His story has been called ‘truly inspirational’ by legendary singer Asha Bhosle, and Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, has spoken of Bassi’s “generous spirit, and belief that everyone – no matter where they come – should be able to succeed as far as their individual talent and hard work can take them.”
Bassi’s new book, Brick by Brick: Success in Business and Life, explores how his family arrived in the UK as impoverished Indian immigrants, and examines the circumstances that ultimately led Bassi to hold an interest in a £300m-plus property and business portfolio (including care homes, restaurants and a distribution business), and receive a CBE for his services to business in 2010.
Bassi talks to us about his background, philanthropy, his advice to business owners and what the bad times have taught him.
The story starts with my granddad, who couldn't read or write. Most people were looking to get out of India to prosper, and he came to England. As a young boy, I had no knowledge I was an immigrant or working class or otherwise, I was just a happy boy playing football in the park.
My parents had a very strong work ethic. As I grew up, the family bought a few houses and a corner shop. It was absolutely a given that you worked in the corner shop.
Do you really need a talent to be a good businessman or woman? I think what you need is a vision and a big picture of what you want to achieve, way down to the finest detail.
The recession of the early ’90s taught me to always manage the downside. When everything was depressed, I went shopping. And that's been a trade I've adopted ever since; whether it was the financial crisis or the dot-com bubble. Or whether we've had a Scottish referendum, Brexit, the election or any time things are troubled, like they look like they might be soon. Why waste the crisis?
I don't believe that you have a talent to be good at business. You might have a talent to sing like an angel or win the 100 meters at the Olympics. But do you really need a talent to be a good businessman or woman? I think what you need is a vision and a big picture of what you want to achieve, way down to the finest detail. Also, work hard. Network.
Understand that overnight success takes about 15 years. And the real key ingredient is to surround yourself with great people. That makes it very, very easy.
“Why waste the crisis? The recession of the early ’90s taught me to always manage the downside.”
Success is like going on a journey – but you put the address in the sat nav first. Otherwise, you could easily be driving in the wrong direction for a while. That's paramount.
New property investors should stay local to start with. Find your patch and then build on that. And always be quite conservative in your borrowings – you're more likely to be in control. If you don't adopt that policy, you'll find somebody else will be running your business.
Too many people grow up too quick. You don't get a second chance at being 25. So grab it. I like spending time with my family and friends, and it’s very important for me to stay healthy and relaxed. And the one thing being financially comfortable allows you is that choice.
I look like a fairly typical Western person of Indian origin. But I got brought up in a very devout Sikh family. I just chose not to wear a turban, because I played sports. My Sikh values are honesty, respect and a hard work ethic. Also one of the key components is community and family. It’s the same when I'm running the business. We support lots of local worthy causes and help send parents to foreign countries to be by the side of their children when they're ill.
All the high-net-worth people I know are very keen on getting into philanthropy. People are becoming wealthier, and it’s becoming fashionable and enjoyable, if you've a few billion dollars, to give it away. I think the UK is going to continue to support worthy causes.
We're in a far better place than the society I grew up in. The reason for that is education; I’m proud of the youngsters coming through who value people for who they are, not for the colour of their skin or their religion.
Brick by Brick: Success in Business and Life by Paul Bassi is published by Bloomsbury. All the profits of the book will go to Bond Wolfe Charitable Trust.