Five enterprising migrants who triumphed in the face of adversity

Whether fleeing persecution or coping with medical crises, these entrepreneurs have built some great businesses.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 02 Feb 2017

There’s a lot to be said for obstacles. While we treat them as problems as we approach them, those little speed bumps in life are what shape us and we learn a lot from them. Perhaps that’s why so many successful entrepreneurs have life stories that are littered with tales of persistence and grit in the face of adversity.

Overcoming setbacks is hard enough in your place of birth, but can be doubly difficult when you’ve uprooted to an unfamiliar country. Migrants to the UK are much more likely to become entrepreneurs than those born here, starting one in seven of all new businesses. Not so much ‘taking our jobs’ as creating them.

If you’re not familiar with How I Beat the Odds, it’s a slot in every issue of MT where we meet an entrepreneur who has succeeded despite facing great difficulties. Here are five of migrants who shared their inspiring stories.

1. Rami Ranger (pictured above) 

Ranger fled what is now Pakistan as a baby after the assassination of his father, an opponent of the Indian partition. He later moved to the UK in the hope of studying but ended up working at KFC for 35p an hour. He later struck gold after launching Sun Mark, a food exporting company which now employs 150 people and turns over hundreds of millions of pounds per year.

2. Jeff Paterson

Born in Johannesburg, Paterson moved to London a few years ago with his colleague to start Fourex, a vending machine operator that makes it easier to convert loads of coins and notes into your home currency. The night before pitching in the final of Virgin Media’s VOOM competition, he found out he was probably going to lose his leg to cancer. Now he’s learning to walk again, and growing his business at the same time.

3. Issam Darwish

An engineer by trade, Lebanese-born Darwish has made a bundle in telecoms. After launching the first news satellite in his home country he went to ply his trade in some of the hairier corners of eastern Europe. Then he tackled Africa, where he’s overcome armed men and patchy infrastructure to build Lagos-based IHS Towers.

4. Laurence Momann

At the age of 16, Momann moved to London in 1990 to avoid being embroiled in the Afghan Civil War after the Soviet invasion. Life was tough for the scrawny 16 year old who couldn’t speak any English. But he worked his way through school, beefed himself up and started a security business, which now turns over more than £1m and has 100 guards on its books. When he started having epileptic fits doctors found a tumour on his brain. He was hesitant to have surgery because it could have destroyed his memory, but he eventually agreed to have the tumour removed, and hasn't looked back since. 

5. Paul Oberschneider

Oberschneider fell victim to the same disease that killed his father – alcoholism. After landing a job on Wall Street he spent nine years drinking to excess before losing his job. But then he got clean, moved to Estonia and built a property empire from scratch, selling out for EUR200m (£170m) just before the financial crisis.

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