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From Dharam Lall to Lord Lall

Yusuf Beg | October 20, 2004

Until early this year, he was just Dharam Bir 'Bill' Lall. Now, he has acquired the title of Lord Lall of Woodsland.

Lall's story is a classic rags to riches one. Way back in 1958, aged 25, he sailed from Kochi to Genoa (Italy) on the way to Graz (Austria).

His aim was to enroll in a technical school. Unable to get admission, he moved westwards and landed in London. He had just a few pounds in his pocket then.

Today, at 71, he is worth more than 3 million. "You can say I had an interesting life and built my fortune from scratch," he preens softly.

Born to middle class parents, he made his name in England as an accountant, civil servant, adviser to the UK government, and is now one of the pillars of East London's business community. Today he hobnobs with prime ministers, visiting dignitaries, mayors and business tycoons.

Lall is on a visit to India to promote his second book, Rich Man Happy Man. He had earlier written on How To Grow Rich -- And Enjoy Life.

His inspiration, says Lall, comes from Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People. According to him his book, to be released next month, is a manual of how to make money and then how to enjoy life.

And his mantra? "Money brings with it enormous joy and happiness in life. Christ said that the doors of Heaven are open to the poor, and I would add that the doors of happiness in this world are open to the rich," he adds.

His life has been a struggle against odds. Born in the North West Frontier Province, Lall's schooling was in Rawalpindi. His family moved to India during Partition and settled in Kolkata. He graduated from Scottish Church College and took up an insurance agent's job before moving to a teaching job at the Khalsa School.

"Teaching and controlling rowdy children was not my metier and I quit after six months and became a salesman for Morton Confectioneries," he says. Later, he joined a paper mill as a technical apprentice. There he met an Austrian engineer who suggested he move to Graz.

"In those days I was not focused. I wasn't sure of what I wanted to do," he explains. From his experiences he now extols the virtues of a focused mind.

His advice to would-be entrepreneurs? Set clear goals. "When I failed in Graz I decided to make a life in England. That was my only aim," he says. And by all standards he has been a success. But the going had been tough, he admits.

"Finding a job and room to stay was extremely difficult for Asian immigrants at that time. Shops would have notices that read, 'Rooms to let -- Sorry, no colourds, no Irish, no dogs'," he reminisces.

Lall, however, managed to get an articleship with a Jewish firm in Manchester and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1964. After working in various companies -- KPMG, Dunlop and accounting firm Pricewaterhouse in Milan -- he joined the British government's ministry of defence as an accountant.

This was his second momentous decision. The first was to leave India, when he was denied a promotion to a chief accountant's post.

"The rejection left me drained. As a government servant, I knew I would fall into a circle of fighting for promotions all my life," says Lall. "I wanted more from life. I wanted to be a millionaire."

He floated an accountancy firm, and devoted a major part of his life in growing it. "In the first year of practice I had only five clients. When I sold my business in 2001, my firm had 800 clients. One should look at slow and steady growth. What is also important is to keep a figure, however small -- this is what I want to earn in my first year -- as a goal. It helps," he says.

In the early 1980s, Lall ventured into real estate, buying and selling properties. Now he owns 12 properties -- houses, flats, plots of land. And lives off his earnings from the rent and savings.

His success potion is simple: hard work and sincerity. Today, most of his time is spent in lobbying, consulting and giving legal advice to would-be entrepreneurs. Then he is hot on the lecture circuit, delivering 10 to 12 inspirational lectures a year. The subject, predictably, is on what he knows best -- how to make money and grow your business.

Lall was recently awarded an honorary doctorate in business administration by the University of East London. He is also the first person from an ethnic background to be elected to chair the Newham Chamber of Commerce.

Over the last few years, he has been visiting India frequently to see his brother. Does he miss India? Does he think of India as home? He shakes his head in a vigorous no.

"England is where I have spent the most part of my life and that is my home," says Lall. According to him, immigrants should assimilate with the host culture. "Don't ghettoise yourself, open up, mix with people. Learning about other cultures is always helpful."

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