Surinder Arora left his native India at 13 to join a family he barely knew. He spent his teenage years in a crowded house in the predominantly Asian Southall suburb of London.
His story is at once familiar and extraordinary. Familiar because, up to a point, it charts a well-trodden, even cliché-d path that countless of his compatriots have followed in the pursuit of better education and opportunities.
Extraordinary because, in the space of two decades he has built one of the most successful, property, hotels and construction Group in the UK.
It all began when Surinder met Sunita.
The then British Airways clerk and dental nurse dreamed big, worked hard (in the early years he worked two jobs) and completed their first hotel project in 1999 converting three small houses near Heathrow, which they ran as a guest house, into a 350 bedroom luxury hotel.
In what can only be described as the most remarkably steadfast and vertiginous pursuit of one couple’s vision, the Aroras are today owners of the eponymous hotel, property and construction group.
The group enjoys a strong partnership with institutional and family office investors, managing £1.5 billion of property assets in more than 10 UK locations. It operates 8 hotels and has an annual UK Group turnover in the region of £180m.
The Aroras have also partnered with some of the world’s most recognised brands, acquiring a number of valuable franchises, from Sofitel and Hilton to Renaissance and Intercontinental, and kept their focus primarily on the areas of London’s main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and City, as well as a range of key business hubs across the UK.
Their Intercontinental London at The O2 was built by their own construction division and boasts the largest pillar-free ballroom in the UK and amazing river views in ultra-trendy Greenwich.
The Arora Tower, also in Greenwich, is a 24 storey building with 101 apartments, while a similar residential development in Crawley aims to deliver 308 across 3 buildings. In a new milestone development, and leveraging their already strong presence at the airport, the Arora Group is developing a fourth World Business Centre at London Heathrow, which will be offering 85,000sq ft of environmentally friendly office space when completed.
Today, Surinder and Sunita are a power couple who defy the cliché. For starters, they are a couple first and a power team next: playing off each other, exchanging a private joke, reminiscing… He is personable, humorous and self-deprecating; she is a veritable tour de force and quite intense when she speaks of the charities she supports.
When I remark that most people would have been happy staying at the moderate attainment level, where Surinder was making a six figure income and the family had long left Southall for the enviable gentility of Wentworth, she says her husband is driven. But then so by all account is she.
Her own Little Brook brand of three manor house style pre-school nurseries around Heathrow and Windsor is a major success story.
She is clearly the catalyst of the Arora Charitable Foundation whose biennial charity galas raise formidable amounts for charities (£1.8m since inception) that have touched her in some way or another. The Aroras have been generous sponsors and staunch supporters of a spade of charities, from cancer research to combating human trafficking (Sunita is so committed to the Lily foundation, in fact, that she has become a patron). The 2016 charity ball has raised in total over £700k for various children charities which include Unicef among others.
When I marvel at how much they have achieved in such a relatively short time and ask them to share the secret, they both say it’s hard work. Looking at where they started, I know it to be true. But we all know that hard work alone isn’t ever quite enough.
Just how many of us can commit to the discipline, perseverance, single-mindedness, ambition and vision it must have taken to make it to the very top? The great thing about the Aroras is that with it all, they have retained a sense of humour and humility that are as winning as their undeniable acumen and success.