Tributes have poured in following the sudden death of Kirit Patel, chief executive of the Day Lewis pharmacy chain, who passed away last Saturday (16) after suffering a suspected heart attack.
Kirit, who was 67 years old, is believed to have been working out in the gym at his home. He was the driving force behind Day Lewis and one of the most respected figures in the pharma industry.
His is quite a story. Having graduated from Portsmouth University with a pharmacy degree, he embarked on a journey that would see him become one of the wealthiest and most successful Asian businessmen in the UK.
After acquiring his first pharmacy in Southborough in 1975 alongside his brother JC (Jayantibhai), he went on to create the largest independent pharmacy chain in Europe.
Day Lewis employs over 2,000 people across the UK. Alongside its chain of pharmacies, the company also supplies pharma products to its retail stores. Day Lewis now has 280 pharmacies, each providing the type of clinical healthcare demanded of community pharmacy by an NHS desperately seeking to make billions of pounds in efficiency savings.
Never short of ambition, Kirit said he wanted 400 pharmacies by 2021 and expand into Ireland and Poland.
It all might have been so different for Kenya-born Kirit. His father, a role model in Kirit’s formative years, sent him to boarding school in Truro and from a young age, he was assimilated into the English way of life.
“I loved it. I loved the food, the life, the music, the people,” Kirit once said in an interview.
The young entrepreneur was bursting with ideas and, with his family settled in Kenya, everything seemed fine until political instability in neighbouring Uganda broke out.
When Idi Amin expelled the Asian community in 1972, Kirit feared Uganda’s turmoil would spill into Kenya and jeopardise his family’s safety. He thought long and hard about returning home but his family told him to stay on in England.
However, he harboured ambitions to return and run a pharmacy in Kenya: that is, until the death of his father in 1974.
“I was going to go home and open or buy a pharmacy in my home town. I qualified in July ’74. The idea was to stay another year and the following Christmas I would have gone home. But my family made the decision there was no future without my father in Kenya,” Kirit reflected in that interview to Pharmacy Business, Eastern Eye’s sister title.
His father’s death hit him hard. All Kirit ever wanted to do was impress his dad. “I was ambitious. I always remember telling my father, ‘give me £10,000 and I’ll make more money in 10 years than you will make in your entire life.’ And my father’s friends scoffed and said, ‘go make your £10,000 first,’” Kirit said.
“Unfortunately my father passed away in ’74. My biggest regret was my father was not around (to see him buy his first pharmacy in 1975). In a way I grew up very quickly in that one year that I lost my father.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Kirit did, indeed, grow up quickly, so much so that he became one of the most recognisable entrepreneurs in the pharmacy industry and a man renowned for zealously fighting pharmacy’s corner.
He would go on to hold high-profile positions at the biggest organisations in pharmacy, including the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, the National Pharmacy Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
Yet he will also be remembered for the way he treated the people who worked for him. He was a family man, no question. But he was a people person. He made people feel 10 feet tall.
“Kirit was an outstanding businessman, an excellent leader, inspiring all who worked with him,” recalled David Mitchell, the former head of pharmacy at Johnson & Johnson and a close friend.
Very little gave Kirit more satisfaction than seeing young pharmacists at Day Lewis fulfill their potential. The youngsters, he once said, gave him a new lease of life. And it was a chance to give something back. “It’s not all one way, me teaching them. Technologies are changing. You can learn a lot from them too. I genuinely like the youngsters. In this part of my career I want another challenge, the challenge of taking young blood and working with them. It makes me feel younger,” he said.
“When I bought my first shop, I had mentors who taught me how to manage it. It wouldn’t hurt to pay back what I got from somebody in the past. It’s taken me down memory lane.”
Kirit Patel (third from right, standing) with his family at his daughter Rupa’s wedding
What also gave him great satisfaction was watching the next generation of his family take on central roles at Day Lewis. Kirit’s children are qualified professionals and have taken senior roles at the company. Jay is a pharmacist, Sam an Oxford-educated accountant and Rupa, a dentist.
Along with their uncle and co-founder of the business, Jayantibhai, they have vowed to continue their father’s legacy.
Unsurprisingly, tributes to Kirit have poured in on social media. On Twitter, community pharmacists have expressed their sadness at the loss of an inspirational character.
“A great man, friend, adviser, colleague and entrepreneur – I will miss you as will the pharmacy profession,” tweeted Michael Holden, former chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association.
