Remembering Angad Paul
Artist, dreamer, entrepreneur and creator of the world’s quickest car – Angad Paul will be missed.
Angad Paul, the 45-year old son of British-Indian billionaire Lord Swraj Paul, who fell to death from his eighth storey penthouse apartment in London’s Portland Place yesterday, following deep financial crisis that has engulfed his Caparo group of companies, was a colourful man. Besides running a steel business, he help produce films like Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and was involved in the attempt to build the world’s fastest supercar. Here’s are profile of him June 2008.
It’s four days since we spoke, no word from him. Nice woman on the phone tells me he’s in London. He’ll be back, she reassures me. He’s a busy man. And that’s just Angad Paul’s press secretary, Andy. Andy is in charge of PR for the T1, the road-legal super car that flies the flag for component manufacturer Caparo, the company whose helm Angad inherited from his father, Lord Swaraj Paul, in 2002. Andrew has promised me a test-drive and the opportunity to meet with Angad who, at 37, has an impressive amount on his plate. In 2002, his father Lord Swaraj Paul chose him to head Caparo, the company he set up in 1978. Today, the Caparo Group employs more than 4,000 people in India, the UK and US. The UK’s Sunday Times Rich List recently posted the family at number 47, valuing them at £1,500 million. It also states, in 2006 Caparo made £55 million profit on sales of £660 million — the company is worth £1.4 billion and its assets in India are £100 million, a figure that is set to double next year. A family event last year attracted the UK prime minister Gordon Brown, foreign secretary David Miliband and the then mayor of London Ken Livingstone — though that’s more his dad’s thing. Angad says he’s not interested in politics (“I like to work for a living”). This year Caparo India signed a deal with Tata for supply of body structures for its forthcoming car, the Nano, and with South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Company to build buses (on learning this, I wonder if Andy would let me test-drive a bus). Last year the company opened the School of Excellence in Manufacturing & Engineering Technology in Jalandhar, where Lord Paul was born.
Angad was born in London and studied Economics, Media Arts & Sciences at MIT in Boston. Every inch the entrepreneur, Paul owns and co-founded the exclusive London nightspot Chinawhite as well as the city’s Aura restaurant concept. He is an established movie mogul — it was he who was behind the KaizadGustad-directed Bombay Boys (1998), a pretty unorthodox — for its time — film. As an executive producer his films include Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000). In 2004 he set up Established & Sons, a company devoted to cutting-edge design.
It is the Caparo T1, however, that is arguably the most glamorous force in his life — if you discount that is, his wife, Michelle Bonn, a media lawyer. “We’re ‘Hinjews’” jokes Paul, pointing to the fact that he is Hindu and his wife, Jewish. The couple were wed in London Zoo in 2004, a fitting tribute to his elder sister Ambika who died of leukaemia. The family established the Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo ten years ago in her honour.
Caparo’s sleek F1-insipired two-seater — the world’s fastest road and track vehicle — started life as the Freestream T1 and was unveiled in Monaco in 2006. It was the brainchild of Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead, two engineers who had worked under the aegis of Professor Gordon Murray as part of the team behind the iconic McLaren F1, as well as the Mercedes-McLaren sports-car. That year, Scott-Geddes and Halstead were introduced to an Angad Paul, who was keen to find a vehicle to boost Caparo’s brand image. Paul found this literally in the T1, which also served as a perfect way of to forge a stronger presence in the automotive sector. Thus Caparo Vehicle Technologies (CVT) was launched. Dedicated to promoting lightweight materials to build cars, with a focus on carbon-fibre technology, it took over the McLaren duo’s engineering consultancy Freestream, recruiting Halstead and Scott-Geddes as engineering director and design director, respectively. They were joined by Ricardo’s head of computer engineering Mark Findlay. He then set about recruiting a team of 30 highly skilled engineers who could deliver the quality demanded by Caparo’s high-end clients. In something of a coup for Angad Paul, Professor Murray himself later joined CVT as the director of advanced concepts. Despite this impressive team, Caparo is aiming for limited run sales of the T1 — the car’s principal function remains to serve as a flagship for the company’s capabilities. “It’s made with 80 per cent Caparo parts,” says Paul.
