Flambouyant businessman, Jagdish Shah is equally known for his opulent lifestyle as he is for his charitable activities.
Last year the man who has come to be popularly known as Jack of Jack’s Gym of late sold the business that brought him fortune and fame,CA Sales and Distributors which he co owned with a lesser known partner for a ‘handsome’ price to South African investors but kept his job as the Managing Director after the new owner demonstrated confident in him and gave him a mandate to continue running the business he knows best for them.
Sitting on his swivel office chair, the affable Jack comes across as a larger than life character who has no qualms with flaunting his success, achievements and of course riches.
He speaks to INNOCENT TSHUKUDU about his business journey and life in the fast lane of business.
Q. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person sir, kindly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Jagdish Shah, but some people also call me Jack.
I’m originally from India but I’ve been in Botswana for over 20 years now and I’ve since acquired a Botswana citizenship.
I started the CA Sales and Distribution business in 1993.
Q. A lot of people know more about CA Sales than the man behind its success, can you just tell us about the origin of CA Sales and your association with the company.
Way back in 1987 CA Enterprises was a business that was looking after some of the customers especially wholesalers by representing suppliers on an agency basis.
In 1992 it was thought that if the agency business could be converted into distributorship we could have a better growth.
We realized that with the growth of Botswana’s economy beyond Gaborone it was difficult for suppliers from South Africa, Zimbabwe and the rest of the region to send their goods to various destinations.
It was also difficult for them to follow up on the suppliers and money so there was potential that the customer would be very happy to have a supplier distributing their goods on their behalf.
So in 1993 January that was when the business was converted into a distributorship and that was when I joined the company from India.
Q. How did you become a co-owner of CA Sales & Distributors?
In 1994 the person who had invested in the business, for some reason, decided that he could not continue running the company.
I then activated the bankers and other resources and we were able to raise enough funds to repay the investor for what he had invested and continue running the business.
It wasn’t difficult convincing the bankers to give us the money because they had already seen a track record of how we run the business for a year and a half.
They were happy to lend us the money and hence we were able to restart.
That was how I became a part owner of the company.
The company grew and we amalgamated with other companies.
We amalgamated from a company called Indian Ocean which had four directors while we had three.
As time went on some decided to quit and ultimately with more mergers and acquisitions the company grew.
In 2005 we merged with Dafin Sales & Distribution. We bought the business and merged it with CA Sales & Distributors and that is how we kept growing.
Q. Have you always been a businessman?
Actually I was the only person in my family who was working after completing my education.
The rest of my family have always been business people, but I knew all along as I was growing up that I’d be a businessman at some point.
Q. What’s your share of the cake at CA Sales and who are the other shareholders?
The other shareholder is Ian Thomson and we’ve worked together, growing the business since 1993.
It’s just that I’m more social and I meet a lot of people and that is why people think it’s only me in this business.
Q. So who is Jagdish Shah outside the corporate walls of CA Sales & Distributors?
Apart from the business my heart is with the people.
I enjoy helping other people because I know that I get blessed in the process.
That is what I’ve been taught by my parents. Ever since I came to Botswana I’ve helped a lot of people and God has always blessed me and I’ve made a lot of friends.
When President Khama came up with the scheme of housing the poor in 2011, my team and I responded to the appeal by committing to donate a house every month.
Q. You sound like you have been around for a while but you don’t look that old.
How old are you and what’s the secret of staying young?
Firstly, I’m a happy guy and if you are happy you don’t stress.
I look after myself and go to the gym regularly and I also observe a good diet.
I constantly endeavour to ensure that I don’t age. I’m just as old as I feel, but sorry I won’t reveal my age (laughs).
Q. And talking of the gym, of late I’ve noticed that most of the gyms in town are branded Jack’s gym, what’s the story behind that?
Two years ago at a gym in G/West as I was going about my routine workouts when a guy called Soccer Moruakgomo approached me and asked me to buy the gym as he could no longer afford to reinvest and maintain it.
I ended up buying the gym one and half years ago.
I knew it was not much of a moneymaking business but the objective was to spread the message of fitness and health.
In a way it was my contribution to the community. Since everyone knew me as Jack, I called it Jack’s Gym.
