Magazine article Management Today

Reuben Singh

Magazine article Management Today

Reuben Singh

Article excerpt


He created a wildly successful chain of girly shops before taking his A-levels, became the UK's youngest self-made millionaire and was taken up by Tony Blair when just 22. He now offers web help to small businesses. But can the Sikh wunderkind live up to his billing?

It's arranged: Reuben Singh will meet me at London's Hilton hotel, Park Lane. You can't miss him, say his office, he'll be in his yellow Bentley, personalised number plate. And, sure enough, there he is, standing outside the hotel in the spring sunshine beside the brightest car this side of a lemon on wheels.

'Do you like it?' asks Singh, instantly chummy. 'I got it last week. It's the only one of its type in the world!'

And you can believe it. It's gleamy new, [pound]270,000-worth of eye-popping status symbol with walnut dashboard, black leather seats edged in yellow piping and a Sikh Khandra symbol dangling from the mirror. Singh himself is in designer Sikh mode: black trousers, black boots, black rollneck, black turban and bushy black beard tucked into his sweater. It's all rather surreal.

Anyway, he says, he can't park the Bentley here, it won't fit in the NCP downstairs(!), let's go to the Sheraton Tower, he'll leave it there. He gives the impression that he doesn't really want to let it out of his sight. And at that price, who can blame him?

So off we go, tooling through the Knightsbridge traffic, Singh clearly rather enjoying his new toy, making an impression, me sitting up front wishing I was in the back giving a regal wave.

'Oh hi, yellow,' says the doorman at the Sheraton when Singh throws him the keys. You don't forget a car like that. We settle in the hotel bar, the car still winking at us in the sunlight through the plate-glass front of the building. Singh doesn't want to use his apartment round the corner for the interview, or any of his offices.

Actually, I can't really make out if Singh, who's based in Manchester, has an office in London, or indeed an apartment, as he tends to talk in vagueries, and getting concrete answers out of him is sometimes a bit difficult. There may be good reason for this, as you'll discover by the end of this piece, but for now, let's just say I enjoyed his warm garrulousness without quibble.

What's indisputable, though, is that Singh, one-time retailer, now currency trader and owner, is the highest-profile young entrepreneur in town these days. And by young, I mean young. Still not 25, Singh made his first fortune out of a chain of more than 100 jewellery and accessories shops called Miss Attitude that he set up while still doing his A-levels. Yes, it helped that his parents run a large Manchester-based wholesaler, Sabco, which supplies a string of major retail outlets, but it was still an astonishing feat.

He sold his shops two years ago and moved on to other things, since when estimates of his wealth, and indeed his success, have varied. His profile, however, has remained on a high and seems to have convinced the Government -- always on the lookout for an amenable entrepreneur - that he is a horse worth backing. And with his pedigree -- young, smart and Asian -- it's not hard to see why. After meeting Tony Blair in 1999, Singh was invited onto both the DTI's competitiveness council and its small-business council, and was appointed one of the country's five ambassadors for entrepreneurship (along with the likes of Sir Alan Sugar and Sir Richard Branson]. He was also chosen to serve on the 'peer re views' that report on government departments.

That's quite some approval rating and may also, perhaps, have something to do with the fact that Singh's family is close to Lord Paul, the Labour multi-millionaire steel boss. And when not sitting on government committees and, presumably, running his new ventures, Singh has worked hard to keep that profile up: he is a frequent speaker at conferences, on panels, to venture capital gatherings and the like. …

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