The Original Refugee
by Alpesh H. Patel
BAM! It hit us like a brick wall. We had to leave the country with only clothes on our backs. NEVER would we have thought this could have happened to us of all people. Whether you were high, mid or low-income earners—every Indian had to get out of Uganda.
General Idi Amin forced us out—everyone. Our mother country India laid the responsibility for the Ugandan Asians squarely on her Majesty’s UK Government. The UK was the only place that took us in and every ex Ugandan Asian will tell you that this was the best thing that could have ever happened to us. It was a blessing in disguise.
It was a tough time for my parents as only my mum and my brother and I could enter the UK as my father had no UK rights so we basically separated for a few years until he could get his British passport . So for the first few years it was all down to my mother to not only work in three jobs but also have some time for us . I was only 6 when we came to the UK so I simply cannot recall how I felt . One thing I do know is that I never experienced the pain of hunger as my mum always had a plan to put food on the table
We are the Gujaratis and we come from a lineage of India’s greatest Merchants—we know how to SELL well. Maybe its in our DNA or something, but we have it in us to be commercially minded. Even more so when we became refugees to the UK and we had to resort to commercialism just to survive. After Uganda we had no choice but to stick together in a very harsh, unwelcoming, and cold London in 1972. We were first in a holding facility near Heathrow airport and then about 10 of us moved to Colindale in London . My uncle had found a cheap 3-bedroom place for rent. We all started from there. In fact, he bought that place and still lives there. That house is special for so many of us . But alas everyone had a complete family except us—it was just my Mother, my brother, and myself. We were on our own and we had to fend for ourselves.
This is the basis of our Entrepreneurial streak—fend for yourself, survive at all costs, continue and march forward regardless of the circumstances.
We had to make something out of nothing and, hence, for me that created a very healthy sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo. This propelled my long entrepreneurial journey and adventure with my first bite of fledgling Entrepreneurship encountered in the Souks of Morocco . I used my Gov grant money to basically get over to Gibraltar then ferry over to Morocco, where I acquired leather goods to sell back to students in my University which was the University of Hull in Yorkshire. The hustle bug hit me at a very early age!
“What is hustling?” A question recently asked of my partner, Buki Mosaku, and I by Will Barron, founder of Sales.red, a podcast going out to over ½ a million sales people. In that context a big question, but with a simple answer nonetheless.
To me, hustling is a make-something-out-of-nothing-mindset with a great sense of urgency. Daring to go where others fear to go. Creating something of value and reaping the rewards in the process. It’s the stuff in between that fuels entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial dreams! One of my first businesses was selling Mobile phones to China. I was one of the first guys to sell phones to China back in 1990. I then moved over to Hong Kong to be closer to my buyers and by the age of 24 I had amassed US$1M.
This is part of my DNA. It is why a refugee by the name of Sir Mo Farah is the most decorated athlete in British history and it is why my great grand father sailed thousands of miles in search of prosperity, eventually founding the Odeon Cinema chain in Uganda. The difference with me and other refugees is that we were forced into exile; so I encourage refugees to embrace their double diversity of being a refugee as an opportunity and see it as an adventure, preferably an entrepreneurial one!
There is a famous saying “when life gives you lemons make lemonade”. Once you get a taste of the life that you can have with a bit of money, everything changes, sometimes at the cost of proper career planning, which I never did—the Hu$tle does truly come at a cost!
I had always tended for myself and always walked on the edge. My risks taken were not to be looked upon in a light manner. However, I have always felt comfortable with risk. We risked our lives to set up in the UK—risk is part of what makes me whole. It is this risk that has enabled me to overcome FEAR (“False Evidence Appearing Real”). The problem with people in general and many refugees is we become too scared to do something new or something risky. We fear the worst and place more emphasis on the bad side of what may happen instead of reversing that thought pattern and focusing more on the good side of what may happen.
As the famous poet Kovie Biakolo says:
Look around you and look inside you. How many people do you think are settling? I will tell you: a hell of a lot of people. People are settling every day into okay relationships and okay jobs and an okay life. And do you know why? Because okay is comfortable. Okay pays the bills and gives a warm bed at night and allows one to go out with co-workers on a Friday evening to enjoy happy hour. But do you know what okay is not? Okay isn’t thrilling, it isn’t passion, it isn’t the reason you get up every day; it isn’t life-changing or unforgettable. Okay is not the reason you go to bed late and wake up early. Okay is not the reason you risk absolutely everything you’ve got just for the smallest chance that something absolutely amazing could happen.
I simply was not fine to be just OK. Things had been OK with us in Uganda and it got snatched away. My mum always says, “Life can change in a blink of an eye. Never take anything for granted.”
It is this that then led me to explore international markets and have a global business experience spanning four continents over the last 30 years. I am proud of what I have experienced—some good things, but mostly lots of failures. It has strengthened my resilience and it has made me turn more inward to actually address the fact that your greatest friend is YOU.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted. Its jumping off a cliff trying to build a plane on the way down. Most people will crash and burn. I got knocked against the rocks many times by the headwinds but somehow I did build a plane and land intact albeit scarred for life but then again what a journey!
If this is the life you want—risk, thrill, adventure, the unknown—then the big TEST you have to pass is being able to step outside of your comfort zone and agree that just being OK is not good enough. As refugees we must rise to the challenge and test of standing out in a positive way. Eventually it all comes down to how prepared we are to handle these TESTS. I am now… are you?
About the Author
Alpesh H. Patel is an award winning Global Entrepreneur and has been featured in more than 50 media outlets including CNN, CNBC, BBC, Forbes,GQ and Huffington Post. Alpesh runs Peshmode Ltd, a UK based Advisory and Business Consultancy specializing in Go to Market Strategies, Entrepreneurship, Intrapreneurship and Results orientated Sales solutions. He has been dubbed as one of the first Tech Innovators to come out of emerging markets and has worked with industry giants such as Visa, Vodafone, Western Union and Uber
Alpesh is a Public speaker and has appeared on several panels such as The Titan Academy, The GSMA ,The African Leadership Network and The Wharton Africa Conference.
He is the author of new book Tested out now on Amazon and Apple iBooks. It is available in Kindle, EPUB and Print. Published in the UK by Peshmode Ltd. For more information see www.peshmode.com/testedthebook.html.