I then invested P3m in brand new equipment and P2m in refurbishment of the building.
More people came to me and offered me to buy their gyms and I ended up with six gyms so far and Jack’s Gym has already become a growing brand.
Q. A growing brand, does that mean there’ll be more such coming up?
There’ll come a time in a few years that you’ll see Jack’s Gym in Zimbabwe maybe Namibia or elsewhere.
I’m busy investing furthermore in the fitness business and this year at the end of July or August I’m opening another gym in the CBD at the iTowers.
It’ll be a 1650m2 gym; as good as anything you can get in South Africa.
A year later there’ll be another 2000m2 here in Gabs.
Gabs will have everything that you need from the perspective of a person who is into wellness as a lifestyle.
From entering into the social health I’m now converting that aspect into a business and the day will come when I’ll start making some money.
For now it’s just investing into it. But one day once people have a small self realization more and more people will want to participate into health related issues then there’ll be some money to make I am sure.
Q. Don’t you think you’ll be accused of monopolizing the industry?
It’s a pity that some people think I’m monopolizing the thing and some have already launched complaints with the Competition Authority that I’m charging high prices.
But what we offer is more than just pumping iron.
We offer more services, more than just body building.
We work towards health and fitness, health of mind and health of soul.
Just this week I visited a gym in Johannesburg called Planet Fitness Platinum and they charge R1295 per month and when I told them that in Botswana people complain when I charge P390 they couldn’t believe it.
The problem is that in Botswana, unlike in South Africa there is less consciousness about health and fitness.
In South Africa people are happy to pay for what the service is worth.
Q. Tell us about your association with Township Rollers Football Club and what it means to you as a businessman.
The team was looked after well by Somerset Gobuiwang for a very long time, but it is not an easy business because he was spending a lot of money and not getting much in return.
The gate takings don’t even cover half the costs of running the team.
A club like that costs about P150 000 to P 200 000 per month to run.
The situation was that Rollers was struggling to meet their obligations such as paying the players, getting good players and retaining some talent.
I took over the club effectively from January and so far our performance has improved.
I just decided to give it a try and I know that I’ll be losing a lot of money, at least P1m to P1.5m a year.
Q. The only Ferrari and Lamborghini I’ve seen in Gaborone are said to be yours, is it a symbol of class?
It’s not about cars as such.
As I said earlier I always help other people.
So you don’t have to shy away from showing your success.
You just don’t have to show it in an arrogant way, but rather in a way that other people would like to relate with you.
Richard Branson of Virgin fame, for example, shows his success the world over and that is why people like to relate with him.
There are so many successful billionaires and some don’t show their success and that is why people don’t know about them.
But there are others who want to set a good example and motivate others towards success. Cars are just cars and it’s not what I’d like the youth to be more concerned about.
Don’t think today that I’m starting today to have a nice car but rather from the success of the business and everything else will follow.
Q. Do you have a dream car or you are driving it already?
There is nothing like a dream car.
It’s like a goal post. Everyday life’s goal posts shift When you’re young boy you want to have a car.
When you have your first car you need certain improvements in the car and when you get them you want something more.
It’s all about stages of life.
Q. Does your success attract any female admirers especially that you’re not even wearing a wedding band?
There’s nothing like wearing a wedding band in my culture.
But admirers are always there, both males and females.
Admirers in general as a society are there but they want your success not you.
For example if some great Olympian or music icon was to come to Botswana I’d want to take a picture with them because of their achievements.
That’s what admiration is all about.
Q. Do you think wealth is romantic?
Life is romantic. Everything associated with life is romantic. Wealth happiness, beautiful things are romantic. That is why I love life!
Q. Describe yourself in three words
Very good guy (laughs)
Q. Do you have a family of your own?
I have my wife here and my daughter is married in India.
My son lives in Stellenbosch where he’s working and he’s getting married in December.
Q. Your message to foreign investors who wish to set up shop here?
We keep on inviting everyone to say come.
But rather my message would be for Batswana to welcome them as they are not here to take away but rather to give.
FULL NAMES: Jagdish Shah
FAVOURITE MEAL: Vegetarian
MARITAL STATUS: Married with two children
HOLIDAY DESTINATION: London or New York