CB Patel, Asian media mogul
His full name is Chandrakant Babubhai Patel, but he is endearingly known as CB Patel. The initials ‘CB’ is synonymous with Asian Media Publications, entrepreneurship, community service and much more depending on in what guise you meet CB Patel. Even the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently mentioned CB Patel in his speech at Wembley Stadium in front of 65,000 people and billions watched live via satellite television.
CB says that there are at least 11 Chandrakant Babubhai Patels in London and the name is long, so people just found it easier to call me CB. “I am comfortable with it,” he says.
At the age of 78 he still continues to work 10-hour days to manage the business, fulfil his public service roles and leads an extremely diligent work-life schedule. His primary passion is his readers who subscribe, read and support the numerous publications under the banner of Asian Business Publications Ltd (ABPL). CB feels that they have entrusted him and his team to provide community service through their media platforms. He continues to fulfil this responsibility and believes that his audience is loyal to ABPL because of the trust built between them.
ABPL is based in the urban business hub of Hoxton, Old Street, London, which attracts hundreds of creative enterprises in the area. CB used to live in a large house in the suburbs, but he decided to switch and now has a flat above the ABPL offices. It saves him hours of travel every week – a time he can usefully utilise for a better purpose – to work for his community through his media group. His two children are married and he is the proud grandfather of four.
He recalls the thinking behind ABPL’s sustainability: “When I was 58, I made some significant changes in my life. I wanted to ensure ABPL stays a viable and reputable company. Many of the people who work with me have been with me for 30 years. These people have been loyal and I am responsible for their careers.” CB has even informed his staff about the future plans so that everybody has clarity about their roles. “But as long as I can breathe, I want to be active,” he added.
He thanks the power of this faith – Hinduism – that has helped him achieve his dreams. “I am a Hindu and proud to be a Hindu. I have made a covenant I would like to live as long as possible and ensure that I do something for society as a whole,” he says.
But life has not been all that easy. It is a life of riches to rags, and back to riches story. “We are all instruments of a series of events. I do not believe in the concept of the self-made man. Along the way so many people have helped and I am grateful to them,” he explains.
Born in the western state of Gujarat, India, in 1937, CB’s family was wealthy benefitting from all the luxuries, including a chauffeur-driven car in colonial India. Much of the wealth came from land ownership, but after Independence, the Government’s land reform policies meant that most of the wealth disappeared overnight.
CB’s father then ran his own business of providing irrigation water and a bus business. While CB saw his father as a very religious man who was vegetarian and a teetotaller, he was fair and a generous man supporting women’s rights. But he was also “cavalier” in his business practices gambling away the financial foundation, the consequence of which basically led to the riches to rags lifestyle. “What was worse for me was that I was used to the luxuries, and then to lose them was really hard,” explained CB.
Nevertheless, CB made his way through the educational system with the help of his relatives. There was even a small window of opportunity to attend medical school but with no financial security, there was little hope. His luck started changing slowly when he went to college as he managed to secure various jobs to pay the fees and upkeep. “It was a difficult time for me, but it taught me how society worked,” he explained.
CB had a particular interest in joining the Armed Forces and he spent 4 years in the National Cadet Corps and was an Under-Officer as well gained first place in the All India Shooting Championship. But CB did not succeed at the Service Selection Board interview in March 1959 to join the Military Academy at Dehradun.
He then married and moved to Tanzania for a new life. An advert in the local paper prompted him to apply for a job in the local police department. He succeeded and was due to be sent to Hendon Police College in North London, but Independence in Tanzania closed the doors for non-Africans.
“My dreams were shattered again. But I always look for options,” he recalls. While in Tanzania, CB had also been doing foundation studies in law, thanks to the British Council guidance. And as soon as he passed his intermediate exams in 1966, it opened the doors for him to come to the UK to complete his LL.B and Bar of Law Studies. He passed his exams but could not fulfil the final year due to lack of finance.
Coming to the United Kingdom was nevertheless a life changer. He got job opportunities and his hard work was paying off the bills and building the bank balance. He began to acquire property in the retail sector and suddenly life was looking optimistic.
With his new-found wealth, he was expecting a rapturous reception from his father who has taken Sanyas (Monkhood) in India. But instead, there was dismay as his father made it clear that there is more to life than money. CB has to make a difference and do good for society.
