Abdulkarim Chatur Popat

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Abdulkarim Chatur Popat
Abdulkarim popat.png
Town of birth
Country of birth

Born in Nairobi

Tribute to Abdul Karim C Popat, The Silent Philanthropist

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY HARLEEN JABBAL

He started with humble beginnings but made a mark in this world. Apart from his immense wealth, Abdul Karim C Popat has earned praises and respect because of his philanthropic work. Abdul Karim passed away on March 2 at the Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi. His funeral was held last Tuesday at the Aga Khan Pavilion and later burial at the Ismaili Cemetery, Kariokor, in Nairobi.

Born on December 9, 1925, AKC Popat as he is fondly known was born for big things. At the age of 14 he earned his first salary of Sh100. 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 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 until the 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, Nairobi, 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, 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, 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 Mara and soon to open Kempinsky Hotel along Chiromo Road in Nairobi.****

Anil Kapila, CEO of FOX Group, who worked with AKC Popat for 26 years (AKC Popat was the chairman of the FOX Group), admits that “he was a grand man, dedicated to work, fair in business, a great inspiration and personally like a father figure, always ready to listen, help and will be missed dearly.”****

AKC Popat's work didn’t stop at business only. His family and friends applaud him for the great charity work he did. He was widely known as the "silent philanthropist”. The chairman of MP Shah Hospital in Nairobi, Manoj Shah, had the pleasure of meeting AKC Popat when he received an ambulance donated by Popat on January 13, 2012. “He cared about giving quality health care to all,” Shah says. ****

AKC Popat 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 clinicwhich offers medical service to low income earners. He also constructed an up-to-date cataract operation theatre named after his late son Zulfikar.

Here his close friend, Dr SP Amin, gets emotional and remembers how his father was a family doctor to the Popats and then he stepped in and looks after the fourth generation of the family. “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 Amin who will do his best to make that last wish come true. Amin is the chairman of the trust that sponsors medical needs and education fees for the poor.****

AKC Popat's son Zulfikar died in a tragic road accident at the tender age of 21. Shalina Popat, AKC's niece, describes him “as more like a father and who taught all the children 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.”****

Popat was a disciplined man and reported to the office in his old age as early as 9.30am, went for his regular walks, a habit which his brother Shamshudin says started when he was very young. 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 cannot replace,” says Bidco CEO Vimal Shah.****

It was through the wedding of AKC Popat’s son Alnaseer that Yunus Shah met him and they became good old chums, speaking fluent Punjabi and sharing their stories from different countries, Yunus from the UK and AKC Popat from Kenya. ****

Yunus recalls, “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”)

Abdul Karim Popat leaves behind a golden legacy not rich due to his immense wealth but valued because of his personality, ideas, compassion, love, business acumen, charity and talent.****

Karim, a self-taught accountant lived in a two bedroom flat in Nairobi’s Pangani estate. He bought second hand cars in Nakuru and resold them in Nairobi in what later morphed into Deluxe Motors along K-Street in 1948.

Deluxe vroomed into Simba Colt Motors in 1968 with the Mitsubishi franchise and later Renault franchise. Simba Colt is the flagship venture of Simba Corporation with interests in motor sales, service and leasing, real estate, hardware supplies, manufacturing, cinemas, film distribution, hospitality and finance including Imperial Bank, the 20th Century Plaza, Xylon Motors (Mahindra), Bavaria Auto (BMW), Simba Transport Solutions, Africa Fleet Management Solutions, Avis car rental and Olare Mara Kempinski and Nairobi’s Villa Rosa Kempinski.

Karim Popat died of natural causes in 2013.