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Interview With

Puneet Gupta OBE Q&A

Having recently been awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List 2023 for services to Business, Charity and the Community. We caught up with Puneet Gupta, chief executive officer of PG Paper to find out about his career so far, his work with charity, and finding opportunities in challenges

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Survive and thrive

The nitty gritty first!

What is your favourite place in the world?

It’s hard to choose just one when there are so many beautiful places in the world. From a scenic perspective, it has to be Lake Pukaki in New Zealand, it is truly stunning. I love visiting London as a city, and definitely Dubai for the winter sun!

Lake Pukaki, New Zealand

Next up, what is your favourite animal?

I would have to say a Lion because they are strong and courageous – the king of the jungle!

A tough one for many, what is your favourite song?

I love music, and it all depends on my mood, atmosphere, and who I’m with when I turn to my playlist! If I had to choose, I really love John Legend – All of Me.

And finally, what is your favourite movie?

I have a top 3 – The Shawshank Redemption I love, and Trading Places was a classic when I was growing up. More recently, it has to be The Wolf of Wall Street.  

Now, please tell us a bit about yourself

I am a businessman-turned serial entrepreneur and investor and the CEO of a leading international import-export business, PG Paper. I have a diverse business portfolio across property, healthcare, hospitality, and leisure sectors.
My wife Poonam and I have two teenage daughters. I am passionate about supporting communities and doing good in the world, giving back and contributing to society. I am heavily involved with many local, national, and international charities, helping raise funds and supporting community initiatives.

How did you come to be involved in the paper industry?

I have always had an entrepreneurial drive, but the path to PG Paper was a varied one as my career started in pharmacy and property.

My family in India have been involved in the paper industry since the 70s, but my own journey actually started with my wife, Poonam. She founded PG Paper in 2003 from our kitchen table in Kilmacolm – trading paper destined for landfills and re-selling it into alternative markets.

My own journey in paper actually started with my wife, Poonam. She founded PG Paper in 2003 from our kitchen table in Kilmacolm – trading paper destined for landfills and re-selling it into alternative markets

We still work with a number of the partners we developed in our early days, though our business model has evolved. Now, 20 years on, we deliver a full, value-added distribution service, but our entrepreneurial approach – supported by a passion for sustainability – remains key to the business' success.

What has your career journey looked like up until this point?

I've had an interest in business since I was a teenager.  I purchased my first property in Glasgow at 16 years old, laying the foundations for my career in property and a growing business portfolio as I began trading stocks and shares.

After completing my MBA in Pharmacy at the University of Strathclyde, I worked across various roles within the industry as a Pharmacist, Pharmaceutical Consultant, and Operational Services Manager at my local hospital in Greenock, which helped me gain a wealth of industry and managerial knowledge.

While working at the hospital in the early 2000s, I spent evenings and weekends working with Poonam, in the early stages of PG Paper. Together we focused on growing PG Paper into a paper solutions company for paper and packaging products in developing economies and markets.

Over the past 20 years, as well as growing PG Paper to where it is today, my career has evolved further into property, the dental industry, and the hospitality industry, as my business portfolio has diversified.

Tell me a bit about PG Paper and the solutions you offer

PG Paper is a global, award-winning pulp, paper, and board company. We work to create markets and customise solutions to develop trade. Over recent years, PG Paper has experienced exponential growth and is now one of Scotland’s largest trading companies, operating in over 60 countries with multiple global offices.

With sustainability and community at its heart, PG Paper provides a holistic and integrated service through our dynamic expert teams. We offer a one-stop shop for our customers by taking care of every aspect of their requirements, from global sourcing of all paper, board, and pulp specifications, to offering competitive rates, flexible payment terms, delivery, and after-sales care.

We partner with global mills to deliver a value-added service by representing our partners on an international level, consulting on their export strategy and helping to position their brand in new markets. We purchase ongoing prime capacity and warehouse stocks, and can also provide solutions for spot opportunities to supply our customers. As part of our full-service offering, PG Paper also takes on financing and risk management to support our partners on a global scale.

