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Paresh Davdra: On the fight of his life

Entrepreneurs 16-03-2021

Paresh Davdra is founder of RationalFX, the largest privately owned, self-funded FX house in Europe. The company provides international payment and foreign exchange services to private individuals and businesses across Europe. Paresh was struck with cancer in 2018. He tells us how fighting the illness changed his outlook on business, and on life.

Describe what was it like building such a hugely successful company with your business partner Rajesh Agarwal, now the Deputy Mayor of London for Business?

We gave the business our everything. Raj and I worked hard and also had a lot of fun along the way. When it came to sponsoring a football team, we would be at all the matches having drinks, enjoying the atmosphere and generally having a good time. We would be the last ones out, not getting home until the early hours of the morning.

After working for 13 years relentlessly I had decided to take a step back from the day-to-day running of the business. I was looking forward to a break and spending more time with family, but just a few months later I was diagnosed with cancer and was in and out of hospital for the next seven months.

As a duo, how did you decide to step back from the business you both put so much in to?

Rajesh had already taken a step back from the business because he had become Deputy Mayor of London. When you work with someone day-in-day out for so many years you’re accustomed to that sort of working environment and feed off each other. But by then the business had grown quite a lot and really needed a more corporate structure. We decided to put a CEO in place, though we hadn’t really thought about how hands-on or hands-off we should be, so that was a learning curve for both of us.

How did you maintain a sense of resilience to continue while fighting a battle of such magnitude at such a young age?

Simply putting it, the company took a back seat. It almost became a non-priority for me. I was only 37, a little frightened about adapting to not going to work every day, but my entire focus went on getting better. I was lucky we had already decided to put a CEO in place. The company was managed, and working independently of us. We didn’t have to worry about it and I was really lucky that was the case.

What gave you the strength to keep going?

It was scary because you don’t know how long you’ve got, but I had a lot of support around me. My family and close friends really kept me going. Rajesh would come to the hospital practically every day. I felt grateful that I was getting everything and was looked after so well. I just wasn’t willing to give up. Whatever happened, I knew it wasn’t my time.

As an entrepreneur, how has beating cancer changed your outlook on life? What ‘gifts’ come with recovery and remission?

I have changed a fair bit. I was really very ambitious and though I still love the chase of making money, it just isn’t that important anymore. I no longer want the stress that comes with it. It really is much easier to be grateful. Like anyone else I still worry about the business, but the drive has changed. I found a drive to live…to be happier and more content.

How would you say your physical fitness affected your recovery?

When I went into hospital they told me that the fact that I work out and body build would help me through the process. I weighed 78kg when I went in to hospital and dropped to 68kg. I had six weeks between my last chemo and surgery, and despite feeling rough I decided to join the gym. Keeping fit has really helped me mentally and allowed me to focus and feel good about myself.

What would you say to entrepreneurs who haven’t yet experienced hardship?

I would be shocked to find any entrepreneur who hasn’t faced any adversity. It comes in different ways. I can’t think of any company that has just seen positive growth from start to finish. Without challenges how do you learn? Your business is at risk if you’re going to hide away from hard times. The moment you’re willing to look challenges in the face and tackle them is when you’re going to win.

Photograph by Rory B Gullan

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