Scotland

The paper queen who refused to fold

Poonam Gupta
Image caption Poonam Gupta runs a successful global paper company from Greenock

Just over a decade ago, Poonam Gupta was a young mother running a small business when doctors told her she was at risk of dying from a rare auto-immune syndrome.

Ms Gupta, who owns Greenock-based PG Paper, was told by doctors that a cough or a cold could lead to a fatal stroke.

"At one point I actually left Scotland and went back to India preparing to die," she told BBC Scotland.

"That was a hard time for me because my daughter was just about one year old.

"Having recently lost my mother suddenly, when I was 26, it hit me hard. That's what kept me going. I just wanted to do my best for my daughter. I just wanted to live for her."

Poonam says it was in India that a doctor pointed out that she might have bone tuberculosis, a condition that is extremely rare in the UK but more common in India.

Image caption PG Paper is based on the Waterfront at Greenock

She was on medication and in a wheelchair for about a year as her foot swelled because of the disease.

"When I was finally discharged the doctor told me he had not had the heart to tell me I might never walk again," she says.

"But I wear high heels alright now. I'm fine. I go partying in them."

Image caption Poonam has framed her OBE citation from the Queen

On Tuesday, Poonam will be partying at Buckingham Palace as she receives her OBE for services to business and charity.

She says: "I am delighted. I don't have words to express my joy actually.

"I just worked away and did what I did. I didn't expect something like this."

She adds: "I owe a lot to this country. It is the reason I have a career. I never felt ever that I was discriminated against for being an Indian or being a woman. I have always had everyone's support."

However, Poonam says her success in business was not easy and has taken a lot of work.

Image caption Poonam with her husband Puneet at their home in Kilmacolm

She arrived in the west of Scotland in 2002 after marrying Puneet, a Belfast-born pharmacist of Indian descent.

The couple settled in Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, and Poonam, who has an MBA in International Business, went "knocking on doors" in the local area to try to get a job - even trying to get a checkout job at Tesco's in Greenock.

She says wherever she went she was told either she did not have any experience in the UK or was overqualified for the job.

"After a while I thought 'I'm going to run my own business' and I started exploring multiple commodities.

"My first company was called P2 locums and it used to place pharmacists in the NHS.

"I did that for a couple of months but my heart was always in international trade and I started exploring paper as a business.

"It took me 10 months of cold calling, research, visiting mills, visiting people, pretty much self-learning.

"My first deal finally came in October 2003. The name was born because the mill in Italy asked me what the name of the company was and I said PG Paper Co Ltd because I had to give them something."

Charity work

The business she set up from her home 14 years ago now has a turnover of more than £20m and sells to 55 countries around the world.

"Our major markets remain Turkey, India, China and recently we have been expanding into South America," she says.

The commodity trading business exports 1,300 different paper products from office stationery to magazines, newspapers, toilet tissues and packaging, using warehouses at major ports around Europe and the US.

After she recovered from her illness Poonam, who had a second child during her treatment, says she threw herself into the business and into charity work.

She says: "I am from India. There are a lot of people who can use a lot of help in India."

Her main projects concentrate on female empowerment, helping young girls in India to get an education.

She set up the charity Scottish Circle to help women and girls around the world, inspired by her friend, Scottish singer Annie Lennox.

Poonam has built her company in Greenock and says she loves the area but admits that she found the accent difficult when she first moved to Scotland.

She says: "Although I had learnt English since I was 10, the accent and the way people speak English here is very different and I struggled.

"I said to my husband 'I will never understand anything'.

"But then I took a voluntary job for a couple of months in a chartered accountants and I think that helped me tremendously and I nailed it.

"I nailed the Scottish accent and now I absolutely love it by the way."