“Entrepreneur” is a word bandied around a little too much these days.
Every recent graduate with an idea, a Mac and some shared workspace in east London seems happy to use the label.
Though this proactive attitude is to be admired, it’s rare to meet someone who shows genuinely moving entrepreneurial mettle and has had the fortune to turn this into a stellar business success.
One such person is Dr Rami Ranger, chairman and founder of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) export company, Sun Mark Ltd.
As he fled religious conflict in Pakistan as an infant, few could have predicted Ranger would go on to found and lead one of the most highly-decorated and fastest-growing private companies in Britain.
Sun Mark is the only company to have ever won the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise for International Trade five times in a row, and was also a winner of the Export Champion category at Real Business and the CBI’s Growing Business Awards last year. Ranger was also named Institute of Directors’ Director of the Year 2013.
Rami Ranger accepting his award at last year’s Growing Business Awards
At last count the business was turning over more than £140m with profits of more than £10m and it continues to grow – turnover grew by at least 28 per cent each year between 2007 and 2012 and Sun Mark was ranked 32nd in Real Business’s Hot 100 2013.
I met Ranger at Sun Mark’s HQ, which lies on a nondescript residential street in Greenford, west London. His office, which he shares with his wife Renu, overlooks row upon row of the packed goods in the warehouse below which he exports to 115 countries worldwide.
Ranger is the son of Shaheed (Martyred) Nanak Singh, a leading opponent of Indian partition, who was assassinated at the age of 42 before Ranger was born in 1947. Along with his mother and siblings, he fled what is now Pakistan on a train’s coal tender, arriving in Ferozepur, India, barely recognisable from being covered in soot.
Ranger says that his mother’s values are the “bedrock of his success.”
“The biggest impact in my life was my mother,” he says. “To see her work from morning to evening was an experience I cannot forget.”
He arrived in Britain in 1971 with the intention of studying law, but due to lack of funds ended up working in a London branch of KFC for 35p an hour. After seven years he was made redundant and after a brief stint working in retail he set up his own freight forwarding company with just £2, a typewriter, a car and a self-storage unit.
“You don’t need a rich father or elite education to be successful,” he says. “What you need is self-respect, a work ethic, commitment, vision and empathy.”
The business began by exporting all sorts of products to emerging markets with customers highly appreciative of Rami’s attention to detail and desire to exceed expectation. He then began to focus on food products produced by big companies like Nestle, Cadbury, Unilever and McVities to developing countries and Sun Mark has since become a “go-to” for businesses who want to access challenging international markets where they do not have their own offices.
The real light-bulb moment for Ranger was the decision to produce his own branded versions of products from the major food manufacturers at a much lower cost, and export them to Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent.
“When God wants you to win the lottery, he gives you an idea,” Ranger says.
This strategy has allowed Sun Mark to capitalise on the demand for quality European goods at reasonable prices. He says the logic is very simple. People need a bag but not everyone can afford a Chanel bag but they still need a good bag. He offers similar quality products at a price that is right. It now has sales in more than 115 countries and 96 per cent of its profits is derived from international business.
When it comes to growing a business, Ranger says you always need to be thinking big.
“Business is as big as your imagination,” he says. “Think small and you will remain small. We think global – we reach the parts that other people can’t reach. We exhibit at trade shows from Germany to Hong Kong, Trinidad, Brazil, China and many others.”
He also says it’s important to look for employees who share your vision.
“Loyalty is so important,” he says. “I like loyal people more than anything else. If you have good people then keep them well motivated and trained – treat them like partners and reward success.”
Ranger says that every time Sun Mark has won a Queen’s Award every member of staff has been rewarded with an extra £1,000 pay rise over and above their annual increment.
Customer service is another crucial success factor, he says.
“We only succeed when our customers succeed,” he says. “I can always earn money back but if I lose a customer I will lose more. Don’t rip people off because a short term gain will be a long term loss.”
Ranger isn’t shy of shouting about his success, and really why should he be? His story is a real inspiration. He just wishes others weren’t so modest. In fact, he says that a hidden talent is no talent. We must tell the world what products and services we can offer and what benefit we can bring to the table.
He says: “You inspire people who will also follow suit. Celebrating success is important and my only problem is that in Britain we don’t celebrate success enough. You should celebrate because success is not just for you and perhaps my story will help others try that much harder and achieve more for themselves as a result.
Have you got an inspiring export story to tell? Enter the Export Champion category of this year’s Growing Business Awards. Nominations are open now and will close on the 19th September. For more information and to submit your free nomination, visit the Growing Business Awards site.