The annual award season has been in full swing in London with an array of glittering dinners for high-flyers among the British Asian community. I must admit to viewing these events in the past as back-slapping occasions for the usual suspects – multi-millionaires who probably need a separate mansion to store their trophies.
Asian Power List
This year I noticed a perceptible change in how success is judged and valued. Take the case of the GG2 Power List of 101 of Britain’s most influential Asians in 2011. This was released at the GG2 Leadership Awards, the result of an extensive survey carried out by Eastern Eye. Yes, the steel tycoon, Lakshmi Mittal, did top the list, but others featured came from more humble backgrounds and the stories of their career paths were both inspiring and moving.
Amit Roy, a noted UK-based journalist who writes for the British national press and is also a syndicated columnist in India, had a hand in the selection process and explained the dilemma they faced:
“This is NOT THE RICH LIST,” he was anxious to point out, “We wanted in some way to reflect power and influence in the Asian community, but this is very difficult. How do you compare someone like Lakshmi Mittal, who employs thousands and thousands of people, with, say, Anish Kapoor, who gives enjoyment through being a sculptor to millions? On the face of it, this is an impossible task. We were comparing ‘apples with oranges.
“We drew up several columns, from how many are employed by candidates to their ability to influence ideas, inspire people in their disciplines (a Nobel Prize winner would thrill people across the world as was the case with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan), to whether they have somehow enhanced the lives of others. We added up the numbers out of 10 to get a total and this was a starting point.
“Thus a rich person could be without influence if that person was not able to use his money to improve the lives of others; conversely, someone without money (a religious leader) could have huge influence. We began with 300 names and had a tough job reducing the list to 101. We could replace this list with another 101 equally deserving people.”
The chief guest, the British deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, spoke passionately about the need to end discrimination and paid generous tribute to Ramnikal Solanki, Editor in Chief, Garavi Gujarat Newsweekly, GG2, and Eastern Eye, which hosted the event.
Mr. Clegg reminded those present about the hard work and dedication that Mr. Solanki put in to create what has grown into a leading Asian media empire in the UK, of how he started in 1968 with a handwritten publication. He also praised the achievements of the Asian community in general.
“All of you have broken through glass ceilings. There is great ignorance of the huge challenges you have faced. Leadership is particularly important at times of great uncertainty and anxiety. You inspire other people, you provide hope and optimism at a time when so many people are nervous and anxious.”
The BBC presenter, Clive Myrie, who was moderater for the evening, conducted a sharp but good-humored interview with Mr. Clegg who responded in the same spirit. He asked Mr, Clegg if he believed in a multi-cultural society – a loaded question since the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had caused a stir earlier in the year by declaring in a speech that he believed state multiculturalism in Britain has failed.
Mr. Clegg fielded the question deftly: “I don’t believe in silos. We all believe in tolerance and basic values. It is a source of concern that we don’t reflect makeup of society. We aren’t diverse enough.”
When questioned about the lack of liberal democrat MPs from ethnic minority communities, Mr. Clegg replied that the party was at a disadvantage by not having safe seats where it could parachute people in.
The standup comedian, Shazia Mirza, added a bit of spice to the evening with a witty and edgy performance. Other speakers and award-winners highlighted the role of the earlier generations who made huge sacrifices to give their children opportunities to make a success of their lives.
Kalpesh Solanki, Group Managing Editor, Asian Media and Market Group, spoke about how the murder in 1993 of a promising young black architectural student shocked the country into reassessing its attitudes to minorities. Mr. Solanki said what was a great tragedy motivated by hate, changed the climate of race relations in the UK, especially the attitudes of police. He noted that the Asian community had come a long way since then.
“Asians are noted for their business acumen, minorities have excelled in many spheres,” he said and referred to the increase in the number of MPs from minority communities, citing the example of Keith Vaz, one of the first Asian members of parliament, who is considered to be one of the most powerful politicians in the UK today. The number of MPs from minority communities has risen from 14 to 27, no mean achievement.
It was refreshing to find awards going to people from a wide range of backgrounds. Among them was Sergeant Dip Pun, a Gurkha soldier, who put his life on the line to defend his comrades in Afghanistan. Probably one of the most impressive and deserving of recognition was Tariq Jahan, the brave father who hit the national headlines with a powerful appeal for calm after his son was murdered during the riots that shook England in August this year. He was given the Spirit of the Community Award. The award for achievement through diversity went to another deserving candidate, Sana Viner, a young, blind, solicitor, who had to overcome tremendous obstacles and faces challenges every day in practicing her profession.
There is no room to mention all the winners, but as Kalpesh Solanki summed it up, the power list provides a bird’s eye view of the achievements of the Asian community. Earlier generations helped to build solid foundations for future generations. Mr. Solanki said, “The third generation of Asians has very little understanding of the struggle of our parents’ generation.”
Everyone on the GG2 power list is a role model for the community, especially the young.
Asian Who’s Who Awards
The annual launch of Asian Who’s Who is another high point of the British-Asian social calendar. This glamorous event took place in the Dorchester hotel in London’s Park Lane with entertainment provided by Bollywood dancers; the presentation of the awards was transmitted live on BBC Television. Once again awards went not just to the rich but others who had used their wealth to contribute to the community.
