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From Indian entrepreneur to UK Curry King

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 | Posted by: Grant Thornton

Lord Lord NoonGulam Noon was 30 years old when he came to the UK, a young man with big dreams and little money. Within 40 years, his company was worth £124 million. Here’s his story – and his advice.

The young Gulam Noon had worked at the family business ‘Royal Sweets’ in Mumbai, learning the basics of food manufacturing, customer relationships and managing accounts. When he moved to the UK in 1966, he was determined to improve life for his family back in India and used his knowledge to set up a single shop. By 1974 the UK arm of Royal Sweets had franchises in London, Leicester and Bradford. It wasn’t long before his success caught the attention of the Taj Group, which asked him to supply confectionery to the hotel group in New York.

But it was in 1988, when Gulam launched Noon Products to supply frozen and chilled Indian ready-meals from factory to supermarket, that his business hit the tipping point for dynamic growth. His first contract was an order for £2.7 million from Birds Eye, and a deal with Lord Sainsbury, who'd been impressed with the British-Asian businessman's honesty and upfront demeanour, soon followed.

In five years, Noon Products went from zero to a turnover of £16 million. Today it employs more than 1,700 people and supplies to leading supermarket outlets, as well as exporting to Europe, HK and the Middle East. In 1995, Noon Products was sold to Kerry Foods Ltd of Ireland, a division of Kerry Group plc, for £124 million.

Gulam, himself – now 76 and a life peer – is credited with being one of the first people to inspire English people to acquire a love of Indian food through the supermarket shelves, and is known as the UK’s ‘Curry King’.

We met him at a Next Generation Network event, facilitated by the UK India Business Council (UKIBC) and run in association with Grant Thornton's Anuj Chande (pictured). The NGN events are aimed at young business leaders (under 40 years of age) interested in the UK-India business relationship – and Lord Noon offered the following advice for the entrepreneurs in the audience.

• When doing business in India, make sure you find a good partner with a good reputation.  Don’t do it alone as your chances of success are greater with the right local partner on ground.

• If the market exists, go for it. The time to enter the Indian market is now not later.

• The young people in India are switched on and are hungry. India offers very sensible manpower and many exciting new opportunities for young visionary entrepreneurs.

• Be brave, honest and true to yourself and your work.  

Don’t expect to work normal hours of 9-5 as your new business will be a full-time job.

• Make footprints – it's very important to give back and think about what you have done for others.

Lord Gulam Noon interviewed by Yasir Dharsi. Visit our South Asia Group page for further help and information on expanding overseas.