Ram Gidoomal is good at making money, but these days he invests mainly in ventures from which he can reap other, less tangible dividends, as well. “What I find truly satisfying,” he explains, “is to harness my business acumen to the cause of cross-cultural enrichment and cohesion.” It’s a laudable policy and one that he can afford to pursue.
The 55-year-old Kenyan-born Indian arrived in London as a teenage refugee in 1967, and with his family opened a corner shop in Shepherd’s Bush. In less than a decade he was working as a Lloyds Bank analyst, after which he joined the Inlaks Group, a Swiss-based global trading and manufacturing company. In 1985 he became its UK chief executive, and by the age of 40 he had made enough money to retire.
With no more day job to worry about, he has been able to devote himself to finding fulfilling and sometimes high-risk projects in which to invest. These have included recording, publishing and educational enterprises, and now he has assumed the glamorous mantle of theatrical “angel” too.
The lavish new musical, The Far Pavilions, opened in the West End this weekAs well as putting his own five-figure sum into the production, as a member of its board he helped raise much of the £4m needed to stage it.
He had never before considered backing a West End show, but this epic tale of the British Raj struck a deep personal chord with him. “The hero of the story is an Englishman brought up in India as a Hindu, who struggles to reconcile the culture-clash at the heart of his existence. This is echoed by the identity crisis within the British Asian community today, and I know all about that.”
Besides this emotional response, his business instinct told him that “based on the popularity here of Indian cuisine, fashion and the Bollywood films, I felt the climate was right for a big mainstream Anglo-Indian production.”
“I saw it as a business like any other. It was about selling seats, and its success would depend on the quality of the product. My investment policy is to go in relatively small, but be in control as much as possible or at least make sure I’m comfortable with how it’s being driven.”
Gidoomal could see real potential in Far Pavilions – a healthy London run followed by a Broadway production, film adaptation, recording and merchandising spin-offs – but showbusiness is a notoriously unpredictable beast and he realised the whole enterprise could fail spectacularly, with the loss of his money and everyone else’s.
The musical will have to run for nine months with houses at least three-quarters fullin the 1,400-seat Shaftesbury Theatre to re-coup the initial £4m outlay; each year it runs after that on the same basis would bring in £2m profit for its investors. If the show is a success, Gidoomal’s initial debenture investment converts to equity and he could stand to make a hefty capital gain.
“I’d like it to run for at least a couple of years with good houses,” he says, “so that all the investors can be well-rewarded.”
Having whetted his appetite, he is keen to put his money, and probably larger sums, into other theatrical projects. However, he has strict criteria that must be met.
“First I must be satisfied with the bankability of the people around the table – they must have proven expertise and business credibility. I need to see the business plan and whether the figures stack up. Finally, I must be confident I can bring enough investors in with me to share both the pleasure and the risk.”
When he is not wearing his angel’s hat, Gidoomal has a general investment portfolio of stocks and shares in a wide range of companies, but his real satisfaction comes from investing in sectors to which he can “contribute strategically”.
One example is the growing software outsourcing industry, in which India is a player. If the businesses concerned generate social rewards as well as financial ones by deepening the understanding of multi-cultural issues, so much the better.
“I’ve lost money on some undertakings,” he admits. remains resolutely upbeat. A the man who ran not once, but twice against Ken Livingstone for the office of London mayor, and he is more than happy to joke about it.
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