THE award of an OBE to Inverclyde entrepreneur Poonam Gupta is the latest chapter in a remarkable journey that began 14 years ago when she arrived as a young bride in Greenock only to be left grief-stricken at the sudden death of her mother.
Poonam came to Scotland, aged 26, having just married husband Puneet in Delhi. But within a week she was on a plane back to India after her mother suffered a stroke. She recalled how, travelling from the airport, they turned towards the family home instead of the hospital: “Nobody told me she had died; I walked in on my mother’s body. She was 49-years-old and had been perfectly healthy. It hit me hard.”
A month later she was back in Greenock. She said: “I needed to be busy. None of my family are here. I needed to go out and see people. It took me a few months to understand the Scottish accent. I started looking for work. I made multiple job applications but I was told I was over- qualified; I have a business degree and an honours degree in economics.”
A local accountancy firm gave Poonam two months of voluntary work experience. She said: “It helped me understand tax and the different business regulations here. They weren’t obliged to, but they paid me £750 anyway. You have no idea how thrilled I was.”
Poonam started a pharmacy locum agency which was successful but she quickly realised it wasn’t for her: “My heart has always been in international business. I believe in the global economy. It’s nice to do something beyond boundaries.”
So Poonam started thinking of what she could export and finally came up with paper. “I didn’t know anything about it and taught myself the industry over 10 months, calling organisations and businesses, working 18-hour days.”
India is a net importer of paper and Poonam, through family and other contacts, had lined up customers there. The difficult part was actually getting the paper manufacturers to deal with her. Poonam said: “I was calling all over the world. I kept wishing my company was 10 years old — no one was taking me seriously. The first deal I made was with an Italian mill. They asked for the company name and I made it up on the spot using my mother’s initials.”
That first deal gave PG Paper credibility with other companies. Poonam aimed to give better service, be innovative, reliable, and uphold principles of transparency and honesty. It worked — after just three months her target of £200,000 turnover for the first year was already beaten.
Poonam worked by herself for two years doing everything, achieving a turnover of £2.5million. She explained: “By then I was expecting my first child and I told my husband I was 100 per cent sure turnover would double if he started working for the businnss.
“He didn’t trust me! He was pharmacy manager at Inverclyde Royal Hospital. He said: ‘You can’t afford me’!” They compromised and Puneet divided his time between IRH and PG Paper. After six months he joined the company full-time.
PG Paper outgrew the family home in Kilmacolm and is now based at Greenock’s Custom House and has rapidly become one of Scotland’s largest exporters working in 53 countries across five continents. Around 20 staff are employed in Greenock with more in other countries. Turnover for the first nine months of this financial year is around £25 million, up 15 per cent.
Poonam (40) regularly travels to suppliers and customers around the world with recent trips to Japan and the Middle East. She was in Turkey 15 times last year, a big market for the company.
When Poonam was appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Year Honours last week it was for services to business and charity. The company supports Action for Children Scotland and Oxfam’s South Asian campaign as well as international medical charities in India and the Elephant Family charity.
Poonam, who has two daughters, said: “My mother used to teach street children from really poor areas, I know what people go through. Part of my business degree was about giving back to the community that has given me so much.”
Her success has been hard-won. Poonam said: “I do my best and give all I have.”
| PG Paper