June 2017 Dinner
Date: 22 Jun 2017
From burger bar to the House of Lords, inspirational Peer’s story is a lesson in the power of diversity in business
“If you met me when I arrived in the UK in 1971 as a Ugandan Asian with no qualifications, little business experience and challenged by the English language, would any of you have given me a job?” asked Lord Dolar Popat of an audience of business people in Milton Keynes.
The former Government Minister, current Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, successful businessman, philanthropist and advocate for community cohesion told an MK Business Leaders Partnership dinner: “I suspect if we’re being honest, the answer would have been no. But, and this is the crucial bit - I did have potential,”
Lord Popat, whose family was expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin and who worked through his night school accountancy qualifications as a waiter in a Wimpy bar, spoke passionately about diversity and the role it can play in business.
He said the word diversity produces different reactions. “In the public sector it is championed with initiatives and legislation. In the private sector, particularly where there isn’t a large HR department to worry about these things, diversity is one of those scary and off-putting words like inclusion, accessibility and empowering that seems to mean more paperwork and less time to concentrate on profit,” he said.
The truth is in the middle he said, quoting the author Catherine Pulsifer who wrote: ‘We are all different which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity life would be very boring.’
In work and business diversity should be welcomed he said. “People who come from different backgrounds who have different opinions and ideas, and organisations themselves thrive on ideas and the more the better,” he said. In his own office, his chief of staff is very bright and went to Cambridge University, his parliamentary assistant was made homeless when he was young. “Both have overcome adversity to become successful and when we have team meetings we are all equal.”
Lord Popat said: “I’m not here with an intricate knowledge of Government diversity schemes, or to sell how businesses being more inclusive is good for society. I am here as a businessman saying that I think diversity helps make businesses more profitable because however good we are as individuals, there are hundreds of ideas we have never considered.
“Whether it is young mothers returning to the workplace, young people without the skills but a hunger in their eyes, or someone like me who comes from overseas, each has potential and big ideas waiting to be unlocked.”
Dr Philip Smith MBE, chair MK Business Leaders Partnership, said Lord Popat continues to have a very active and remarkable life in business and in politics. “Tonight we have heard about his great interest in diversity and learned how it can be positive for business and for the wider community.
“This concludes our trio of dinners on the themes of culture, community and diversity, as part of the MK50 celebrations,” he said.
The MK BLP Dinner took place on June 22, 2017
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