Nazmu Virani, although he never drinks alcohol, links his best deal to a brewery, as Chris Blackhurst found out.
Whenever people discuss the enterprise culture they point to the Asian corner shop. Long hours and hard work, they say, show just what can be achieved.
They may even point to Nazmu Virani. Seventeen years ago, after fleeing from Idi Amin's reign of terror, Virani opened a supermarket in south London. Today his Control Securities group owns 24 hotels, 820 pubs and more than five million sq ft of commercial property space. At 43, he is worth an estimated £110 million. He has a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce and lives in a six-bedroomed, five-bathroomed house complete with heated indoor swimming pool. Immaculately attired and unfailingly polite, he is the embodiment of the successful Ugandan Asian businessman.
Virani's life is consumed by three things: business, family and religion (he is an Ismaili Moslem). "We worked all hours God gave us. I am more married to my business than my wife. Determination, hard work, commitment and family unity got us where we are today."
But an eye for the main chance and a shrewd business brain have also pushed him along. Making money comes naturally. His father had built up a hotel and property business in Uganda. Some of that fortune was put out of harm's way overseas. The family was able to buy first the supermarket in Lordship Lane - or as he calls it, "Hardship Lane" - then a string of other stores including, a wholesaling business. They were sold and replaced by cheap bed and breakfast hotels. Within three years of arriving in Britain, Virani and his two younger brothers were able to pay £2.7 million in cash for the Eccleston Hotel in Victoria.
The Virani empire kept on growing. When British Rail put 21 of its hotels up for sale, Virani bought eight of them. They have since been sold. More often than not when he sells, the buyer is a fellow member of the Asian community. Virani has made a fortune from acting as middleman between the English property tycoon and the Asian shopkeeper. "The small man from the mosque or temple can't go to John Ritblat but he can come to Nazmu Virani," he says.
At present he has a portfolio of 110 properties, each worth between one and £10 million. "I would sell any of them to a non-Asian but I don't know who they are. I would love to go to someone like Scottish Widows' and offload some but I can't."
Deals are what drives him. "It's a sickness. Obviously money comes with the deal. A good deal gives me the feeling that I have been for a nice seven-day trip to the Bahamas."
For his best, he chooses the buying back of a company at a bargain price. Before the stock market crash, shares in Control Securities were in huge demand. Virani was able to issue more and more paper in order to finance bigger and bigger deals. Then came what he calls "Golden Monday" when the shares collapsed. Virani went into the market and bought up the company cheap. Today his family owns 47% of the business. But that is not his best deal. Instead he chooses the buying back of another company, Belhaven Brewery Group.