Somehow he was guided that it will be the power of media that will fulfil his and his father’s wishes of making a difference to people’s lives.
He recalled that while in Tanzania, he was inspired by a man (Randhir Thaker), who with little or no money used to publish a local paper in Swahili. He campaigned for the aspirations of Africans who were basically at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. “He was not well-off and had a very old printing press. I liked his selfless ethos,” explained CB.
CB started helping the man and this further laid the foundation for his media ambitions. His friend also warned him not to get involved in media business unless he already had financial security as the media pursuit is extremely porous and could easily end people’s livelihood.
It was the acquisition of his first media title Gujarat Samachar which opened way for his media success. He could not have achieved this had he not made the money from the business in the first place. God has been good to him and hard work and dedication has helped him move on the right path, believes CB.
Today, the ABPL brand is one of the most successful in Asian media in the UK. It relies on a dedicated and loyal readership which can only be gained through continuous development of modern media needs and understanding the needs of the community.
Gujarat Samachar and its sister publication in English, Asian Voice, competes vigorously in the highly competitive Asian media market. While the Asian population has increased to around 3 million or around 5% of the total UK population, the age of digital technology has meant there is far more competition and national boundaries no longer apply as cheaper internet resources are squeezing the market. So listening to your readers is paramount if you want to succeed.
CB has not only listened to them but has also used his media clout to campaign for issues that matter to the British Asian community. ABPL has supported good causes, including working for the welfare of immigrants, health problems such as blindness, heart diseases, diabetes and mental illness. CB has been suffering from diabetes for over 36 years which was the catalyst for his own change in lifestyle.
CB is passionate about the welfare of the elderly and his media group organises events where the elderly can attend and be informed, helped and positively acknowledged. Humour and entertainment are crucial components of the session. “Our elderly do not laugh enough. People should laugh. Laugh loudly. It is good for them. We offer them advice and present citations with their photographs – memories to bring joy. The elderly are God,” he adds.
His newspapers have run numerous campaigns. One of the most high-profile being the one for the Hare Krishna Temple at Lechmore Heath and the rights for British passport holders of Indian origin in Hong Kong. He continues to use his media outlets to campaign for community causes and have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for health and education.
CB had campaigned for direct flights from Heathrow to Ahmedabad which Air India used to run but stopped it in 2006.
However, with the help of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the direct flight is taking off again. Modi had announced the resumption of the direct flight in front of a massive crowd at Wembley Stadium on November 13, 2015, and gave credit to CB, calling him a friend, in his speech for his relentless campaign.
CB has also been active in the public sphere having played an active role in various umbrella organisations. These include the formation of Hindu Forum of Britain and National Congress of Gujarati Organisations (UK). In 1981 CB was the only British Indian journalist invited by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for her official visit to India. He continues to keep close ties with all the British Prime Ministers.
With so much to offer, CB’s efforts have not gone unrewarded. CB has received the Gold Medal from the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation for lifetime achievement. However, he has turned down the British national honours as he feels that he wants to dedicate his life to the community. By not being associated with any State honour he can remain free to write whatever he likes – it is this freedom of expression he values more over any such honour.
“I do not have any big dreams. The honour system is good and society should honour those doing good. They deserve it more than me. My Editorship of Gujarat Samachar is enough for me. I am happy,” he sighs.
So what advice would he give to the younger generation? “My view of life is that it was never so good before despite what people might say. There are problems of poverty, racism, terrorism, extremism, the list is endless. Look at the totality of life. Seven billion people live in the world and a great bulk are better off than their parents were before. We live in a beautiful, civilised country,” is the message.
“Learn through education and succeed in life. There is no full stop in life. There is no one route for success. Wealth, fame and power are just different expectations. But there are other values which are more important. A young person today should share and serve. Don’t worry - the best is yet to come”.
As for living and enjoying life, “I have a few principles – to tell the truth and serve the community. This country is my country.”
While many people yearn to be on the golf course as soon as they hit retirement age, CB is driven to continue what he has been doing for years – work hard and serve the community. “I have to serve them and care about them. I have to be their security man. If anyone attacks them, I have to do something about it. This is a great country. It is important that Great Britain remains Greater.”