Notable Alumni - Nat Puri

Nat Puri
Diploma in Air Conditioning and Refridgeration, 1967 & Honorary Doctor of Engineering, 2007

Robert Humphreys

Since Nat Puri left India to study at LSBU in the mid-60s, he has built up a global engineering empire and become one of the country’s richest men. Now retired from the day-to-day running of his Purico Group, he remains an active philanthropist, and a major supporter of LSBU’s engineering programme.

Nat Puri is one of Britain’s most successful businessmen. A fixture on the Sunday Times’ annual Rich List, his Nottingham-based Purico Group – which spans paper, plastics, IT, engineering, real estate and even hospitality – boasts annual sales of around $650 million and employs over 3000 people. 

It’s a far cry from Nat’s early days in England, when he spent a year studying refrigeration and air conditioning at Borough Polytechnic. He lived in a bedsit in Kilburn, subsisting on sausages and checking soccer pools coupons at the weekends. ‘You earned £2 18s for an eight-hour shift,’ he recalls, ‘and there was a bonus if you went four weeks without making a mistake.

’Nat’s first job was with Nottingham company FG Skerritt. Always keen to learn and develop new skills, he left after a few years to set up his own consultancy. By 1983 he was in a position to return to his old company and take it over. The newly formed Purico grew rapidly, and now has interests in Britain, the US, Germany, China, Mexico, Hungary and Poland. He puts his success down to an uncompromising focus on quality, a belief in the importance of personal relationships and a willingness to delegate. 

Yet despite the success of the business, Nat maintains that he never set out to be rich. ‘I remember when I was first at Skerritts, I was working in my own time to earn extra money. I managed to save about £2,000 or so in 18 months – a lot of money at the time. Then one day I found myself working from 6am to midnight and I thought – this has to stop. If I keep thinking about money, I will go mad. From that point on, success for me was simply a question of being a good engineer.’

Increasingly, success has also meant putting something back. Nat clearly takes huge pleasure in supporting a range of educational and other initiatives in India, in his beloved adopted home town of Nottingham – where he has set up an investment fund to encourage new business – and, notably, here at LSBU. In 2008, he set up a scholarship fund to support young engineering students from India and other Commonwealth countries, and in 2011 he launched the Nathu Puri Institute of Engineering and Enterprise. 

‘When I first came to the UK, I didn’t have much money,’ he says. ‘If I was in the same position now, I wouldn’t be allowed in. I wanted to give other people the same chance to succeed that I had. I only studied at LSBU for less than a year, but it was an opportunity that changed my life.’ With the Institute, he hopes to encourage the engineers of the future to broaden their skills, and take on more of a leadership role in business. 

Philanthropy, he believes, brings its own reward. ‘I don’t believe in the hereafter,’ he says. ‘I want my heaven here and now and that for me is about seeing people flourish. Recently I met a girl who had won one of my scholarships. She said, “Mr Puri, without you I would never have gone to university and found a job. How can I repay you?”. I said, “By using what you’ve learned to help someone else.” I see it as sowing the seeds. Now we have to wait for the plants to flower.’ 

© London South Bank University 2018