Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia is Founder and Chairman of Dominvs Group, a family-owned real estate, hospitality and investment company with more than £750m under management, including a portfolio of hotels across the UK.
Through Dominvs, Sukhpal and the Ahluwalia family have invested in a range of businesses in both the UK and India, including Digraph. He is also the Chairman of the Advisory Board of VAR Capital, which was the winner of Euromoney’s Best Family Office award in 2018. In 2019, Sukhpal founded the Ahluwalia Family Foundation to formalise his family's philanthropic giving.
Sukhpal was previously Founder and Chairman of Euro Car Parts. He founded the company in 1978 from a single site in Willesden, London, and grew the company into the largest distributor of car parts in Europe, operating from more than 300 sites across the UK and employing more than 12,000 people. The company was acquired by Nasdaq-listed LKQ Corporation in a transaction valued at £280m. Sukhpal served as a Global Board Director of LKQ Corporation between 2011 and 2018, and was also Chairman of LKQ’s businesses in the UK, Ireland and India.
Sukhpal arrived in the UK in 1972 as a refugee, fleeing the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda. He maintains strong links to India through both business and charity and plans to retire to the country in the future.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your company and ambitions
I have always been an entrepreneur. I'm now Chairman of Dominvs Group, which is our family's investment company. We mainly invest in real estate and hospitality but dabble in private equity too, if it’s the right project. We recently opened our latest hotel, The Dixon, in London Bridge, and now we have big projects underway in Holborn, Bath, Milton Keynes, and the City.
Holborn is particularly exciting because it is a huge project. It will bring together a hotel, office space, and a co-working area. We are always trying to do new things. That's why I love business; it's an opportunity to constantly challenge yourself and push yourself to think in new ways.
It's quite a change from how I started out. My first business was Euro Car Parts. We started with a single store in Willesden, London, and grew the business to 300 stores. By the time I sold the business, it was the largest distributor of car parts in Europe.
Dominvs is different because it's a truly family business. My wife, Rani, is responsible for all the interior design; she has a real eye for what looks good – our hotel guests always seem to love her designs. It’s certainly a skill that doesn’t come natural to me.
“We started with a single store in Willesden, London, and grew the business to 300 stores. By the time I sold the business, it was the largest distributor of car parts in Europe.
My three sons all play critical roles in the company. Jay has a head for marketing and communication; he is responsible for partnerships and branding – he understands how guests and people think. Preet is a dealmaker, and he is responsible for the commercial side of our hospitality business and sourcing new projects; as a younger company we are really punching above our weight in terms of the size and quality of deals. Husnall is in charge of our residential arm – he is able to see projects from above, understand what needs to be done, and push them to completion like no one else I know.
Why did you want to support this report?
I am eternally grateful to the UK for providing me and my family with a home in our time of need. The UK is the most generous and welcoming place in the world; in fact, that is what makes Britain a beacon which attracts some of the best talent from around the world. Never has it been more important for the UK to welcome entrepreneurs into the UK who can build the businesses of the future and create hundreds of thousands or even millions of jobs. I thought it was important for our policy-makers to have some hard raw data, so they can see the tremendous impact that many young ambitious entrepreneurs have on the economy. I hope it leads to some good quality evidence-led policy.
“Never has it been more important for the UK to welcome entrepreneurs into the UK who can build the businesses of the future and create hundreds of thousands or even millions of jobs.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I came to the UK as a refugee when I was 13. My parents had to flee Uganda when Idi Amin came to power. It is a difficult time for my family, but I saw the resilience and will to succeed in my mother and father. My dad had been an entrepreneur in Uganda, but we lost everything when we came to the UK; in fact, when we arrived we spent more than a year in temporary accommodation. My parents taught me early on that it doesn't matter where you start, you can succeed. I think I picked up that lesson early.
I first discovered that I loved business when I was 15 or 16. I started skipping school and working down the markets; Petticoat Lane and Liverpool Street. One of my regrets is not spending more time at school, but I thrived on the energy of buying and selling; making deals. It's something I loved and think I had a natural talent for.
“My parents taught me early on that it doesn’t matter where you start, you can succeed. I think I picked up that lesson early.
I also think that there’s a natural appetite for entrepreneurship that comes from being an immigrant or refugee. You do not necessarily have the safety net that other people do, so you are more willing to take risks. But you also learn to stand on your own two feet very early, accept the hand that has been dealt to you, and just crack on.
What are you proudest of contributing to the UK?
This one is easy for me. I'm proudest of creating jobs. Euro Car Parts now employs more than 12,000 people; whenever I think about it, that number surprises me. I never would have expected that when I set up the company 30 years ago.
“I have always believed that success comes with responsibility, and as my businesses have become more successful, I have tried to make sure that I give back.
I loved walking around the offices, our distribution plant, or our shops and talking to the new people who had joined or our apprentices; hearing about the new skills they were learning and hearing how proud they were to wear a Euro Car Parts t-shirt. I feel that same sense of pride when I walk around the office or our hotels today.
I'm also proud of staying true to my values and principles. I have always believed that success comes with responsibility, and as my businesses have become more successful, I have tried to make sure that I give back. One of the ways I have tried to give back is in supporting education charities in India. For example, I was very proud recently to lay the foundation stone of a new school which will cater exclusively to disadvantaged children. I have a very strong connection to India, and look forward to retiring there sometime soon.