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A Refugee Borrowed Money And Worked On A Simple Idea, Now Owns $13 Billion-Firm

Building a business single-handedly in an alien country is a remarkably exceptional task. Numerous start-ups fail because they lack financial backing and proper planning despite receiving hefty funds. But when the willpower is strong, anything under the sun is possible.

We introduce you to Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, a man, who defied all odds to create a legacy of his own. His is a spectacular rags to riches story that gives us hope that our glorious tomorrow doesn’t depend on our dreary past.

Forced refugees

Born in 1959 in British-colony Uganda, Sukhpal led a fairly comfortable life. His family had emigrated from India to Uganda in search of jobs in railways and infrastructure sectors, like many of the South Asian families that resided there. Their life took a turn in 1971, when Idi Amin, the army commander, seized power in the military coup and ordered all Ugandans from South Asia to leave the country within a month, suspecting them to be British agents.

Sukhpal, along with his parents and two brothers, immigrated to Britain and started life in a refugee camp. He did not like the idea of schooling and believed that the commercial fields and hustle bustle of London’s street market would educate him more than any school.

“When you have nothing, you will give it all that you got. I guess my skills and intuition for business, commerce, and trade [came] from the markets,” says Sukhpal.

Start from scratch

When he turned 19, Sukhpal borrowed £5,000 (Rs 4.5 lakh approx) from his father and Barclays Bank and bought a struggling car parts shop in North London called Highway Autos. He named the shop Euro Car Parts and that’s how the journey began in 1978.

“The first day, I did not know anything about car parts,” says Sukhpal. However, he did everything to grow his business. He would work from 7 am till the time his customers needed him. His grind paid off and very soon he his business was expanding at new locations spanning London and the UK.

Inevitable success

The venture that started as a bread earner for a refugee family now helps thousands of people in Britain. Sukhpal, who started off his business with just 10 people, employs over 10,000 people across 200 locations all over the UK, spanning all major car makers. His venture reached an all-time high in 2011 when he sold his company to American auto parts company LKQ Corporation for £255 million (Rs 2,400 crore).

As Britain is trying to slash the number of people coming to its shores, the former refugee is quick to remind people the economic benefits of immigration. “I believe the backbone of this country is immigration, and we should never, ever forget it,” says Sukhpal.

Sukhpal is now a member of Board of Directors of LKQ Corporation, which is valued at around $13 billion (Rs 1,300 crore). Recalling his decision to sell his company, Sukhpal says, “The decision has allowed me to do so many things. I’m an investor in six or seven companies. I am now a serial entrepreneur.”

To stick to his roots, Sukhpal carves out time from his engaging schedule to conduct charity work. He works to help the homeless in London and provides education to underprivileged children in India. His sheer determination to create a legacy from scratch during tough times is something everyone should draw inspiration from.

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