Rahul Nanda's introduction to the business world was anything but gentle. In 1987, when Nanda was just 16, his father had a stroke. "I had to take control of his share in a chain of Chinese restaurants." He soon suffered another setback when his father's partner took over the majority of the Mumbai-based chain.
However, Nanda used the opportunity to prove himself. Left with just one restaurant, he worked hard to improve the business. His other family members were impressed and after two years they decided he should run the other family business a security firm called TOPS Security Guard (TSG).
"When I took over it was a mess. It only had two employees and one client." The firm had to be modernised. "I bought new uniforms, trained my staff to be polite and hired employees who could speak English." His new, highly trained staff helped him win a deal with Western hotel chain JW Marriott. "Not only did it pay well, it raised our profile among all the businessmen staying at the hotel."
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Realising the importance of publicity, Nanda bid for contracts to provide security at award ceremonies for the Indian film industry. As he won more and more Bollywood business, individual film stars also began using his services. Business grew rapidly, and Nanda took on hundreds more staff. "India was growing, Mumbai was growing. Lots of people had more money and that meant they needed more security." Nanda bought up rivals, and renamed the company TOPSGRUP.
Unfortunately, TOPSGRUP's rise didn't go unnoticed. Organised crime bosses threatened to target the firm's high-profile clients if Nanda didn't pay them protection money. Nanda didn't give in, despite some frightening encounters. "I told them to keep to their business and I would keep to mine. They put a gun to my head and threatened to kill me."
Despite this intimidation, Nanda decided he would rather spend money improving his firm than paying off crime bosses. He "broke the budget" to hire retired Indian Army generals, who helped him recruit more ex-army experts, which enabled him to improve his security teams. Nanda also studied self-defence, eventually gaining a doctorate in martial arts.
By 2000, TOPSGRUP was the leading security firm in India and was generating almost £4m a year in sales. As India's economic boom moved up a gear, so did TOPSGRUP's sales. Driven partly by acquisitions, sales rose to more than £30m by 2008.
In the same year TOPSGRUP became the first Indian firm to buy a British security group, The Shield Guarding Company. Nanda also set up a joint-venture with an Israeli firm that specialised in counter-terrorism. "Everybody knows that the Israelis lead the world in counter-terrorism. It helps to sell to clients with them onboard."
Thanks to the acquisitions, the firm now does much more than simply provide security guards. It specialises in supplying high-tech security equipment to buildings and vehicles and has sales of more than £100m. It works for some of the biggest names in Indian and British business, including HSBC, Vodafone and Tata Group. Nanda also features on The Sunday Times Rich List, with an estimated wealth of £168m. The key to his success? "I had the balls and the vision."
James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.
After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the Forbes.com London bureau.
James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report.
He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.
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