Paul was executive producer on RakeyshOmprakashMehra’s 2006 blockbuster Rang de Basanti. There is a cinema across the road from his office, but he’s not much of a cinema-goer these days. “My watching films,” he says, “has been superseded by reading scripts.” He adds, matter-of-factly, that he has just launched a TV channel called Film 24 (on Sky 158). “I’ve always had artistic leaning,” he says. “The visual has always been really interesting to me. What really inspires me about the mass media as a business is the fabulous way it communicates.” It is stories, he says, that fuel his interest in film. “I think stories are what make humanity whole.” Another flick, Meridian Lines, directed by VenodMitra, is out next year. “I really like it,” says Paul. “In a story form, it doesn’t analyse but expresses the notion of karma.” His company, AV Pictures is also behind The Tournament, directed by Scott Mann, “a high-octane action thriller”, out next year. “It’s about a gathering of the world’s assassins, it’s totally frivolous, but boy is it one hell of a ride.”
That might equally describe Caparo’s fortunes in India — it plans to double its size by next year, making it India’s largest automotive technology company — a fact Paul plays down. “We’re moving fairly quickly in India but that’s not rocket science,” he says. “There’s a market, we can serve the market. We have the infrastructure.”
Paul says that deep down he’s an economist. How does he feel about India’s growing economic influence? “India is actually falling into the trap,” he says, “of arrogance.” “I think it’s great to celebrate the booming India and I feel really proud of what India is achieving. But India’s a lot like Britain. There’s this tremendous ability to shoot ourselves in the foot. I started investing during the last bust in India because I still believed in India and I wanted to grow in India. I got very lucky and there was a boom.”
The first in his family to be born outside India, Paul describes coming to run operations here in the early 1990s as “an opportunity to get close to my country of origin.” What he seems to fear most for India is the spectre of corporate corruption. “
An F1 Car for the Road
“It all happened when design director Ben Scott-Geddes came to see me a couple of years ago,” says Angad Paul. Geddes, along with engineering director Graham Halstead was part of the team behind McLaren’s revolutionary F1 car in 1993. Angad, keen to find a vehicle to promote the newly reinvigorated Caparo, found one literally. In no time Scott-Geddes and Halstead were working on the Caparo T1. The Rs 1.6-crore car, made largely from composites, has a one-piece carbon fibre chassis, can do 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and took three years to build. It can reach a maximum speed of 200 mph (322 kph) and costs £210,000.
It’s aerodynamic shape means that at 150 mph it produces a downforce equal to its weight – 570kg – so it can be driven upside down in a tunnel – defying the laws of gravity. Thrust from its 3,500 cc, eight-cylinder, 575 bhpengine made safety a priority. The T1 is built using a super-strong carbon composite tub and an energy-absorbing carbon nosecone, giving “extremely high levels of driver protection.”
“We have incorporated many of the safety systems proven in Formula One, where drivers regularly walk away from horrific accidents that would be fatal in normal road cars,” says Scott-Geddes. The two-seater T1 uses strong lightweight carbon fibre composite for the monocoque (the body’s central structure). The high-tech sandwich construction comprises a 13 mm aluminium core with 2 mm carbon composite skins using a carefully optimised mix of woven and uni-directional fibres. The computer-optimised egg shape of the cell is inherently strong, giving it additional resistance to frontal impacts, and includes an integrated high-strength steel roll-protection hoop. The goal, says Paul, was basically to demonstrate lightweight engineering, the importance of it, from an environmental perspective and performance perspective. “So we created the highest power-to-weight ratio in a road vehicle car, that was the most important fundamental, the other thing is the aerodynamic characteristics.” According to news reports, Caparo will assemble the car at its upcoming facility at Oragadom near Chennai, where Rs 300 crore will be invested in manufacturing tubular parts for the automotive and aerospace industries, automotive braking systems, fasteners and composite materials. The company will assemble 12 T1s at the Chennai facility for the Asian market. Only 100 T1s will be built globally. place grows,” he says, “there’s this tremendous desire for certain people to take the easy way out, the short cut.” Paul, who is in India as we go to press, imparts this advice to the country’s young business guns. “Don’t think,” he says, “that because things are going well we’re ‘there’ already. What we are doing in India is barely scratching the surface. Things go good, you’ve got a bit of money in your pocket, and you can spend.” The danger is you get complacent. “Don’t,” he warns. He’s on distinctly philosophical form. “We have this desperate desire to cling onto people and individuals have this desperate desire to be something that’s clung on to or recognised. Actually it’s all energy.” Energy? Yes, apparently. “Some people channel energy to create, some people channel energy to kill themselves taking heroin overdoses — it’s all energy.” Sounds a bit Zen.
