Rajiv Ruparelia on Managing Family-owned Multi-Million Dollar Business Empire

There is common perception that children born in wealthy families usually tend to take less interest in sustaining businesses once the proprietors are no longer capable of managing.

Many cases can be cited where family-owned businesses have failed to live on to the next generation and consequently crumbled.

This is attributed majorly to lack of orientation by the parents, try but in some cases the would-be inheritors have no interest in pursuing the line of business.

Rajiv Ruparelia is the eldest son to Ugandan billionaire, Sudhir Ruparelia who is the proprietor of the Ruparelia Group, a conglomerate of businesses.

The Group has investments in hospitality, education, banking, real estate, entertainment, floriculture, insurance among others.

Rajiv has proved that the perception noted earlier can be flipped and that with passion and good grooming, a multi-million business empire like Ruparelia Group can be managed by a second generation kid.

ChimpReports caught up with Rajiv who is a Director in the Group to understand the nuts and bolts of managing such an empire and what it means to be a billionaire’s son.

I arrive at his office (4:00pm) at Crane Chambers in Kampala, for an appointment to interview Rajiv but his extremely busy schedule is evident from the fact that he’s still attending meetings concurrently.


It is 5:00 pm when he takes a lunch break but several other appointments await him thereafter.

Born in Uganda in January 1990, Rajiv was brought up here in Uganda but later pursued his studies in the UK. He attended Dragon School in Oxford, then Dean Close School and also finished his university Degree (Financial Management) in UK.

“I am a simple person but shrewd when it comes to business. I believe in performance and that hard work pays off but not necessarily good grades or a first class student. I prefer someone who acts and delivers results instead of too much talking with no results,” says Rajiv when I ask him to briefly talk about himself.

He tells me that as a kid, he always wanted to be a businessman, an investor and entrepreneur.

It’s this dream that saw him start ‘Club Sway’ a nightclub in Kampala at an early age of 17 because there was no place for young people to go and enjoy themselves.

Getting into the family business

‘At 19, I decided I was going to help out with the family business during my holidays and I started pursuing that. I then told my dad that if there was going to be a conflict of interest, then I am not going work with you.

People have different visions. This being a family business there has to be some personal fights whenever you don’t agree but you have to professionally justify the arguments and actions you make instead of being stubborn.

I also understood that I had to respect my father as my boss because he’s the vision bearer and he knows the nuts and bolts of the business since he has personally grown it to this level alone.

Listening helps you learn how to implement this vision in the correct format so that even when the founder of the business is no more, you can ably manage it.

At a very tender age of 3, little Rajiv used to visit construction sites together with his dad. He would carry along his plastic spade and plastic hoe and engage himself in loading sand on the wheelbarrow.’

Rajiv is a principled and hardworking man
Rajiv is a principled and hardworking man

This, he tells me, was the only opportunity to spend time with his father.

“When you are active physically at a tender age you will always be active and you will experience the things that others do not. Now, when I see someone loading the sand or pushing a wheelbarrow, I know what it means and I get to appreciate his contribution,” he says.

Rajiv is very principled; a value he believes has enabled him to maneuver through the seemingly tough tasks.

“I’m very keen on time management. It’s very bad to just sit home and relax while someone is waiting for you at office. If you are already at office, even when you delay them, they will understand that you are busy.”

He strongly believes in commitment to assignments and that people must meet their deadlines.

On a typical day, he wakes up at 3:15am, picks his phone to check his meetings and plans his day by brainstorming on what should be done.

“By 7:30 am, I meet with work associates to discuss and try to solve crises if any. Then I go to sites; hotels, apartment buildings and the like to do routine inspection and check on the hygiene and ensure everything is okay. I do this abruptly because these people never know when someone will come in so this serves to make them know they should always be cautious.”

He then returns to office by 1:00 pm and attends meetings and other work till about 8:00pm after which he does his own work like reading mails, planning design and management sessions.

Rajiv (2nd right)  at a function at Victoria University in Kampala recently
Rajiv (2nd right) at a function at Victoria University in Kampala recently

How do you separate being your boss’ son and an employee?

When I am at work I am an employee and when I am home am a son. It’s that simple.

While at work and my boss (dad) brings up an idea I don’t agree with, I will tell him. These disagreements happen a lot because I represent a young generation approach of doing a business and yet his colleagues will at times propose to him the traditional way of doing business. However, while I make my case, it must be justified.

