherded me upstairs, to the waiting area and offices.
I was early so I started to write my initial thoughts down. Has I wrote the few staff who walked passed me had a friendly smile. I got the impression I was the girl there ‘to interview Vijay and Bhikhu’. The place had a real good vibe. It was uncomplicated in corporate bewilderment or stress.
Has I sat writing I heard the heavy tread of someone coming upstairs. I deducted this was the tread of man. And I was……right!!
There stood Vijay. ‘Natasha, nice to meet you?’’ were his first words which greeted to me.
Vijay is tall, broadly built smiling man. (I’m not good at guessing peoples ages, so I won’t offend by hazarding a guess at Vijay’s age, in case I add more years to his actual age. Which he may then want to throttle me) ‘I’m Vijay’ he said with a confident smile. I shook large hands, which enfolded my own small hands. With strangers there is that slight holding back around those you are not familiar with. I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. Nevertheless Vijay had a smile and a friendly welcome. A friendly smile can go far to make one feel at ease.
Vijay informed me that the meeting would be taking place in the boardroom. I followed him through a warren of corridors and offices and along the way; the walls were speckled with interesting photographs.
Photographs with people like Gordon Brown to Amitabh Bachan….it was a blur of famous folk as I walked passed each.
As we walked Vijay initiated conversation whilst I my eyes tried to gulp in all the photographs on display, ‘Natasha, tell me about yourself’.
‘Well eh. I……..I’m a writer Vijay, but firstly a poet’. I’m not sure that really impressed Vijay. Vijay may be used to journalists and business type interviews, but a poet well that’s a different ball game altogether. We creative types are unlike any other. The love of creativity and imagination being the air we breathe and the reason for reason. It is vital for life itself. Einstein once said Imagination is more important than knowledge. However back to Vijay. I’m sure that is one for Vijay to tell the wife and children. It’s unusual. How many businessmen can say they were interviewed by a poet? And a bona fide damn good one at that, that loves words and travels the world performing for the good the bad and the really beautiful.
Mmmmmm so was Vijay trying to measure what kind of person I was? And there I was trying to measure the man by his actions and speech. What a game of presupposition.
When we reached the boardroom it was busy with auditors so Vijay led me back the way we came to his and Bhikhu’s office. What a surprise that was. I was surprised by the size and the set up. I started to voice my appreciation in probably what was a series of incomprehensible and intelligible sounds coming from my mouth, when realization hit me with a slap in the face. In the far right hand corner, where Bhikhu’s office is, heads were raised looking at me, startled at my interruption and I in turn startled by them.
My mouth slightly agape and with my questioning eyes mirroring their own we all looked at each other. A meeting was in progress with Bhikhu. At this point Vijay partitioned, yes that’s what I said PARTITIONED his side of the office off so Bhikhu could have some privacy and for us to resume the interview.
I whispered an apology to Vijay but he just waved it away as if to say it was no problem at all. What a cool dude.
So to break it down for you, the brothers share a large office in brotherly comradeship. If and when they have separate meetings or they have a bad day and can’t stand the sight of each other (I don’t think that really happens) they can partition the offices for their own privacy. Which I don’t think happens that much.
Vijay explained to me that he likes the setup of having his brother nearby and I got the same feeling when Bhikhu and I spoke, it was the same for him too. That really is something. Money hasn’t changed the affections they have has brothers. So many times you read or hear how families go to war with each other where a lot of money is concerned. Greed seems to divide families and family love goes out the window. Not in this case. Throughout my interview there was a real bond and ease with the brothers. They listen and allow each to talk. Even though Vijay jokingly reminded me that Bhikhu is the elder brother.
The office (Vijay’s side) really was comfortable. Not vulgarly lavish either. A big polished wooden desk, big white leather comfy sofa type chairs and if memory recalls a lovely picture of Vijay and his wife with Nelson Mandela sitting silently but proudly on the window frame, alongside another photo of a school in Kenya which the brothers set up.
Vijay explained Bhikhu was in a meeting and would join us after.
So my very first question I put to Vijay was – if it were true that they came to the UK with only £5 in their pocket?
You see my well-informed Pharmacist (Mr Ali) told me the brothers had known poverty in Kenya, and I have to say it is a pretty good ‘rags to riches’ story along with the rest of them. Yup you could say I was a tad cynical about that. It’s like me having £1 in my pocket and turning it into billion (if not a trillion)! I mean to me how does one come with so little yet make millions, live on private estates and have all they could want??
With a bemused smile Vijay started to talk about his life in Kenya and how the family lived in poverty, particularly after their Father died. Their Father from what they can call to mind (he died when they were both young boys) was a good man that worked as an administrator/accountant for a privately owned company in Kenya. He then set himself up as a Timber Merchant. The business was successful be he unfortunately passed away within a short time of setting the business up.
