Narendra Raval: Meet the man who rose from being a priest to a multimillionaire

New Delhi: Kenyan multimillionaire steel tycoon Narendra Raval, popularly referred to as ‘Guru’, has recently published his autobiography with Bloomsbury India.

The book – Guru: A Long Walk to Success – covers the extraordinary story of Raval’s life, starting from his initial phase as an ordinary priest in India to his successful story of becoming Kenyan multi-millionaire businessman. He is also known as a palmist and crystal gazer.

His autobiography, in collaboration with his dear friend and colleague, Kailash Mota, traces four decades in the life of Guru Bhai Narendra Raval. It is hard to believe that the astute businessman, who successfully built a US$ 650 million industrial empire, began his work life as a young, teenage priest in Nairobi, Kenya. Today, Raval runs his business empire with more than 4,500 employees spread across East Africa. He was also featured among the top 50 richest men in the Forbes Africa 2015 list.

Narendra Raval, EBS, (Guru), Chairman, Devaki Group, Kenya, talked to DB Post about his life and gaves business tips to starters.


Q. Please share your journey from Bhuj to Kenya, what were the challenges and roadblock faced during the early phase?

A. I was born in a traditional Gujarati Brahmin family in a tiny village of Mathak, in Gujarat, India. Though my grandfather was the second richest person in Mathak but after the family disputes, we were stripped of all the luxuries and were driven to poverty.

I was 10 at that time and as a boy, I was playful, mischievous and studies were never my cup of tea. Poverty made me think of finding various means and ways to earn money and support my family. That’s how my business instincts developed.

I have always looked for avenues to earn, that’s how at the age of 14, the priest role that I was offered in the Bhuj temple, was a blessing for me. While serving in the Bhuj temple itself, the Bhuj Swaminarayan temple Head Mahant Swami Hari Swarupdasji, offered me to work as a priest in Kenya. This was the first turning point in my life.

Guru in Kenya temple.

I faced lots of challenges and roadblocks when I accepted the priest’s role for the Kenyan Temple. Firstly, in Bhuj, I had functioned as a part of a team of temple priests and had elders around me to help, support and guide. While in Nairobi, my role was of a Head Priest. I was the leader here and my role was much larger than I had ever anticipated or imagined. Secondly, at 18, thousands of miles away from family and home, I felt lonely without anyone around me.

Thirdly, the temple routine was strenuous. Although I performed all my duties with full devotion and dedication, my routine was to wake up early at 3.45 am till the time the I closed the temple at 9pm. It was a daunting task for an 18-year-old boy.

Fourthly, when I flew to Nairobi from Mumbai, I had high expectations that I would have friends of my age, wear fashionable clothes, relish good food and drinks with my friend, party and enjoy. But all my fantasies were crushed, when as a priest, my attire and diet, were traditional, prescribed by my religion and my role as a priest. I hardly got an opportunity to step out of the temple premises.

However, I faced all the challenges, keeping in mind that I was supporting my family and with this realisation that the almighty was preparing me for a bigger role in life.

Q. You started your life working as a priest in a temple, what inspired you to become a successful entrepreneur?

A. It is said that ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’. Poverty made us struggle for the basic necessities of life, which taught me to find various ways and means of fulfilling the needs. My circumstances forced me to start my life as a priest in a temple and support my family. However, all along, it was my dream of setting up my own business and to run it successfully. I see those extreme circumstances to be important lessons of my life. It gave me direction and patience to never give up. It was poverty that drove me in the right path.

Q. How and why did you choose to explore business in steel and hardware industry? Why not any other business opportunity?

A. In 1982, I was residing with a successful steel industrialist where I used to go on regular visit to various facilities own by him. I learnt my first lessons in the steel business. He also helped me get my work permit in Kenya. Although I was a priest by profession, I always aspired to be a businessman.

I used to visit steel factories where I picked up good knowledge of steel and hardware products. I was more interested in raw materials, understood how scrap metal was sourced, transported to factory and how the end products made money. There, I became familiar with sales and distribution for final products.

They offered me to join their office on a regular basis and I was glad that this job opportunity was the first foundation of my business life. With time, I noted the steel making process and there my business interests had been kindled.

Q. Any plans to return to India or start philanthropy in education, health and other social programmes in India?

A. India is my ‘janam-bhoomi’ and Kenya my ‘karma-bhoomi’. Kenya has made me the person that I am today and have no plans to return to India permanently, though I regularly visit my friends and relatives in India. I do support philanthropic initiatives in India in my own manner.

Q. How do you see Indian economy, has it improved under Modi government and what is its potential?

A. The Modi government is in power since four years and the result for any new policies for the country, economy or government, cannot be seen in 4-5 years. Definitely, it is on the correct path and the investors’ confidence is better than before and many processes have been shortened and corruption has been reduced. Now, we can see the people have become answerable. But definitely, there is an improvement in the economy and if the government is re-elected, then there will be stability in the economy. However, rupee will continue to weaken against US $, but businesses will improve.

Q. What are the five business lessons you would like to give to entrepreneurs in India?

A. Lesson 1: I believe that nothing is impossible in this world for a willing heart and determined mind. The limitation is in our minds. If someone like me-with so little formal education, but a lot of common sense and determination can become a steel tycoon with more than 4,000 employees in his fold, then anyone can achieve whatever he true desires.

Lesson 2: I suggest after you have pursued your formal education and before you jump into your own business, work in a business house or industry, so that you can gain an insight into the business. If you venture out on your own without obtaining any practical training or experience, chances of failure are bright. However, during the training or internship, always keep the vision of setting up your own venture in mind. Ensure that you learn all the tricks of the trade during the training, so that when you eventually venture on your own, you are better placed to make the right decisions.

Lesson 3: Many have the ability to run an enterprise, but lack the capital or resources to venture out on their own; this does not mean that they are not entrepreneurs. I advise them to take up an employment, utilize their skills in various fields, thus benefitting both their organization where they work for as well as for themselves.

Lesson 4: Most important of all is to have a dream or vision and stay focused on it. Never lose focus on your vision and strive hard to accomplish your goals.

Lesson 5: Focus on the importance and value for money. Think practically and understand the importance of money and its worth in your lives. In today’s modern age, people view what you have rather than what you are. So, while studying, working or managing business, stay competitive and focused or there are bright prospects that you may be thrown out of competition. Also before putting your leg on the second step, ensure that your first step is solid and firm.

Q. Any Indian who has inspired you in life? Who is your role-model?

A. I am truly inspired by the life of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. They are my role model.