Parade Profile: Bharat Shah (BPharm Pharmacy 1971)

Posted in: Bath, International, Parade profiles, Science

Since being one of the first to graduate from Bath, Bharat has built his business Sigma Pharmaceuticals to huge success and supports PhD scholarships at the University. Here, he tells us here about the benefits of community, his experiences as an international student and why it’s payback time... 

Why did you choose to study at Bath? 

I did my A levels at Bath Technical College, and in my second year I had to make my decision about what I wanted to do in terms of further education. This was in 1968 and we were able to apply to six courses: I put in medicine, pharmacy, textiles and I got offers from almost all of them. 

I decided to stay in Bath because the city was lovely. One of my reasons for doing pharmacy rather than the other courses that I applied for was that it was more of a business course, and I come from a business family. 


Did you have a particular career path in mind when you chose Pharmacy? 

I wanted to have a pharmacy shop. I came here as an overseas student and wanted to go back to Kenya and practise pharmacy, because it was a very successful career. 


Can you tell us about your experience of studying here? Any favourite memories, or places to go on campus and in the city? 

I was a very studious guy and so it was home, university, library and back home. I was very focused on my course, but during the holidays and weekends I really loved spending time in the city. We didn't come to the university at those times, because there were only three buildings – there was hardly anything to do here! 

There weren't as many clubs and bars in the city as there are now, but there was the cinema and restaurants. We were quite a big student community. When I say ‘big’, there were about 20 to 25 people from Kenya and I’m still friends with more than two-thirds of them.  


What was your experience as an international student studying in the UK? Do you have any advice for others? 

My experience as an overseas student in Bath was fantastic. At that time the University didn't have halls of residence. As I left, Norwood was built, but during my studies I stayed with an English family as most other students did.  

Bath as a city attracted me and the course at the University was very good. The classes were much smaller – we were about 25 or 30 people in the class, very unlike what it is now! For me, it was excellent. 


Describe your career journey since graduating. What is a typical day like in your current role?  

 It's been an amazing journey for me. I went back to Kenya after graduation, ran my little practice for a year and didn't like it, so I came back to the UK and went into locum work for two years. Luckily, a business came up in London, which I bought in 1977, and it really got me into retail pharmacy in the UK. I soon bought two more pharmacy businesses nearby – I was lucky and getting loans in the ‘80s was very easy! 

In 1980 my brother qualified as a chartered accountant and we went into distribution in 1982. It started as a very small business that we grew from zero. Our first year’s turnover was something like half a million pounds between many customers, but suddenly the NHS encouraged generic prescribing and our business grew in 1985 and then things just grew exponentially. I would say that by end of 2000, we were turning over about £120 million and now we're turning over about £250 million per year.  

One thing that helped me was my network of university friends, because that's how I gathered my customers. We now have a retail business associated with  17 pharmacies, and we've also expanded into contract manufacturing. It's been a very interesting journey, and one of the most interesting elements of it is networking with pharmacists. 


What advice would you give to prospective students thinking about studying your course at Bath?  

I think out of all the professions that I have come across, pharmacy is a profession where you learn about a range of different things. It's obviously a scientific profession, but you learn different faculties of science, so you do microbiology, pharmacology, physics and chemistry. When you graduate as a pharmacist, you know of a lot of disciplines. Not deeply, but you can then specialise. I have known pharmacists who've then gone on to do law or business management. The course is absolutely super to give you an insight into medicine and science. 


What motivates you to donate to Bath, and what would you say to others thinking of doing the same? 

What Bath has taught me is priceless. In my time at Bath, 1968 to 1971, my fees started at a pound per year and ended at £10 per year. It's made me the businessman that I am, not only because of the education, but also the networking that still helps my business now.  

I decided it was payback time, because I couldn't have received all of this by even paying more than what I have since given to Bath in donations. I'm happy that I have been able to do something to help others.  

Posted in: Bath, International, Parade profiles, Science

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