16 February 2021

Hard work, kindness, the UK-India relationship and racism all on the agenda as Lord Gadhia talks to John Lyon students

A wide-ranging discussion, beginning in 1970s Uganda and ending in the UK House of Lords, has taken place between leading businessman and parliamentarian Lord Gadhia and A-Level students at John Lyon.

The virtual conversation, held at the start of February and hosted by Upper Sixth student Rasool Twaij, covered a wide range of topics, from the determination of migrants to the work of short-selling hedge funds, exploring in depth a lifetime of work in private equity, big business and ‘selling’ the UK to the world, including to the emerging superpower of India.

Baron Gadhia of Northwood recounted his move to the UK in the early 1970s, expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin. His family’s double migration – from India, to Africa, to the UK – was a fundamental part of his life, he said, stating that migrants were generally highly motivated, especially so for those that had to do it more than once.

In the UK he moved from school to an economics degree at Cambridge and then into the City in a merchant bank, before moving to various roles in the world of business.

Lord Gadhia’s work on the UK-India relationship formed a key part of the conversation, as he outlined his role and why the work was so symbolic and important.

“A respected Indian businessman once described the UK-India relationship to me as being ‘like a long-married couple’. We’re so familiar with each other that it’s easy to take each other for granted. Sometimes we need to find new sparks to revive the relationship. We need to work on the relationship and can’t be complacent.

“India has changed quite fundamentally, and we are now dealing with an emerging and aspiring superpower, which is the third largest economy in the world.”

He went on to talk about the relationship during the pandemic, with close working on the pharmaceutical supply chain, repatriation flights, vaccine manufacture and significant new satellite collaboration.

He added: “There are 1.5 million people of Indian origin living in the UK and the Indian prime minister has referred to this diaspora as providing a living bridge, which to me is a metaphor for the free flow of two-way traffic in people, language, sport, culture, food and commerce. And it’s exciting to be involved.”

The talk moved on to different areas of Lord Gadhia’s working life in the private and public sectors, as well as the importance of philanthropy, that “what you give is often what you get back”, “the doors we should open for others”, and “how to structure and deploy scarce resources for maximum effect”.

Other topics included his elevation to the House of Lords (“I view a peerage as a job, as a call of duty and not simply as an honour”); discrimination (“I always try to be positive about human nature – some people do discriminate but most people are fair minded”); what an average day looks like (“it may sound clichéd but every day is different”); the Indian prime minister (who he thought when they first met a decade ago was “almost like the CEO of a company rather than a minister of State” before he came PM and who is now committed to reform and is “walking the talk” in leading India); and how small traders trying to take on hedge funds need to be careful (“part of me things it’s great little guys taking on big guys, but also we’ve got to be very careful they don’t lose their shirt in the process”).

One hundred students, studying for their A-Levels and many with hopes of pursuing careers in business and finance were also given some direct advice: “There is no substitute for hard work. Even those who might be naturally gifted need to apply themselves. If you are good at something and enjoy it, then that is a pretty a good combination to double up on. Don’t lose track of right and wrong.

“You shouldn’t seek to be somebody but actually achieve something. And if you do your duty then everything else will fall into place.”

Speaking after the event, Rasool Twaij said: “It was a true privilege to have interviewed Lord Gadhia. He provided an interesting insight on moving from the private to public sector and how he transferred his expertise to guide the government with public investment. My highlights of the interview include his views on the evolution of the bilateral UK-India relationship and the contemporary issue involving retail investing versus institutional investing.”