He might have a Bentley parked in his garage but will this Asian highflier beat G4S in the UK?
Rahul Nanda, global chairman of Topsgrup, India’s biggest security company, is having a moment. So far in 2012, he’s completed a 100% acquisition of British security firm Shield Guarding Company for £19.5m and has debuted on the Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune of £168m.
Nicknamed ‘Richie’ by his friends, the 41-year-old is, well, stinking rich. He lives in a mansion in South Buckinghamshire and has a Bentley, Jaguar and a Land Rover parked in his garage. As the sentinel of a security company, he likes to look the part as well. He’s got beefy biceps and practices martial arts in which he has a black belt.
He owns 69.04% of the Mumbai-headquartered security empire that provides guards, secures cash and bullion in transit and offers intelligence investigation. The company is expecting a £200m-turnover this year, employs 93,000 people and revenues last year topped £150m. In the past, the company has provided security to Michael Jackson, Cindy Crawford and the Cricket World Cup in India.
Lambeth-based Shield Guarding Company, on the other hand, has a turnover of £55m and has 2,000 employees. Its security guards are deployed at The Gherkin, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Birmingham’s Bull Ring among other places.
In the four years that Nanda’s been in the UK, he has won a few awards including ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ at TiE UK Awards 2011 and the “International leadership” award at the Asian Who’s Who Awards 2011.
Nanda hasn’t had it easy, his life is worthy of a Bollywood film. He was a laidback Mumbai lad, working for his dad’s sick security company and was happy with a measly income that would pay for his drinks and smokes. But when his father got a paralytic stroke in 1987, the onus to run the company was on Nanda’s shoulders. For the first year, he earned £10 a week. After years of blood, sweat and sleepless nights, the company was turning over millions.
But there have been a few twists in the tale. Nanda has had a gun pointed to his forehead, been in countless fights and received death threats from Mumbai mafia for saving his clients from rogues and goons.
“When I entered the Indian security industry, it was just about paunchy men with bushy moustaches trying to scare off everybody,” says Nanda. “You would hear stories of how security guards would accept bribes and cheat customers. I refused to do any illicit business and the mafia was after my life, but I didn’t budge from my ethics.”
That’s probably why Nanda’s company is the first point-of-call for Bollywood stars to get security. His men accompany many Bollywood superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan.
Nanda says he’s got a 97.7% customer retention rate. “It’s been 25 years since I’ve been in the business but I’ve never put a single penny into ad campaigns tom-tomming my business. Happy clients spread the word and we never really had to shout from the roof to get business.”
From Bombay to Buckinghamshire
“From money to stature, I had everything in Mumbai but I didn’t want to rest on my laurels. I wanted to make Topsgrup a global business and a big player in the security sector,” says Nanda, stating the reasons why he shifted base to the UK in 2008, while headquarters of Topsgrup remained in Mumbai.
Nanda was scouring the UK for fit security businesses when he came across Shield Guarding. Impressed by the company’s balance sheet and client list, Nanda raised £15m from from Indian bank ICICI’s subsidiary, ICICI Ventures and private equity firm Everstone Capital to acquire 51% of the Brit business. He took over as executive chairman of the company.
It took over four years to acquire the business completely but that didn’t faze Nanda.
“I came here at the brink of the recession and things were starting to look shaky but having made a profitable company in Mumbai, I knew I’d do fine here. It took me a bit of time to acclimatise to the way business is done here. I had to learn how to take no for an answer, I learnt that everyone wouldn’t work at my whims and fancies here,” he laughs.
“Having said that, I think the UK’s been game-changing for all entrepreneurs. I like how things are black and white here unlike Mumbai where there are grey shades in business – it’s very professional here. However, when it comes to hard work and persistence, I think Indians are the feistiest in the world.”
Taking a risk comes naturally to Nanda but there have been times he’s fallen flat on his face.
High on his new acquisition in 2008, Nanda had his eyes set on a $500m American security group that he wanted to buy out. But Lehman Brothers collapsed and the roar of the recession ruined his plans.
“Not clinching that deal was heartbreaking. We went through an excruciating 31-hour meeting in New York, signed an MOU [memorandum of understanding] and were thrilled to bits about Topsgrup becoming bigger. But Lehman Brothers folded, the world economy was in tatters and we had to call off the deal.”
Nanda then tells me how he lets bygones be bygones. “Like a true Bollywood hero, I got up, dusted my knees and was on the fast track to do something bigger and better.”
“I’ll prove it that we’re the David and G4S is the Goliath in this story”
Nanda is gung-ho about competing with security giant G4S in the UK.
“I’ll prove it that Topsgrup is the David and G4S the Goliath in the story. I am an aggressive entrepreneur and will do what it takes to garner a bigger share in the UK’s security sector.”
He doesn’t shy away from taking digs at the recent G4S Olympic gaffe.
“They should’ve known better, the Olympics is the biggest London event in history and there is no room to go wrong.”
Last month, when G4S was getting a kicking in the media, Nanda, making hay while the sun shines, issued a press statement to highlight the “unfortunate security crisis” and offered help as a security czar “committed to Britain’s safety.”
The statement read: “The Olympics is a global event and given the security threats Britain has faced since 7/7, critical services as vital as security should have, by now, been tested multiple times and put in place several months prior to the event.”
Nanda even offered to fly in security men on chartered flights from India to guard the Olympic sites.
However, the company told a different story to customers. The Shield Guarding Company’s published another statement on their website stating they would provide no security staff to the Olympics to ensure their “continued commitment” to existing clients.
Nanda is sitting in the hot seat of a fledgling business and has a high goalpost set. He wants to see his empire generate $1
0bn in revenue by 2020.
“That’s the vision and I’ll make it come true. I want the company to have a global footprint and penetrate markets in the US and the Middle East.
“A lot of people might think that I’m being a tad too ambitious but if I could make a dead security company the biggest in India and uproot life in Mumbai to do business in the UK, why can’t I reach the $10bn revenue mark?”
But surely if Nanda decides to cash out he’d feature way higher on the Sunday Times Rich List.
“Selling the business is not a part of my five-year-plan and I’m not going anywhere for now because we’ve got exciting times ahead. But maybe after that if I get a really good valuation of the business, I’d exit.”
“And what will you do after that?” I ask
Nanda pauses for a moment and declares: “I’ll go back to Mumbai and start making Bollywood films!
“I’m a die-had movie buff. My father tried his luck at producing films but didn’t succeed, so making it big in Bollywood will be the ultimate dream come true,” giggles Nanda.