The Arora brothers are the brains behind the rapid rise of B&M, the discount chain that has come from nowhere to become one of the UK’s biggest retailers, a rapid rise that has banked the entrepreneurial founders a multibillion-pound fortune.
When Simon and Bobby Arora snapped up B&M in 2005, the company was a failing chain of just 21 stores where shoppers were greeted with what looked like a jumble sale.
Today B&M is closing in on 700 UK stores, with annual sales expected to exceed £4bn this year for the first time. The once chaotic layout has been replaced with what City analysts call a “treasure hunt” feel, as bargain hunters head to its stores for cheap essentials such as breakfast cereal, washing-up liquid and dog food – and to be tempted into bigger purchases such as beds and garden sheds.
Simon, 51, is the eldest of three brothers, and as B&M chief executive he is the reluctant public face of the listed company who shuns the limelight as much as possible.
For more than 20 years he has worked closely with Bobby – the brothers are said to live next door to each other – who is the group’s trading director. Their younger sibling, Robin, is also a director but has not been involved to the same extent.
“There’s a Punjabi saying from our childhood that we both believe in: ‘One plus one equals eleven’,” Simon has said of the relationship. “Bobby has been shoulder to shoulder with me throughout my business career, and I do believe we have both been more effective by virtue of that relationship.”
Before hitting the big time with B&M, the brothers, who grew up in Sale, Manchester, had already enjoyed success. In the 90s they established a successful wholesale business, Orient Sourcing, which imported cheap homewares for high street chains, eventually selling it for £30m.
Simon has described his background as the “classic immigrant story”. His late father’s family arrived “almost penniless” in New Delhi after partition with his grandmother selling her wedding bangles so they could afford to open a shop.
His father emigrated to the UK in the 60s with “£10 in his pocket” and went on to set up several businesses and “what money he made he spent on educating his kids”, Simon told one interviewer. “He also loved talking to his sons about business and commerce, and he filled us with ambition and self-confidence.”
Simon and Bobby chose different paths. Simon studied law at Cambridge and his early career included a stint at the management consultancy McKinsey. Bobby, on the other hand, went straight into the family cash-and-carry business after school.
“We like to keep it simple,” Simon has said of the B&M formula for success. “We sell name brands that our customers recognise; we have direct sourcing, so there’s no middleman; and we have good retail standards.”
Simon also credits some of his success to what his wife Shalni – a successful businesswoman in her own right – calls an “excessive dose of paranoia”. “I spend my working day, and indeed my sleeping hours, worrying that something’s going to go wrong.”
The worrying seems to have paid off and B&M, which was founded in Blackpool in the late 70s by Malcolm Billington, means the Aroras are far from penniless these days.
The brothers sold a stake to private-equity investors for more than £500m in 2012 before listing on the stock exchange in 2014, when the family shared an initial £1bn payout.
The company’s success during the pandemic has pushed the share price to a record high of 533.6p this year, boosting the value of the family’s combined stake to about £1bn. They have also pocketed £100m in dividends during the past 12 months.
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