“After coming to London in 1991, we took up a small room, which had one table that two people would share. We started trading in tea and now we have become the world’s second largest company in the tea industry.”
There is no conceit lacing the voice of the founder and Managing Director of Global Tea and Commodities, Nadeem Ahmed, but it is with great pride that he says that he still hasn’t given up his Indian passport, and neither have his two sons.
Sitting in his plush London home in the city’s post Regent Street, Nadeem talks about his journey over the last 18 years and how he built his empire using the ‘From bush to Cup’ strategy. “We bought several tea gardens in African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi, which the British Government was selling because they were suffering heavy losses. In a few years, we reduced costs heavily and made them profitable again.”
The grandson of tobacco businessman, Haji Ilahi, and son of Sir Abdul Rahim, Nadeem entrusted the job to his trusted Indian managers. “I used to take great interest in tea gardens in India, so I brought plantation managers with me from India.”
Indian managers look after his tea plantations in Africa, and Global Tea and Commodities, which employs 500 workers, imports tea from India in huge quantities. This is mixed into the company’s noted brands such as ‘Typhoo’ and ‘Brooke Bond’ to add flavour.
The company, with its annual turnover of £1billion (Rs 8,000 crore), owns two of Britain’s popular tea brands —Typhoo and Brooke Bond — and several other big products.
Born and brought up in Kolkata, Nadeem still visits India four-five times in a year. “It feels very good to go home. Home is where the family is, and my family is in Kolkata.”
His father, Sir Abdul Rahim, contributed greatly to the establishment and running of schools, orphanages and hospitals. Perhaps it is his father’s legacy that makes him say: “In India, businessmen don’t spend even a small part of what they earn on society, the way Bill Gates has done. In this, the Tata group has set a fine example. They have done a lot for the country in the past 100 years.”
In Britain, Nadeem Ahmed’s ‘Typhoo’ brand had tough competition from Tata’s ‘Tetley’ brand, but he says: “Tata is our competitor but in social causes he is my inspiration.”
Nadeem does not believe that he had to ever face any difficulties in Britain because of being an Indian. According to him, a more equitable/ unbiased society than Britain would be hard to find in the world.
A fashion and interior designer, his wife has artfully decorated his home. A photograph of his two young sons taken near the Taj Mahal hangs on the wall. “My older son is studying finance and accounting at the London School of Economics, and the younger one is a brilliant mathematician. He will go to the Imperial College.”
Nadeem wants to hand over his business to his sons in the future and do some social work. Nadeem, who speaks clear and precise Hindi, says: “Insha-Allah, I want to go to India and retire, and do social work there.”
First of a 10-part BBC Hindi series on lesser-known Indians who have made it big in the UK.