Thursday, May 14, 2009

Working with vision

I spent a few hours yesterday being introduced to an incredible Leicester business. Behind the unassuming facade of Clifton Packaging on the Meridian Estate near Fosse Park, is a business that is so alive with ideas and passion that it is difficult to take it all on board.

On the face of it, Clifton produces innovative packaging for food companies, including the likes of Kellogs, but the family-run business has a vision which lifts it above most organisations. MD Shahid Sheikh told me that the family likes to excel in one of four areas every month: business, community, charity or sport. This is not PR waffle for a company paying lip-service to the idea of social responsibility, it is the embodiment of the spirit of a family which has dragged itself from the depths of being expelled from their homeland to the heights of a business that turns over millions of pounds, but more importantly adds to the success of Leicester itself, employing about 60 people.

And when the family talks about giving back to the community, they mean it. Spend five minuts with his elder brother, Khalid, the company chairman, and he'll tell you of his plans to transform the fortunes of Africa - yes, that's right, transform the continent! He sees terrible injustice, legalised robbery by the West on the commercial front and a removal of dignity by the use of aid on the 'humanitarian' front. His is the driving force behind a vision to build the economy of Africa by passing knowledge to the locals, allowing them to extract the value from the raw materials that they possess rather than alllowing this value to be added and extracted once the goods have left Africa's shores. BABA - buy African, build Africa. Khalid has a head full of facts and figures and illustrates his visions simply - farmers in Uganda receive £1,000 a tonne for fresh pineapples, by the time the West has dried the fruit and packaged it, we pay £10,000 a tonne in our shops. He wants to help the Africans add some of the value, to turn their raw material into the finished product, before they are shipped out. May be he can make it so that they are paid £5,000 a tonne, may be £6,000. Whatever, it will make a massive difference to the people of Africa.

Can he do it? Well, the thing about the Sheikh family is that they are doers, not talkers. I wouldn't bet against their success!

Anyway, I'll be asking our business editor, Ian Griffin, to follow the story carefully so you'll be able to read about it in the Mercury ... and I've asked our award-winning feature writer Lee Marlow to bring to life the incredible story of how a family of Ugandan Asians, kicked out of their homeland in 1972 by Idi Amin, will return to the country in 2009 as guests of the current head of state, President Yoweri Museveni.

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