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How a refugee created 3,500 jobs in Britain

Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia knows the power of immigration.Born in Uganda when the British Empire was in its heyda...

Posted: Jan 16, 2018 2:34 PM
Updated: Jan 16, 2018 2:34 PM

Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia knows the power of immigration.

Born in Uganda when the British Empire was in its heyday, he was forced to flee his home country for a new life in Britain in 1972.

Then he went to work.

Ahluwalia was 19 when he bought a struggling auto parts business in London. He sold the company -- Euro Car Parts -- for -280 million ($375 million) in 2011 after creating thousands of jobs.

Now, as Britain tries to slash the number of people coming to its shores, the former refugee is quick to remind people of the economic benefits of immigration.

"I believe the backbone of this country is immigration, and we should never, ever forget it," he said.

Here's how one refugee made it big in Britain:

Ahluwalia was born in Uganda in 1958. At the time, the former British Colony was home to thousands of families, like his, that had emigrated from South Asia to work on railways and other infrastructure projects.

Many of the families thrived in their adopted country, playing prominent roles in business.

"[We] were doing very well," said Ahluwalia. "We all grew up in very, very comfortable surroundings."

That all changed when army commander Idi Amin seized power in a 1971 military coup. He would preside over one of the bloodiest regimes in Africa's history.

Related: Why Britain needs the immigrants it doesn't want

"This crazy man ... Idi Amin just got up one day and said that these guys [Ugandans from South Asia] are bad for our country ... they are all agents of the British and we need to get them out of here," he recalled. "Within 30 days we were expelled."

Starting over

The family -- Ahluwalia, his two brothers, mom and dad -- landed in Britain. Despite being packed into cramped dorms in a cold new land, there was a bright spot.

"I could never forget the kindness and the goodhearted spirit of the British," Ahluwalia said. "In times of crisis they come together and they want to help ... they don't care about themselves."

After a year in temporary shared housing, the family moved to their own apartment.

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Ahluwalia didn't find British schools to his liking. Disillusioned, he found refuge in the hustle and bustle of London's street markets, and the work they provided.

"When you have nothing, you really just will give it all you've got," he said. "I guess my skills and my intuition for business and commerce and trade [came] from the markets."

Building a business

In 1978, when he was just 19, Ahluwalia started Euro Car Parts.

Using a -5,000 ($7,500) loan, he took over a failing auto business and set about turning it into a titan. It was a steep learning curve: "The first day, I didn't know anything about car parts," he said.

But he worked hard. Ahluwalia said the previous owner worked nine-to-five; he worked seven-to-whenever customers were satisfied.

Ahluwalia expanded his inventory and opened new locations, spreading across London and eventually the U.K.

"From employing 10 people, then it became 50, then 100. It was all systems go, and it was a roller coaster after that," he said.

The next chapter

The ride reached a high point in 2011.

With Euro Car Parts employing 3,500 people across 89 locations, Ahluwalia sold the business to American auto parts company LKQ Corporation.

Ahluwalia now sits on the global board of LKQ, which has a market value of around $13 billion. He is confident that selling was the right call.

"The decision has allowed me to do so many things," he said. "I'm an investor in six or seven companies ... I am now a serial entrepreneur."

Ahluwalia is chairman of Dominvs Group, an asset management firm specializing in property. His three sons oversee the day-to-day running of the enterprise.

The entrepreneur also makes time for charity work, which includes helping the homeless in London and providing an education to underprivileged children in India.

In the coming years, he hopes to move to India, the home of his forefathers.

"I'd like to forget the tough times and remember the good times," Ahluwalia said of his journey. "The tough times were very tough, and the good times now are very good."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 315026

Reported Deaths: 7257
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21684260
Hinds20385416
Harrison17973309
Rankin13650278
Jackson13456246
Madison10130217
Lee9988174
Jones8388163
Forrest7701152
Lauderdale7198240
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Monroe4120133
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Lincoln3972110
Hancock380287
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Tate335484
Pike3330105
Scott316773
Alcorn313670
Yazoo311870
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Copiah297865
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Simpson295388
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Marion269680
Leake268673
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Holmes189174
Clay185654
Stone183033
Tallahatchie179041
Clarke178180
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164838
Smith162734
Walthall134345
Greene130633
Lawrence129324
Montgomery127242
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121929
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107233
Tunica105726
Claiborne102530
Benton100125
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67631
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 540267

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798791529
Mobile41295809
Madison35175506
Tuscaloosa25932455
Shelby25309249
Montgomery24736593
Baldwin21422310
Lee15997172
Calhoun14577319
Morgan14431280
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Marshall12280225
Houston10650282
Elmore10158206
Limestone10075151
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Cullman9773194
Lauderdale9465243
DeKalb8866188
Talladega8344176
Walker7261278
Autauga7010108
Jackson6840112
Blount6776139
Colbert6322135
Coffee5583118
Dale4878113
Russell445938
Chilton4383113
Franklin426382
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia395177
Chambers3598123
Dallas3569153
Clarke351561
Marion3140101
Pike312077
Lawrence303698
Winston275873
Bibb264864
Geneva254178
Marengo249865
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale224078
Butler219069
Fayette213162
Henry190043
Cherokee184845
Randolph182542
Monroe178241
Washington167839
Macon161350
Clay157257
Crenshaw153657
Cleburne149641
Lamar143336
Lowndes140753
Wilcox127430
Bullock123342
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter105032
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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