Jonathan Mason, service director at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, tweeted: “Kirit Patel was a lovely person, as well as being a towering figure in pharmacy – such a sad loss.”
Cormac Tobin, Celesio UK managing director, tweeted: “RIP Kirit Patel loving husband father gentleman friend proud and sensitive man who knew laughter was the medicine of life.”
Rob Darracott, chief executive of Pharmacy Voice, tweeted: “For almost 30 years Kirit Patel has been my friend, supporter, counsel & colleague. Generous and genuine. RIP.”
A spokesperson at the National Pharmacy Association said: “Kirit was an inspiration to future generations of pharmacy owners as he and his family built the Day Lewis business from a small base into the largest independent multiple in the country.
“Throughout this decades-long process, he never forgot his roots and identity as an independent. Our sector has lost an immense talent, a leader and a force of energy.”
In a statement, Kirit’s family said: “In accordance with his wishes, the family will be hosting a memorial celebration for Kirit on Saturday (23) from 2pm till 9pm, at his family home. We would be delighted for any and all friends, family and colleagues to come at any time during the day to share uplifting memories of a life well-lived.”
Shailesh Solanki: Bold visionary will be missed
Shailesh Solanki, executive editor, AMG, paid his own personal tribute. He said: “Kirit Patel was a bold visionary who built one of Britain’s most successful pharma businesses. He was by all accounts, one of the country’s leading entrepreneurs and a hugely respected leader in the pharmacy profession and the Asian community.
(From left) Kirit Patel and his wife Nalini, Bharat Shah, Shailesh Solanki, Ramniklal Solanki CBE and Kalpesh Solanki at the Pharmacy Business Awards 2015
“But Kirit was much more than the superlatives we often attach to great entrepreneurs. Despite building Britain’s biggest independent pharmacy chain (280 at the last count) from a single store in Southborough in 1975, he remained an independent at heart.
“From those early days when Kirit and his brother Jayantibhai set about their journey to change the face of pharmacy retailing in Britain, he remained passionate about community pharmacy. He lived and breathed community pharmacy and was never shy to voice the concerns of small independent pharmacies.
“Day Lewis may be one of the biggest chains in the country, but it operated like an independent – nimble, quick on its feet and above all, providing outstanding patient care at the heart of our communities. That was down to Kirit and his simple, no-nonsense approach to the business of pharmacy.
“As a respected pharmacy leader, his voice carried weight and when he spoke people listened. He used his considerable clout to fight for the small independent and the profession as a whole. Always fair and forthright, he took a pragmatic approach to the perennial issue of pharmacy funding, clearly understanding the need to tighten belts in the era of austerity.
“But the latest round of cuts amounting to a reduction of £170 million in pharmacy funding went too far, he felt.
“It was only last Thursday when we last spoke that he again voiced concerns that the impact of those cuts would largely fall on small Asian-owned independent pharmacies and force many to close.
“Kirit was bright and energetic with a razor-sharp mind. He had a knack of getting to the heart of any problem and more often than not, found a solution that pleased all parties.
“He had an unquenching zest for life and a contagious enthusiasm which we all shared whenever we were fortunate enough to be in his company. He hosted some of the best parties and the recent weddings of his beloved three children were attended by the Who’s Who in the pharma world, a testament to the high regard in which he was held.
“But despite all his wealth and the ever-growing demands of his constantly expanding business empire, Kirit remained a family man. He groomed his children, Jay, Rupa and Sam, to take senior management positions and it was always a great source of pride for him to see them excel in the business world.
“When they won the Next Gen award at the Asian Business Awards in March this year for the exceptional way they had led the Day Lewis business, no one was happier than Kirit and his wife Nalini.
“Kirit was like an elder brother to my brother Kalpesh and I. He was a mentor and a guide who encouraged, advised and helped whenever and however he could. Kirit had no hidden agenda and always looked to the greater good. Kalpesh and I loved him like a brother and it is heartwrenching to see him go in his prime when he had so much still to offer.
“When we spoke last week, Kirit was in high spirits and there was a joyfulness in his voice as he spoke of the birth of three more grandchildren later this year. It is an unfathomable sorrow that he will not be here to shower them with the tender love only a grandfather can give but knowing Kirit and his iron will, he will be smiling in the heavens looking over them as they take their first tentative steps in the world.
“It’s hard to imagine another figure in pharmacy who was so universally liked, respected and admired in equal measure. Pharmacy has lost one of its giants and he leaves a massive void.