Jitesh Gadhia is an investment banker, businessman and a member of the House of Lords. We were very keen to hear about his life and his current involvement with the Royal British Legion campaign to recognise the part played by Indian soldiers in World War One.
We’d love to know what a typical working day is like for you?
It may sound clichéd but every day’s different. Of course, there are some regular activities: Board meetings (I sit on the UK Government Investments Board); Parliamentary debates, questions and briefings; and a wide range of community engagements. In the midst of this, I’m typically on the phone dealing with questions relating to my policy and business roles. It can be hectic, but I enjoy the variety of all of this and the intellectual challenges it provides.
That’s indeed a full day! Having achieved so much, what have been some of the highlights of your career? And some of the challenges you’ve faced?
I’ve worked for a number of financial institutions over the past 25 years – most recently the Blackstone Group, the world's largest alternative asset manager. I now have what is euphemistically called, a "plural" career, including being chairman of Compare The Market, the UK’s largest price comparison site for financial products and household services.
My first job after university was working as a graduate trainee at Baring Brothers, the oldest merchant bank in the City of London, established in 1762. As a young banker, I lived through the collapse of Barings in 1995, the result of Nick Leeson’s un-authorised trading activities in Singapore, which set off reverberations across the global financial system.
It was a “Black Swan” moment for all of us working at Barings, and the City fraternity more widely. We eventually came through this difficulty and were rescued from administration by the Dutch group ING. The whole episode taught me to "expect the unexpected" and this has helped me develop a sense of perspective about similar events, such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 2016 Brexit vote. We’ve had enough unexpected events for now, but I’m sure I’ll see a few more in my lifetime.
More recently, I’ve had the honour of judging the $1m Global Teacher Prize, won by an arts and textiles teacher from Alperton Community School in the London Borough of Brent. It was humbling and inspiring to see someone win, who is so passionate about improving young lives. She won out of 33,000 nominations from 173 countries.
I’ve also very much enjoyed working with the Royal British Legion, as we mark the centenary of the end of World War One on 11 November.
That sounds very interesting, could you tell us more about that project?
It’s a campaign to say “Thank You” for the huge contribution and sacrifice made by Indian soldiers. We’ve created a unique Khadi poppy, the handwoven cotton closely associated with Mahatma Gandhi. I’m delighted that the England and Indian cricket captains, Joe Root and Virat Kohli, became the first to wear it. It sends an important signal to young Asians growing up in Britain. Our identity is our destiny and so third and fourth generation Asians should know that their fathers and grandfathers didn’t just come to Britain as immigrants. Our ancestors fought for this country and for freedom and democracy - even though they lived in a colony at the time. We therefore have as much stake here in Britain as anyone else. British Asians should be proud of the role that their forebears played in shaping the destiny of the world.
Yes, indeed. How do you stay passionate about what you do?
It’s an honour to serve in the House of Lords at such a critical juncture in Britain’s history. Our Parliamentary system doesn’t operate on raw power, but on influence. It’s important to know how the system works and how to get things done.
I prefer contributing to the substance and finding solutions for big public policy issues rather than add to the “noise” and “political posturing” in Parliament. For example, I’ve been asked to serve on the panel reviewing build-out rates and “land-banking” by housebuilders, chaired by the former Cabinet Minister Sir Oliver Letwin MP. It will be making its recommendations to the Chancellor in time for the Autumn Budget. Housing is one of the most important issues facing the country and it feels good to contribute to finding ways to accelerate house building.
Being anchored in a set of timeless values provides a sense of perspective and balance. I believe that both Dharma (right conduct) and Karma (you reap what you sow) are good ways to approach your personal and business relationships.
As a result, you shouldn't seek to be "somebody" but achieve "something". If you do your duty then everything else will fall into place. In the political world, this philosophy is sometimes considered naïve. But we need to change that mind-set and encourage more people to get on with doing the right thing.
We know that philanthropy and giving back is a big part of your life. What approach to philanthropy have you adopted and has this been influenced by your professional life?
I find that what you give is often what you get back. Coming from Uganda as a refugee with very little, I have been conscious of the opportunities that Britain has given me and our wider community. This feeds into my thoughts about the doors we should open for others. My professional experience in finance provides an important lens, particularly on how to structure and deploy scarce resources for maximum effect. The development impact bond is one such innovation, which I’m delighted to see BAT taking a lead on.
What issues are you particularly interested in supporting?
In my maiden speech in the House of Lords, I highlighted the importance of meritocracy and social mobility. Indeed, Prime Minister Theresa May speaks of making Britain a place where it's your talent and hard work that matter, not where you were born, who your parents are or what your accent sounds like. This is music to my ears.
Although we have some near-term challenges with navigating Brexit, I hope we can lift our horizons to focus on the fundamental issues facing our economy and society. I truly believe that our best times lie ahead, if we can capture the full benefits of being an open, outward-looking country that embraces global free trade and welcomes new talent to our shores.
Why did you join British Asian Trust’s Founders Circle?
To support positive impact. I’m impressed to see that sustainability of programmes is a central element in British Asian Trust’s work. It’s also a wonderful platform for a variety of individuals to bring their expertise together for a common goal. It’s clearly had great success over the last decade. The involvement of His Royal Highness catalyses a powerful unifying spirit – bringing together our diverse Asian communities in Britain – for the noble purpose of improving the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.