The impression I got was their Father was quite the entrepreneur himself.
Their Father died when Bhikhu was 7 and Vijay was 5 years old.
So that left their Mother to rear 3 small children (their sister, Bhikhu and Vijay).
For a mother to find herself bereaved and without her life partner, it must have taken great inner strength and motivation to then take on the lonely role of provider and nurturer. To love and protect her children whilst coping with her loss, finding her own feet in life amongst the quiet calm of becoming a widow. That is no easy task.
Vijay went on to explain at that time in Kenya there was a lot of external influence from friends and family members urging their mother to return to India. Probably for support and to be amongst familiar people.
Alas, their Mother didn’t heed any of this advice, and has ‘ole blue eyes’ once sang – she did it in her own unique way.
Going back to India wasn’t an option or serious consideration for the Matriarch of the family. So this bold woman, with the will to provide for herself and children, started her own little nursery business. She had no prior paper qualifications, but I would argue she was already bringing up 3 of her own. A good mother is more than qualified in the role already.
Anyone that gets slapped in the face by circumstance that then has life changing results has to make choices. Those choices are not always easy to make.
You choose regardless of your personal heartache whether you want to sink or swim. To be or not to be?
I can only imagine Bhikhu and Vijay’s mum who by the way is now 94 years old (and lives with Vijay) must be an extraordinary, brave hard working lady that wore a smile but hid her worries and personal fears and grief from her children. This is probably where the drive to work hard and accomplishments came from. Their Mum and Dad.
There came a time when the family left Kenya and came to the UK.
Bhikhu did a degree in Architecture. He then experienced and experimented with a few different job roles. For example being a Newsagent and also Banking to name two. Although he didn’t gel with these jobs I suspect he learnt something from each, which later held him in good stead.
Vijay on the other hand studied to be a Pharmacist. When he qualified he was offered a very good job with Boots but declined it. Why?
Well he knew from an early age that he didn’t want to work for ANYONE else. Or have someone else be his boss and telling him what to do and having to follow someone else’s rules and procedures. I get that. The suffocation of creativity in any form by employers to employees probably leaves a lot of companies bereft of vision and dynamcy and a culture of employee resentment when ideas are stifled by their superiors.
Soon after Vijay opened his first Pharmacy in Leigh-on-Sea. Within 5 years his Pharmacy business expanded rapidly.
What bought the brothers together?
A dream. An idea. A collaboration of creativity and imagination.
To create something magnificent. I believe the drive not to experience poverty again is a strong motivator. Anyone who has known Poverty for company and then works hard to change their lives is worth commending.
So the Architect and the Pharmacist joined forces and created Waymade Plc. Like an acorn it grew into an impressive oak tree.
These guys had no degree in business management or finance. Yet they still succeeded. Education is important but also hard work and experience.
One thing I do know is as Bhikhu and Vijay get older, it is important that the legacy continues through their children and their families. Has well as provide security for conscientious staff working at Waymade. That is a huge responsibility.
Thus that was the reason Bhikhu was having a meeting with lawyers that morning. To set up a Charter for the family. The family will adhere to what is set out in the Charter. Now that is forward vision.
So these brothers are not just pretty faces. There is the visualization to think ahead, diversify and leave a legacy for the next generation.
Talking to the brothers I asked if they had any plans to retire has they get older. (Not that I’m saying old people should retire. That would be ageist of me). The answer was interesting.
Both brothers have no plans to currently retire, but at some point they will take a ‘back seat; and let the ‘young ones’ take over. Personally I think they would closely be scrutinising in the back seat.
Both Bhikhu and Vijay have adult children and some of them some of the currently work at Waymade in different roles. Other family members will join at some stage too.
It’s also important for the brothers to recruit and have staff within their business that they can trust. Trust is a big element for the brothers. Trust allows the brothers to distribute projects to staff who in turn implements the development successfully. Thus the brothers then have confidence in their staff.
As the brothers diversify it allows them to experiment in other areas.
Bhikhu has a property portfolio which is worth about £170 million.
The brothers are looking at other areas, so the business never gets corroded but moves and adapts with the changing face of business and the times.
Bhikhu informed me its business is 35% Pharma, 25% Property and the rest in diverse investments.
On observation, watching the brothers together, my impressions were how easy their camaraderie is around each other.
Do the brothers argue? Well Bhikhu and Vijay both stated they may disagree at times, but they never fall out to the extent they do not talk to each other or even worse go through a judicial escapade.