Among the winners was Rajesh Agarwal, the founder of RationalFX, Europe’s leading online foreign exchange and international payments company. He spoke movingly about how he came to Britain ten years ago with only £200 in his pocket. Ashook K. Ramsaran, who received the award for Asian Leadership in International Harmony had flown in especially from New York for the occasion. Another award went to Pushpinder Chowdhry who set up a free counseling service for Asian victims of violence.
The most prestigious title, Asian of the Year 2011, was given to Joginder Pal Sanger, who started his own travel agency in 1965 and subsequently began operating chartered flights to India. But he has become better known for his philanthropic activities and promotion of inter-faith, multi-cultural values and traditions.
As one of the speakers commented, every year you think it’s another ritual and always end up surprised. You find out about people who have built up businesses and careers from nothing, from an amazing range of fields – young, old, male, and female.
However, the unsung hero of the evening was Jasbir Singh Sachar, who started Who’s Who 37 years ago in 1974. Since then it has become an institution, reflecting the growing influence and clout of Asians not just in the United Kingdom but across the world, members of the community vie for a coveted place in the annual publication.
Ratan Tata awards dinner
Nick Clegg was the chief guest at another grand function, this time to honor the Indian entrepreneur, Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group. The venue was the impressive and historic Banqueting House in Whitehall close to the Houses of Parliament. Asia House, a leading pan-Asian organization in the UK, presents the annual Asian Business Leaders’ Award to those individuals who exemplify the concept of the “Servant Leader.” This award highlights the links between economic success and professional excellence, accompanied by moral leadership and service to society. Mr. Tata was described as an example of responsible capitalism at a time of great economic anxiety and credited with the rediscovery of old-fashioned values of designing and manufacturing goods.
Stuart Gulliver, Group Chief Executive of HSBC, said Mr. Tata was one of the UK’s largest employers and his ownership of Jaguar, represents his sense of innovation. He said the Tata Group was an earlier pioneer of philanthropy, a tradition which has been maintained by Ratan Tata today. Mr. Tata is known for his love of animals, and Mr. Gulliver described visiting his office in Mumbai and finding several dogs hanging around outside – they all looked healthy and well after being rescued from the streets.
Peter Sands from Standard Chartered Bank lauded Mr. Tata for transforming the Tata Group, especially the motor industry. He also mentioned that Trusts operated by the Group spend 100 million pounds a year on hospitals and a range of charitable organizations.
When it came to his turn to speak, Ratan Tata, was characteristically modest about his remarkable achievements. When asked by the BBC’s Bridget Kendall, what defines good leadership, Mr. Tata said it’s about “going to bed thinking you have been able to make a difference, improve someone’s life.”
He said he had inherited a conservative and traditional company, and his objective was to uphold ethical values and standards he had inherited. Tata, he said, was seen as a company with a social conscience, in this “we were ahead of the curve.” Mr. Tata also said he took his lead from China, which always thought big.
Referring to the economic climate in the UK, Mr. Tata had encouraging words, especially for the young. “I see unrecognized talent, despondency, negativity. It is time to take the view that [the] sun has not set on [the] British empire. The young will ride on pride or despondency. If there is growth there will be prosperity,” he said.
Ironically, Mr. Tata, despite his acquisitions of landmark British companies such as Tetley, Jaguar Land, as well as the Corus Group, said manufacturing was the foundation of the nation. England had so much leadership in aviation and other industries, he said it was sad to see much of this in the hands of foreign owners.
Mr. Tata noted that there was a recognition that people now needed to look to Asia for innovation and entrepreneurship. He said there had to be a desire to succeed along with initiative and opportunity. He ended by saying he wished to stress that the UK has the capability to raise itself out of the present slump.
One of the Trustees of Asia House is Dalip Pathak, Managing Director, Warburg Pincus International. Mr Pathak, who started his career in the Tata Administrative Service over thirty years ago, said seeing Ratan Tata receive the Asia House Business Leaders’ Award made him proud:
“He is a worthy torch bearer for the Tata Group, which embraced corporate social responsibility over one hundred years ago, well before it became fashionable. He is the embodiment of the unique ethos of the Tata Group, which has proven that long-term profit is not incompatible with social good. Furthermore, the greater good did not stand in the way of his remarkable transformation of the Group, which was at the risk of losing its edge three decades ago, into a vital and energetic 21st century conglomerate poised to play a global role. Remarkably, he has done this without seeking the limelight.”
This a fitting tribute to Ratan Tata, who has now handed over control of the Tata Group to his hand-picked successor, Cyrus Pallonji Mistry, who is said to share many of the traits admired in his predecessor. Mr. Mistry is described by close friends as soft-spoken, candid, and down-to-earth and is also said to love cars. Admirers of Ratan Tata can feel reassured that the values and traditions he inherited are likely to be embraced by his successor.
The shower of awards to Ratan Tata and a diverse range of talented and philanthropic Asians has helped to dispel the misgivings of cynics by sending a signal to the community that genuine success is defined not just by the acquisition of wealth but what you do with it.