On Her Majesty’s Service: A British Government Dealmaker covering India, Singapore, Malaysia, China
‘We’re not going to get arrested are we when we land in Delhi?’ said my British Government colleague, Mark, just as the tyres of the British Airways jumbo jet smacked ha rd on the runway tarmac late in the Delhi night on my first visit to India as a British Government Dealmaker. Yes ‘Dealmaker’. I tried to resist the title but Mark had insisted that a UK Government card, with the Crown insignia and that title would be remembered. He was right.
So why his question on being arrested? To answer that I have to first explain what a Dealmaker does. My role, approached by the Government as a businessman with an asset management company, was to find technologies of exceptional potential and the entrepreneurs behind them and of strategic importance to the United Kingdom and land their HQs in the UK.
But that doesn’t get you arrested. No, the question was raised because minutes before landing I told Mark as well as the appointments at the British High Commission and a reception hosted by the High Commissioner for me, I had fitted in some of my own. One with MK Narayanan. Between my fixing the meeting, and our arriving in India, MK had been appointed India’s National Security Advisor. I’d met him previously at Ditchley Park in the UK at an away day to discuss with UK and Indian Foreign Service officials the UK India relationship.
Since that trip, over the past seven years in this role I have seen over 1000 innovative companies, brought numerous HQs to the UK, whilst always ensuring the companies continued growing out of India too. I’ve advised hundreds of entrepreneurs, mentored dozens of the them, helped find funding and clients for others. Making deals has meant explaining private equity term-sheets, putting pressure on the investor, the customer, the entrepreneurs, the shareholders, the lawyers, the brokers. And never once got arrested.
I have visited every major Indian city in search of the technologies and met all the major banks and VCs and incubators – from Chandigarth to Chennai and Mumbai to Kolkotta. I’ve even squeezed personal time to visit Leh in Ladakh and Srinagar in Kashmir. We even had an emergency landing in Pakistan. I’ve been ill enough in Chennai to be on a medical drip in my hotel. All part of the adventure.
When I was a child, my family drove me from the UK to India by road. From Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afhganistan, Pakistan to India. My destiny is tied to the UK and India. As a Dealmaker you are a modern day explorer – seeking out new shores and having adventures along the way.
There was the time when I was due to speak at the Trident Hotel the day of the terrorist attack, congratulated by the British PM who launched an initiative of mine, seen ‘computational fluid dynamic’ systems which make missiles more accurate and fly further – indeed technologies from software to cleantech to pharmaceuticals. I’ve had a Minister of the Crown, Lord Digby Jones, ask me to expand my role to include China (now that really did risk arrest – who goes around China asking to see their best technologies on behalf of the British Crown?!) and now Malaysia and Singapore too with an impending visit to Thailand.
Why does the British Government do this? Because in the post-Imperial era, wealth is dependent on a nation owning intellectual property. But IP without entrepreneurial talent is worthless. So I have to bring the IP and the entrepreneur over. Why the UK. Simple, it is the 5th largest economy in the world, part of the world’s largest trading bloc – the EU – yes still!
Evaluating if an innovation will work depends on your ability to pick high-flying companies – I’ve luckily won competitions in the FT and Bloomberg on picking winning companies – and written 16 books on the subject too. But the best due diligence is to ask if they have sales. I used to present for Bloomberg TV a show as their inhouse tech expert – so that helps when you are evaluating the latest developments in nanotech, or cancer detection! Yes hours spent with scientists in IITs, IIMs, business schools, and of course with entrepreneurs. The big lesson:
First – can this person execute? Second, do they have some intellectual property protection? Third, is there sales? Or just an idea? Fourth, is it investor ready – or are they asking for too much money? Ie would I invest? Five, can it scale? It is global in appeal, better than others out there?
So what does a typical day look like for one of Her Majesty’s Dealmakers?
0000: return from dinner 0500: Finish last of emails for the day and hit bed. Some relate to my Government work, but many to do with my business, which on these India trips I have to fit in post my day of Government meetings. 0730: Awake.
0800: First meeting with a corporate lawyer friend of mine. He’s a good source of dealflow, but also a good person to hand queries of M&A transactions or UK acquisitions to. 0900: Meet a software company with a few million turnover, looking at a UK expansion. This is bread and butter.
0930: my 0930 got moved, so can spend more time with the last company. 1000: Meet an online education company doing rather well in blended learning. I want companies with IP and high growth potential. This one has 300 employees and fits the bill, with US presence, looking at a UK set up.
1030: Another software related company – Ahmedabad has changed a lot, now there are many many IT companies, growing fast, and hungry. Although it is a national holiday, what I love about entrepreneurs is they will meet weekends, evenings and holidays – which makes my task a lot easier of getting on with it.
1100: Meet our TiE Executive Director – she’s been fantastic in setting up relevant meetings. 1130: check out, head to next meeting at Gandhi Ashram
1200: Do a BBC interview from back of the car on the why British Jaguars so popular in India (quality and British brand prestige is why – thanks to UK and Tata)
1215: Arrive other end of Ahmedabad for meeting with a USD 20m company whose Director supports 9000 children at the former home of the Mahatma. We meet barefoot, in the dust and see the happy faces of the children. I love this is how business is sometimes done.
1315: He introduces me to a Indian US marine whose charity teaches boys to be men and to treat women and girls with respect. Is it glamourous – some would say sitting in the searing heat bare feet in dust, sand and gravel is not.
1330: leave for airport 1430: take off for Mumbai 1600: Land Mumbai 1700: Arrive hotel, unpack, haven’t eaten all day – so order food whilst unpacking and ironing shirt.
1800: Arrive International India Centre – great meeting with a very well globally connected Indian entrepreneur who is looking at various set ups including UK or sending companies to the UK.
1945: Delhi golf club: to meet a a very well connected international banker who helped Rana Talwar, former CEO of Standard Chartered, expand in Africa. And another entrepreneur looking to establish his India business on corporate finance in the UK. 2200: Arrive hotel. Check emails. For my asset management company I need to analyse INR/EUR for the next 5 years! Get ready for gym. I have to gym. Dinner last night was too big.
2245: Gym; 50 minute run, and 20 minutes weights. Biceps! Gujaratis – no muscles! Working out helps me survive on little sleep. Protein bars too! 0000: emails and some UK calls including one missed from our Chairman of the UK India Business Council – so these things won’t wait.
0100: Wanted to call parents – but no time. Have to pack. 0130: Head to airport. 0200: Check in. 0300: Check out India books. I’ve been approached by several publishers to write books – so like to see what’s doing well in the charts. Nothing catches my eye, except one on 20 tales of social entrepreneurs. That’s new. Number 8 in non-fiction. And one of the companies I helped 5 years ago – DesiCrew – is in there! The lady concerned I assisted get into a Cambridge University Entrepreneurship course.
0400: Fly to Moscow. Zuckerberg is in town. But that’s another story and tomorrow is another day
Alpesh B Patel