Vijay was very enthusiastic when he expressed he loved working with his brother and this too was the same with Bhikhu. The brothers are so different character wise, but equally that is what compliments their love as brothers and business professionals.
Each brings something unique and different which unites the business.
Bhikhu is the quiet, thinking practical man. A slim built man.
There is the bookish creativity about him. The Architect is still interwoven in his work. He enjoys reading books (currently has Dan Brown on his bedside table) and science magazines.
When I asked Bhikhu if there was anything he would like to achieve, his response was he’d like to learn to play an instrument and learn a European language.
Vijay is quite bubbling over with ideas you can almost see the ideas bubble coming out from his head. There is a restlessness to make it all happen there and then as he is thinking it!! He is vibrantly creative.
Vijay would like to learn how to sing. Yup that’s what I said, or rather what he said. Singing. I’d love to see that someday. Maybe Bhikhu would’ve learnt to play his instrument and can accompany Vijay whilst he croons away. But that’s another article altogether.
Vijay stated he enjoys reading all the business and economics journals, which keeps him suitably informed.
Will the brothers achieve these personal goals?
Well I suppose that remains on how much they want to achieve these goals and them committing themselves to these pursuits.
I asked each brother what inspires them. And they both said the same thing separately.
Before I reveal what that inspiration is, it’s important to remember these boys were not borne with a golden spoon in their mouths. They had to work hard. Very hard. Yes they may be a million miles (literally) away from the hand of poverty; they may live on big estates and have money in the bank. Yes their children got a really good up bringing because of their success. But these boys haven’t forgotten their roots. They believe and champion – Education, eradicating poverty and access to healthcare.
Vijay’s wife still works (3 days a week) in the very first Pharmacy he bought.
The brothers have an easy welcoming way about them.
So going back to what inspires them both.
I started this article questioning how success is achieved.
I also wrote about poverty and human hardships. I had observed the well known photographs displayed at Waymade Plc.
So what inspires these entrepreneurial brothers?
Yes I’m sure these no doubt have their places in the brothers past and present life experiences and what they have acquired along the way.
But inspiration. Well that is special treasure. A totally different stratosphere to be inspired by someone special. Nothing beats knowing your inspirations and what you aspire to. Those memories take you through life.
These brothers certainly were carried on the wings of the one who inspired them.
So who or what is their inspiration?
That inspiration simply and most preciously is their mum.
A woman with no fame to her name. A woman who has experienced hardships in her time. A woman who was a success in her own way. Bringing up her children and ensuring they had a home, food and the capacity to dream big and go out and try to make something of their lives.
An extraordinary woman like so many other extraordinary human beings around the world.
Tradition compels the first generation that worked hard to encourage the next to achieve better than they did. And so history repeats itself in the shape of those to follow. A legacy for the generations to come.
Bhikhu and Vijay’s mum instilled in her children to always remember to be thankful for the blessings they have received. The more they have the more they give back. The brothers follow this sage bit of advice irrespective of their wealth.
She is 94 years old now and lives with Vijay. It touched me deeply when Vijay informed me he always makes a cup of tea for his mum and takes it up to her room. When he finishes work he goes home and the first thing he does is go to her room to sit for a chat.
Anyone who has someone that inspires them can dream big. When you dream big the impossible becomes possible.
The love of someone special in your life can carry you through even the toughest challenges.
The bothers had their mum and their mum had her children. Love.
Mums are pretty special; they breathe life into you like no one else can.
Bhikhu and Vijay’ mum must be very proud of what they have achieved.
All this success and wealth they have established, finely dressed Saville row suited business men, which know and mingle with likeminded business people.
It all started with their Mum and Dad in Kenya. It started with poverty, bereavement and working hard to achieve.
So there you have it. The qualified Architect and the Pharmacist.
The collision of creativity and imagination.
The analogy couldn’t be clearer.
Even more is the inspiration and aspirations for others on what can be achieved.
Never say you can’t or it’s not worth trying. Never talk yourself out of trying.
Never say you would when you could.
Life can throw you many anomalous curveballs and sometimes it can knock your confidence and self-esteem.
What I want you to remember are Bhikhu and Vijay may have been qualified in their respective fields, but business bit to accumulate they have no degree in. They learnt along the way and worked hard and dreamed big.
If they can do it, you can try too. It just takes the guts to have a go. Give yourself a chance. You may just surprise yourself. It’s not always about money but a love of what you want to do in life. You can be a success from being a Doctor to a Cleaner. Each does a valuable role in life.
Your goals and aspirations are worth aiming for.
Live life and be different, in spite of troubles and sadness.
Success is failure turned inside out.
And millionaire business men like Bhikhu and Vijay that have it all now, but back in the day were acquainted with their own personal hardships.
written by Natasha Ali