Tariq Shah OBE.

“It’s only by bringing people together that you can actually ever do anything”

9 February 2023

The article at a glance

Tariq Shah OBE (EMBA 2019) talks about what drives him and how an Executive MBA has helped grow a third-generation family business.

Tariq Shah OBE (EMBA 2019) talks about what drives him and how an Executive MBA has helped grow a third-generation family business.

When Tariq Shah (EMBA 2019) read the email notifying him that he had been awarded the OBE for philanthropy and services to charity, he initially thought that the email was a hoax, describing the whole experience as “quite surreal”. And yet he comes from a family that has always believed in making a positive contribution to their community. His grandfather and father before him ran the family business in a way that added value to the community rather than taking away from it. According to Tariq, giving back is “sort of in the DNA”.

Changing lives by providing relatable role models

Mosaic is one of the charities to which Tariq has dedicated much of his time. It offers mentoring programmes in schools, creating opportunities for young people who are growing up in our most disadvantaged communities. The vision behind Mosaic actually came out of a chance encounter on a train, when Tariq was travelling home to Doncaster from London. He struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger and they started to discuss community cohesion and how young people need role models to whom they can relate, something that is particularly hard when growing up in areas that are deprived.

A few months later, Tariq received a phone call from his new acquaintance, who said he’d been asked, on behalf of HRH The Prince of Wales, to develop a project to address some of the challenges they had discussed during their train journey. Bringing together a small group of people under the leadership of the Prince, they soon set up a pilot programme offering one-to-one mentoring. The initial plan was to “develop a pilot matching 100 mentors with 100 mentees over the course of 12 months. Over the years, this grew and evolved and we became some of the pioneers of mentoring work in hard-to-reach communities”.

Mosaic helped over 100,000 young people before it merged into the Prince’s Trust. Tariq says, “it evolved into an international programme that helped develop young leaders and also created and supported entrepreneurship amongst young people.” He continues, “it was all based on that idea that you can’t be what you can’t see, and it’s really important that, if we want people to do something different, or if we want them to succeed or find a new way, then one of the best ways they can do that is by seeing that difference in somebody like them. The idea was to develop self-efficacy – the belief that we are all in control of our own outcomes.”

Developing communities through high-quality investment

The ethos behind Tariq’s charity work is carried through to his professional life, where he changes lives in a different way. Tariq is Director of the Vigo Group, a third-generation family business that specialises in breathing life into underused or decaying properties. Tariq is passionate about his work because “we get to do things. We actually take a piece of land and create an idea, develop a concept, deliver a dream on it.” He refers to a recent project to redevelop a brownfield site that was heavily contaminated with asbestos, describing it as a “blight that was just bringing down the area. We turned it around and what was initially holding the place back became the heart of the community with families living in it. I now drive past it and it’s no longer what’s holding the community back, it’s what’s driving it forwards. This changes places, and it changes people’s lives.”

Sustainability has always been at the heart of what the Vigo Group does although “in the past, we probably didn’t label the construction, demolition and waste-recycling business as sustainability”. He continues, “what we now talk about in the team is people, planet, place and profit, where we’ve got to do things that are beneficial for the people and the place around us. So we try to consciously find that balance between doing the right thing for our place and the right thing for the people around us, as well as doing this in the most sustainable way possible.”

Over the years, the business has developed into what could be described as an entrepreneurial SME. Tariq is now tasked with “trying to structure and organise the Group in a way that gives us the opportunity to scale and grow, but also to make sure that the business works and lasts across generations, which was one of the reasons for doing the EMBA.”

Cambridge felt much more diverse than other business schools

Another reason behind his decision to study for an EMBA was to “understand how things are done elsewhere.” Having finished his last university exam in the morning, Tariq was on a construction site in the afternoon. Except for working with people from different organisations and backgrounds as part of his charity work, he didn’t have a great deal of experience outside of real estate. Tariq saw the EMBA as “a good way to fill some knowledge and experience gaps”. He wanted to learn best practice and what things the Group needed to do differently to create different outcomes.

Tariq was also drawn to Cambridge by “the diversity of the cohort, both in terms of geography and industry background”. He extolls the value of being around and having conversations he wouldn’t otherwise have with friends and colleagues in the cohort, people ranging from the self-employed to those working for some of the largest institutions and organisations. This was “a real learning experience. Now I’m more open to scale, and hopefully have a better understanding of the different ways to achieve that.” Scaling up seems less daunting “because it doesn’t feel like something that somebody else does. It’s something that people who feel very much like me do. Again, it comes back to that idea of role modelling.”

The practical applications of an academic qualification

Tariq often describes the EMBA “as more like an apprenticeship than an academic qualification because the practical application, how it links with academic thought, is the most important aspect.” He applies the strategy work he did at Cambridge Judge to real estate which, for him “is only ever really a facilitator for something else – for people to live and thrive in a place, for economic investment or business growth”. Considering real estate in these terms, “all the things that happen in Cambridge, the way that Cambridge works, and the bringing together of different minds and different ideas, seeing how that innovation ecosystem worked was really interesting from the perspective of how do we pull together regeneration schemes? How do we help to bring businesses back into places that maybe aren’t as established as Cambridge in terms of innovation? That wider ecosystem was incredibly interesting.”

Tariq always looks forward to returning to Cambridge Judge for the EMBA Electives, which provide a great opportunity to both re-connect with his cohort and get back to the learning environment. He is also excited to be returning to Cambridge itself since, “Cambridge, as an experience, is a pretty special one”.