These days when Danny Jatania returns to Leicester, he likes to eat cassava chips at his favourite Indian restaurant.
Like many British Asians, whose parents settled in the UK after being expelled from Uganda by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972, Mr Jatania hankers after the street food of his east African childhood.
Revisiting – these days in his chauffeur driven car – is a sharp reminder of how some immigrant families rebuilt new lives.
Another measure is the reported $190m the family earned when it sold the Lornamead personal care products company it built from scratch to Li & Fung, the Hong Kong-listed consumer goods company, last December.
“It was a good price,” says Mr Jatania, who with his three brothers was named earlier this year by Eastern Eye, the biggest-selling south Asian newspaper in the UK, as the country’s tenth-richest Asian family in Britain.
“We all felt it was time to cash out and give liquidity to the family members to pursue other things. We think by selling we are actually creating the opportunity for more entrepreneurship,” he says in an interview with the FT.
Whatever the size of business, Dipak Shelat, director of the Institute of Asian Business, part of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, says the issue of succession for Asian families is “a potential powder keg ready to blow.”
“The next generation always have the family business to go back to. But the children of Asian immigrants tend to want to pursue professional careers. They’re better educated than their parents – at grammar schools and university.”
Across the Midlands, and other parts of the UK, families are grappling with how best to preserve the entrepreneurial zeal that drove the immigrant founders of the successful British Asian businesses.
Another company to solve the problem by a trade sale was Euro Packaging, which was bought by a US private equity company in 2006, only for the family to buy back the business three years later
Abdul Majid Alimohamed, a Pakistani who originally arrived in Britain from Malawi in 1974, had turned Euro Packaging into one of the UK’s largest plastic bag manufacturers, supplying leading supermarkets.
In 2006 the business was sold to Mid Ocean Partners, a US private equity group, for a reported £190m, netting the family £100m. Three years later, however, the company was back in family hands, after the new owner failed to make a go of it and it ended up in administration.
Lornamead and Euro Packaging both had the good sense to take on professional managers which made the decision to sell a lot less fractious for the family. However, many British Asian companies facing the same challenges, remain owned and led by their founders.
The 2 Sisters Food Group, for example, has evolved from a small frozen meat processing operation in West Bromwich into a £3bn turnover company boasting among its brands Goodfella’s Pizza, and the Harry Ramsden chain of fish and chip shops.
The company is today the UK’s third-largest food company by sales. It has grown rapidly through acquisition and now has 36 manufacturing sites with operations in the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland.
The transformative deal was the 2011 acquisition of Northern Foods, with Boparan Holdings, the family-owned holding company, paying £341m in cash, outbidding in the process Greencore, the listed Irish convenience foods company.
Ranjit Singh Boparan runs the company with wife Baljinder.
He never gives interviews. But he is described by those know him as a very hands-on owner-manager – in the traditional Asian style.
Mr Boparan is still in his forties so has plenty of time to plan the succession, but a trade sale seems the most likely choice. Perhaps in anticipation of a future exit strategy, he has recently added several non-executive heavyweights including Lord Allen, the former chairman of ITV, and Dame Lucy Neville-Rolfe, the former Tesco businesswoman appointed to the board in September.
Selling up can certainly give the next generation a fresh start.
With his son Virraj, Danny Jatania has just launched Pockit, a start-up providing online pre-paid card services to poor households in the UK, which now has about 20,000 users and a list of tie-ups with leading department stores.
The company recently sold a 6 per cent stake to Mark Newton-Jones, former chief executive of Shop Direct, the UK’s largest catalogue and online retailer.
Virraj Jatania, who speaks with a cut-glass English accent acquired through an expensive private education, says his father had a big role encouraging his interest in business.
“The dinner table was always full of business talk,” he says recalling that even as a 13-year-old he was drawing up business plans for a video rental operation with his brother Yuvraj to present to the family for approval.
“A lot of my friends who were also second-generation Asians have taken professional jobs, in management consultancy or banking. Some have started their own businesses. But a lot depends on the father giving them the freedom to go out and try it.”
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