Inspired by a conversation with my friends AJ, Chris and Doug while playing golf today.
Here are three remarkable facts about motels in the U.S.:
- At least 1 out of 2 motels are owned by Indian-Americans
- Out of those Indian-owned motels, 70 percent are owned by Gujaratis, people with roots in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
- Of those Gujaratis, three-fourths share the last name Patel.
Mahatma Gandhi was born there. Gujarat is a state in the west of India, home to the Gujarati people, some 60 million of them, who speak their own language and have their own history.
Which raises the question: How did Indians, particularly from one relatively small region of India, come to dominate the American lodging industry? What helps them trail the path of success wherever they go? Two things – their innate business skills and their undying loyalty to Gujarati customs and traditions..and hard work.
About 30 years ago, Gujaratis began immigrating to the United States. They typically brought with them the clothes on their back and an ancestral work ethic. They also carried the wish to be the boss, to be business owners. Like generations of earlier immigrants, they carried an American dream of their own creation and distinctive bent.
Coincidentally, about 30 years ago, there was a downturn in the American motel industry. Low-end motels were hard work and offered limited return, and owners were eager to get out of them.
A handful of Gujarati stumbled across this opportunity. The motels could be had for almost nothing up front, and they came with housing for the immigrant family. And that immigrant family provided a round-the-clock workforce. It was incredibly hard and endless work, but the efforts of the immigrants were up to the task, and these first few families found first a living, and then success.
And they told their friends. And they expanded, by buying more motels, and by moving up the economic ladder to larger and nicer motels and hotels. Back in India, as others sought to emigrate to the United States, word of success in the lodging industry spread, and newcomers repeated that success, finding for themselves motels to buy and run.
Interestingly, they came with almost no money. And they came with no background whatsoever in the lodging or hospitality industries. All they brought was a willingness to embrace any opportunity and to work hard to make it a success. And they have done that. They have built solid lives for themselves and their employees, and their children have gone on to be educated and move into the professions.
It is a remarkable success story. It is a reminder of the potential of immigrants. It is proof of the continued vigor and opportunity of the American economy and the free-enterprise system. It is the American way proven again by immigrants’ hands.
This story has a parallel in the UK. Indeed the largest Gujarati population outside of the State of Gujarat is in the City of Leicester in England. Some 40 years ago nearly 10,000 people of Indian-origin fled Uganda and arrived in the depressed, deprived and unwelcoming town of Leicester on a cold, misty morning. Officially, they were not welcome. That year, the Leicester City Council had asked them in a newspaper advertisement that it was “in your own interests and those of your family …not come to Leicester.” Forty years on, the situation could not be more different – not only have the immigrants worked hard and prospered over the years, they have helped transform a declining town into a buzzing multicultural haven. Significantly, the first town Queen Elizabeth visited during her diamond jubilee celebrations was Leicester
The moral of this story? It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it matters how you live. You get out of life what you put in.