“I think it’s partly that,” he says. “I mean what’s money? It’s energy.”
Many would be happy with a fraction of what Paul has. Doesn’t that make him want to put his feet up? “I actually end up wanting to do more,” he says, his eyes gleaming with, er, energy. “You get on a bike, first with stabilisers and then the stabilisers come off and you’re on this even keel. Then, once you do it, it’s not like you want to get off the bike because you’ve cracked it, what you want to do is ride that bike really, really fast.” And it doesn’t stop there. “Suddenly you want to be able to do wheelies. In a way that’s what it is like in professional life. You start off kind off shaky and you don’t quite know who you are and then you discover where you are and suddenly you’re on a roll. And that’s really what it’s about. I’m probably at the wheelie stage at the moment. Hopefully I’m not gonna fall on my ass.”
What about philanthropy — does he see himself getting into that? ‘Philanthropy is masturbation,’ he says. ‘Let’s face it. People only conduct philanthropy because they’ve made money and can chuck it around and think how good am I? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wanking.’ So, Warren Buffet is a …? “You get to that point of wealth,’ Angad muses, ‘but I’d much rather someone of that brain had done something much more active. You’ve got to add value. Don’t be a waste of space.”
Adding value is something of a mantra for him. Though he is a businessman and can be forgiven. Or can he: “I think the really, really important stuff in the world is much more to do with a general level of value-added happiness. It’s just that incremental happiness-gain.” Sure it is. His lapses into business speak are actually quite endearing. He describes his delight at being woken unexpectedly by his daughter that morning. “The value-added happiness was infinitely greater than the next business deal. Infinitely. It’s not even comparable.’ While I digest the notion of VAH, Paul seems to be in a trance about his daughter: ‘All she did was flop on my chest and fall asleep. It made me really happy.”
Does he never get depressed? “Always,” he mumbles. “Depression I think is much more to do with looking around you and realising the criteria with which we’re measuring things is a little bit superficial. That’s the real problem. If I had to pinpoint something fundamental that would be it.” Another pause. “It’s ironic that I have to make a successful movie and build a car that goes really fast for someone to want to interview me. Because actually my brain was pretty much the same before.”
I ask Paul if he thinks it’s fair to compare him to James Murdoch. After all, he too was chosen by his father over his siblings to head the family business. Paul thinks about this one. “Only because, he’s also from a family…” he says, trailing off.’ ‘They’re a hell of a lot richer, they’re a hell of a lot more influential, it’s a totally different ball game.” Then a pause and for the first time, a hint of irritation in his voice. “Because… y’know. What are you really asking — ‘Are you both rich men’s sons?’ Er, yes.
“If I knew James Murdoch maybe we’d be complete kindred spirits but I don’t know. I think the positives and negatives of having a legacy like that must be pretty similar. How we get judged — that must be pretty similar. You kind of resign yourself as a second generation after a while as you realise that people will always assume you’re an idiot. The truth is James Murdoch was the right person for the job was chosen and managed to come up with the goods. That’s all I aspire to do in my work. The day I’m not fit to do this job, kick me out.’After the interview I call up Andy, the PR guy, to arrange a test-drive of the T1. Then I e-mail. No luck. Ok then, how about a bus? I reduce my request to some info about the car and pictures. No response. Slightly indignant, pissed off in fact, I think of the joy with which Paul told me he has watched Dumbo 36 times with his daughter and realise that it doesn’t matter.
“I’ve always had artistic leaning,” he says. “The visual has always been really interesting to me. What really inspires me about the mass media as a business is the fabulous way it communicates.”