Successful tycoon, big-hearted philanthropist, unscrupulous fraudster, Sanjay Shah, 46, has had all these labels and more pinned on him at various times in his high flying life..
In many ways, Sanjay Shah is a remarkable man, a role model for aspirational young people the world over because he is an example of a heart-warming rags to riches story. Ever since he was a young man, Shah has been driven by burning ambition; with his relentlessly ‘can do’ approach to life, he has never allowed obstacles, even major ones like the 2008 credit crunch to stand in his path. No glass ceilings for him; only the sky and the stars are the limit and maybe not even those!
Never just a talker, always a ‘hands on’ doer, Sanjay Shah has had a clearly mapped out strategy to guide him from the lower ranks all the way up the greasy pole to glittering multi-million dollar success. Recently however, his empire has been rocked by a humdinger of a financial scandal.
Shah is well known not just for his business activities but also for his philanthropic activities. On a mission to give back, he has not only applied the full force of his business knowledge but has also invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in autism research.
To be honest, rags to riches is something of an exaggeration. Sanjay Shah was not actually raised in dire poverty but he does come from a humble background. Born in 1970, he lived with his parents and sister in a one bedroomed apartment in London. Aged 17, his father had come to UK from Kenya to train as a doctor but was unable to work much on account of his mother’s ill health, so the family was anything but affluent.
Nevertheless, despite the Shah’s straitened circumstances, Sanjay was privately educated at some of UK’s top schools. As far as Mr Shah senior was concerned, there was just one viable career for his only son – to follow in his own footsteps and become a doctor. Honouring his father’s wishes, Sanjay entered medical school but after two years of tough study, he realised this was definitely not his vocation in life. The hours were too long, the pay too low for this ambitious young man. High time to change direction. And so, much to his father’s disappointment, Sanjay Shah embarked on a career in finance, a decision which both ‘made’ him but has also in recent years, brought him notoriety.
With his business HQ still in London, Sanjay Shah and his wife Usha relocated to Dubai where the pace of life was slower and the climate and lifestyle more to his liking.
The couple went on to have three children, a girl and two boys but in 2011, Sanjay and Usha realised something was different with their youngest son, two year old Nikhil. He was neither developing in the same way nor at the same rate as his older siblings. Several consultations with paediatricians later, Nikhil was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. To Sanjay Shah and his wife, this was a terrible shock and took some getting used to. Despite his robust bank balance, no amount of money could fix his son’s condition; Nikhil would be autistic for life and his family had to accept this fact.
Sadly autism is not an uncommon condition: in US, one in every sixty eight children is autistic and it is estimated that Autism Spectrum Disorder affects one percent of the world’s population. Although it is very widespread, there is a lack of understanding or awareness of it in many parts of the world and so far, there is no cure.
Sanjay Shah has sponsored many autistic children in India, the country of his grandparents, and has made substantial donations to autism research in Autism Trust in Cambridge.
But could this ever be enough for a man with entrepreneurship in his DNA? The answer is NO: he went on to set up his own charity. This is where Autism Rocks comes in. It’s a little known fact that Sanjay Shah loves music and in his youth worked as a DJ. So he decided to combine his commitment to funding research into autism with his passion for music by founding Autism Rocks in 2014. A permanent stadium in Dubai is scheduled to open in 2017.
With a star studded cast of top music industry celebrities, Sanjay Shah stages music events in London and Dubai which draw in huge crowds and raise phenomenal amounts of money for autism research. Autism Rocks was launched in 2014 with Prince headlining and in June of this year, 6000 fans attended an Autism Rocks tribute to the legendary star. In December, heartthrob Ricky Martin is scheduled to sing for autism at the renowned Hammersmith Apollo in London.
Vital as money is to autism research, Shah is also very committed to raising awareness of the condition and supporting autistic children and their families.
In an interview, Sanjay Shah told the media,
‘The reaction has really been overwhelming. We see great benefits from the concerts that we are organising, and awareness being brought to the cause. We have seen major increases in donations, as well as enquiries from people affected by autism and artists looking to get involved.’