What are some plans for 2023 for the company as you continue to grow?

We have ambitious growth plans for the business in 2023, concentrating on expansion across global markets and further diversification. Our focus on digitalisation and investment in technology will continue to improve efficiencies and provide even better service to our partners.

We also have continuous plans to recruit the best talent globally to grow PG Paper, and further growth through mergers and acquisitions that I hope will flourish as we progress into 2023.

Congratulations on being awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List 2023. Can you tell us how this came about?

I found out at the beginning of December, but I had to keep it a secret until the official announcement. The only person I told was my wife, and I shared the news with the rest of my family just moments before.
What was your reaction to receiving this recognition?

I was truly honoured and humbled when I heard this. This recognition is an incredibly proud moment in my life, achieved with the ongoing support from my family, friends, network, hardworking team, and those I have had the pleasure of working alongside, so I was delighted to share the news and celebrations with them.

What has been your biggest challenge during your career?

Despite being faced with many challenges throughout my career, I have always said the difference between success and failure is how you overcome obstacles and problems – only the resilient survive and thrive.

The most challenging obstacle I have faced was the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. When the pandemic started and international markets began to close, PG Paper’s cash flow was tighter than ever, with millions owed to the business from customers around the globe.

O Factoid: In 2021, India faced a surge in Covid-19 cases, and PG Paper’s team harnessed resources across its international offices, securing close to 5,000 oxygen concentrators  O

Additionally, the pandemic brought many challenges at supply chain levels, such as container shortages, a reduction in supply, increasing customs charges, increased rates, congestion at ports, and limited vessel availability.

However, with every difficulty comes an opportunity, and I always strive to focus on that. So, to combat this, I had to refocus and re-strategise the business with my team, adapt to new innovative ways of working and pivot our core operations to ensure survival. It was a trying time that involved cost cuts and intense negotiations, but I am proud that as a direct result of these efforts, we have grown as a business and now look ahead optimistically.

What has been your biggest achievement during your career?

I have been fortunate that my career has brought many achievements, of which I am incredibly proud. Of course, my recent OBE was a major highlight. However, with every business success or win, I always believe there is an opportunity for the company to give back.

In 2021, India faced a surge in Covid-19 cases, and our team harnessed resources across our international offices, securing close to 5,000 oxygen concentrators. The essential life-saving equipment was delivered to hospitals, covid centres, and organisations around India in a concerted effort to meet their urgent need for oxygen. Never has our purpose as a business been so important, and this effort will always stick in my mind as something I’m extremely proud of.

There are a number of issues hitting the paper and print industries at present such as energy prices and supply issues. Is there any advice you’d give to businesses feeling the pressure at present?

I think all businesses are facing different pressures at the moment, and it is a challenging time for many with a lot of uncertainty. For me, I focus on resilience, hard work, and having a clear purpose, and I would recommend this to everyone.

Gupta says the difference between failure and success is how you overcome obstacles and problems

I truly believe that purpose is essential for any business. Of course, a business’ success isn’t purely down to purpose. You need to have a solid business offering to succeed, but when this is brought together with values, vision, and a clear purpose, I believe a business is much more likely to stand out from the crowd and truly excel.  

You’re involved in a number of charities. Can you tell us a bit about this and the charities you support?

Over the years, I have worked with many different charities close to my heart, all of which support important causes, whether that be in my hometown, nationally or overseas. A few examples include the British Asian Trust (BAT), which I have been heavily involved with for several years supporting fundraising and community projects.

The BAT was founded by His Majesty King Charles III and British Asian business leaders to tackle widespread poverty, inequality, and injustice in South Asia. I am also extremely proud to be a benefactor of the UK’s leading veterans’ mental health charity, Combat Stress, after several years of fundraising efforts and most recently, I was appointed as a Local Recovery Ambassador, supporting communities across Scotland in accessing government funding for projects that matter to them.

These charities and community projects, along with so many others, all do incredible work, and I am very fortunate to be able to support them in various ways, whether that's through funding, supporting events, or providing guidance and advice.

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