He started with humble beginnings and made a fortune that consists of immense wealth made up of blessings, praises and respect. Mr Abdul Karim C Popat passed away on 3rd March, 2013 at the Aga Khan Hospital of natural causes. His funeral was held on Tuesday 5th March at the Aga Khan Pavilion and burial at the Ismaili Cemetry, Kariokor Nairobi.
Born on 9th December, 1925 AKC Popat as he is fondly known was born for big things. At the age of 14years he earned his first salary of 100shillings and his brother Shamshudin Popat recalls that it was the most memorable moment for AKC Popat because their father was overwhelmed and tears of joy flowed. This first born took it upon himself to help the father in taking care of the family and never looked back.
He soon started to work on nearly more than two jobs keeping his daily job in Ruaraka. He started to buy and sell second hand cars in town, while book keeping for small clients on a part time basis.
In all this he never forgot the two most important things in his life, his family and faith in God. He got married to Gulzaar in 1948 and kept his routine of going to the mosque nearly daily even till his last days of his life. Soon the success of his second hand cars buying and selling ended up in the opening of his first ever showroom called Deluxe Motors on Koinange Street in 1945. His brother Shamshudin recalls “AKC Popat kept his day job for the bread and butter and continued to work hard and passionately”.
It was not long before the Japanese were interested in Kenya and AKC Popat, the smart businessman he was becoming saw an opportunity and bought the agency of Mitsubishi. He thus founded Simba Corporation in 1967, which is now a leading motor vehicle company dealing with Mitsubishi passenger vehicles, pickups, Fuso trucks and buses, BMW and Mahindra vehicles. Simba Corporation flourished and continues to take forward the vision of AKC Popat of being a professionally run business that gives opportunities to its staff to learn, grow and prosper. The Executive Director of Simba Corporation, Mr Dinesh Kotecha says “we were like a university and learned everyday on the job through AKC Popat, he was a fair man, never said he didn’t have time for anybody, respected all regardless of position and valued hard work, in fact his motto was- hard work has never killed anybody”. AKC Popat was the Executive Chairman of Simba Corporation at the time of his demise and his hard work of setting up a great business shows in the diversification of the group such as the assembly plant in Mombasa, ownership of AVIS rent a car, selling of generators AKSA brand and recently in the hospitality industry by owning a luxury tented camp in the Maasai Mara and soon to open Kempinsky Hotel along Chiromo Road in Nairobi.
Mr Anil Kapila, CEO of FOX Group who worked with Mr AKC Popat for 26 years since AKC Popat was the Chairman of the FOX Group, admits that “he was a grand man, dedicated to work, fair in business, a great inspirational and personally like a father figure, always ready to listen, help and will be missed dearly.”
His work didn’t stop at business only, his family and friends applaud him on the great charity work he did, and “a silent philanthropist” is how he was known. The Chairman of M.P. Shah Hospital Manoj Shah had the pleasure of meeting and the hospital received an ambulance on 13th January, 2012 and he mentions, “He cared about giving quality health care to all”. He opened a medical clinic at the Lions Eye Loresho Hospital known as the Abdul Karim Popat Medical Clinic. This is a state of the art clinic, which offers medical service to low income earners, and he constructed an up-to-date cataract operation theatre under the name of his late son Zulfikar. Here his close friend, Dr S P Amin gets emotional and remembers how his father was a family doctor to the Popats and then he stepped in and looks after the 4th generation of the Popats. “AKC Popat started his life from scratch, donated to many institutions especially medical, education, cared for the poor people and his last wish was to see an old age home,” says Dr S P Amin who will do his best to make that last wish come true. The doctor remains a Chairman of the trust that sponsors medical needs and education fees for the poor.
His son Zulfikar died in a tragic road accident at the tender age of 21, but this brilliant man didn’t stop loving God and his family. His niece Shalina Popat describes him “as more like a father and who taught all the children on how to balance life with fun, good work for the community, financial responsibilities and yes some might have inherited his raw streak of entrepreneurship and left them all capable and successful in their own field.”
He was a disciplined man and reported to the office as early as 9:30am, went for his regular walks a habit, which his brother Shamshudin says since the young days. He will be missed amongst those who knew him also for his compassion and empathy in reconciliation and arbitration of family, marriage and business disputes.
“AKC Popat was a very fine man, an icon and a stalwart and a loss that we can not replace,” cites Bidco CEO, Mr Vimal Shah.
It was through the wedding of Mr AKC Popat’s son Alnaseer that Mr Yunus Shah met him and they became good old chums, speaking fluent Punjabi and sharing their stories from different countries, Yunus from UK and AKC Popat from Kenya.
Yunus mentions “AKC Popat was a man of many talents, a pioneer, but his achievements rose beyond business and he became a leader of his wider community, a role model for a generation of young African Asians who understood through him what could be achieved with perseverance, hard work and talent.” And in the famous style that old friends cherish their memories, Yunus gives him a fitting tribute with an Urdu couplet-
“Zamana bade shoq se sun raha tha
Ham hi so gaye dastaan kahte kahte”.
(“The world was enjoying my story, I passed on telling them the rest of it”)
Mr Abdul Karim Popat leaves behind a golden legacy not rich due to wealth but valued because of his personality, ideas, compassion, love, business acumen, charity and talent of being himself.