Having quit medical school, Sanjay trained as an accountant but had his eye firmly fixed on the high flying life of a commodity trader. He cut his teeth at many of the giants of the London finance world like Merryl Lynch and Morgan Stanley, making it his business to soak up as much information as possible in order to make himself indispensable and move up the ladder to sit alongside the high rollers. He had an unambiguous aim – ‘to get to the top of the food chain.’
As we all know, the 2008 banking crisis hit many of the world’s financial districts hard and London was no exception. Overnight, hundreds of City traders and bankers lost their jobs and were forced to reconsider their career options. Down and out was not however for the likes of Sanjay Shah who characteristically regarded this catastrophe as an opportunity and in 2009, set up his own brokerage company, Solo Capital.
Under the circumstances, it was a bold, some might even say reckless move, and of course it cost him several sleepless nights. After all, the world was still haunted by memories of the recent crash which had caused such havoc in so many people’s lives. But renowned for being a seasoned risk taker, Sanjay Shah went ahead with a carefully selected group of experienced traders. By the end of the first year, the newly established company had been successful enough for Sanjay Shah to pay off his mortgage. From there, it went from strength to strength – by the end of 2011, Shah reputedly paid himself a salary to the tune of £19m – until its downfall, its own financial crisis in 2015.
Danish Tax Fraud
Hot on the heels of his meteoric rise to the glamorous life of the CEO of his own thriving investment company, Sanjay Shah found himself in trouble. Widely reported by global media outlets, in 2015, SKAT, the Danish tax authorities began an investigation into Solo Capital because the company was suspected of having made fraudulent claims for dividend tax refunds over a 3 year period. SKAT estimated the fraud cost to the Danish government over $1billion.
Denmark apparently prioritised the investigation because as national prosecutor, Morten Niels Jacobsen says,
“The treasury and society have possibly been robbed of very considerable funds … We have a major investigation ahead of us. I envisage a long hard haul to find out what has happened,”
In fact, two years on, the Danish authorities have remained tight-lipped and it now seems unlikely that any charges will in fact be brought against Shah.
And what does Sanjay Shah himself say about the fraud allegations?
He is dismissive, consistently claiming he has committed no wrongdoing and that the media acted as judge and jury in the case, harassing and scapegoating him as an ‘easy target.’
On the Solo Capital website however, clients are informed that the business has ceased trading and is being wound up. An admission of guilt or with his legendary restless spirit, has Sanjay moved on to focus on other ventures, in particular, Autism Rocks?
The charity does seem to be absorbing a great deal of his time and energy and looks set for a glittering future.
A rollercoaster life full of amazing highs as well as some hard knocks has taught Sanjay Shah a lot of lessons. Fraud allegations notwithstanding, he has some hot tips to share with those who want to prosper in the precarious world of finance as well as encouragement for the families of autistic children
Sanjay Shah’s Top Finance tips
- First and foremost, an amazing head for numbers, big numbers of course, is required.
- Networking and being seen in the right professional and social circles is absolutely essential to success. Putting in long hours at the office is important but isn’t enough. Charming, wining and dining clients or partnering them on the golf course is a vital element of the job description.
- Soaking up as much information as possible makes a person indispensable. Whilst others are laid off, the guy with vast reserves of valuable knowledge is going to be regarded as a highly prized asset to the company.
- Precise and thorough familiarity with one’s own finances is absolutely essential. Keeping an emergency fund of six times one’s annual salary to cushion against those proverbial rainy days or lean times is crucial.
- Reducing outgoings and paying off high interest debts as soon as possible in order to be unburdened by unnecessary expenses is vital.
- As a priority, it’s never too soon to put money aside for retirement to guarantee a comfortable old age.
Tips for Parents/Guardians with Autistic children
- Be patient; changes in an autistic child’s behaviour and communication happen very slowly.
- Use sign language or whatever means you can to communicate with and understand your child
- Create a personalised information pack about your child to pass onto teachers and anyone else who needs to know things that only parents know about their child.
- Enlarge and enrich your child’s world any way you can – through art, music or an interest in say sport or chess
- Don’t judge your child. Be there, accept and love her/him unconditionally and wholeheartedly all the time.
So saint or sinner, Sanjay Shah is undoubtedly a mighty but highly controversial figure. On the one hand, a heroic champion of autism, whilst on the other, a business man who is alleged to have made at least a part of his sizeable fortune on the back of some very dubious practices.