What are the existing opportunities in the real estate sector in Uganda?

‘There’s a shortage of more than 100,000 houses each month in Uganda. When we start drilling oil, we expect about 30,000 expatriates to come in the country and these will need accommodation. So, there are lots of opportunities.

However, most people get it wrong by over stressing themselves. They see someone putting up 10 buildings, and they also want to do 10. There is a tendency of ‘I either do it big or I don’t do it’ which is dangerous.

My advice is for those intending to invest in real estate to mitigate the risk and allow themselves to grow by setting achievable targets. If you target to grow 20 percent this year concentrate on that and achieve it.

For example, one could choose to buy a plot in Gayaza and construct a house at about Shs 15m then rent it at Shs200, 000 a month. That’s Shs 2.4m a year, which is a pay back of 7 years.

That’s a good return, but people will not admit it. Once you keep that pace and get to 10 houses, you’re now getting revenue of Shs 24m a year. And it doesn’t matter whether the property is in a rural or urban setting because the market is immense.’

Rajiv further emphasizes that investors in real estate must envision Uganda in 30 – 40 years so as to plan accordingly. Comparing the current and future trends is what according to him will propel the sector to greater horizons.

Education and being wealth

I wasn’t the biggest fan of education because I was more of a sportsman. So, I was never fully interested in school. It’s vital to have a decent education but the hunger to achieve is better than having good grades in school. We never stop learning; on the job and on a day to day basis.

Rajiv believes that the youth in Uganda have plenty of opportunities to make business and eventually grow. He stresses the importance of starting small and being able to learn through the process of growing.

“I would want to see young people engage in trade, basic as it may be. They can choose to buy goods in Kampala and sell them in the village or get goods like foodstuffs from the village and sell them here in Kampala. Trade is a good way to start because most of the successful businessmen in Uganda and world over began as mere salesmen,” he cautions.

He also suggests ICT as another sector that young people can consider for investment citing Kenya whose growth has mainly been driven by this.

The culture of saving

‘Saving is very difficult because everyone wants to enjoy life but then as an individual you get to make a critical decision whether you want to have a decent life or to have a tougher life at the beginning and save so that at an age of 30 you can to start your own SME. You need to create your own pension which will take care of your needs at an age when you are less productive.

In addition, each time you save in a bank it creates more money to the economy and also increases the value of whatever assets one has.

The bank where your money is saved might lend that money to someone in your area who will then erect a building on your land and enhance your value because land is just land without anything on it.’

How difficult is be identified as a billionaire’s son?

‘The biggest challenge was the staff at work accepting me and according me the respect that I deserved as their senior.

From the beginning, most of them had bias on why I should be in charge but slowly by slowly they understood that I earned my way up. I started from site management to managing potters, laborers, masons, electricians, stores and then materials. When you go through that process, you learn a lot.

When people consistently see the decisions you make being correct and benefiting the organization, they stop questioning your authority and begin to appreciate you. There’s a process one must go through but there’s nothing wrong with one’s decisions being questioned. What matters is your ability to prove that they are valid.

Outside work, there are people who hang around me not because of being friends but because of my social status.

Even when that’s the case, you have to embrace life the way it comes and slowly identify their interests. I believe in true friendship but the challenge is identifying people who are your true friends and those who are after what your wealth.’


‘I am not in a rush to marry yet. In the meantime, I still want enough for my hands for now but I will find someone when the appropriate time comes. I believe it’s important for every man to marry because marriage is part of life and much as it’s a challenge but it’s something you learn and grow from. You learn to tolerate people for who they are and also expecting more good from them.’

How do would you sell Uganda to foreigners?

Uganda is the best country in the world. I would sell the food, weather, the lifestyle, nature, people, the gorillas. What is there not to love about Uganda? We are a peaceful country with plenty of fertile land. Even when people say Ugandans are poor, but our land is productive.

I love Uganda with all my heart and I call myself an Ambassador. I have brought more than 100 people (my friends) to Uganda.


I love social buzz, meeting with friends and having drinks together. I also love extreme sports – bungee jumping, rafting, racing and anything that gets your heart pumping.

What’s your net worth?

To me, that’s not necessary. Money comes and goes but what’s important is what we are doing to change society. When this happens that’s when you realize the added value addition to your products.

It’s not about money but rather the struggle and battle to implement the ideas, that’s what keeps us going.

The satisfaction comes when you have an empty piece of land and tomorrow there’s a building.

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