Unfortunately it was raining when I visited Ranjan Marwah's office, so we were unable to play golf. It was a shame. The condition of the green on the balcony of his penthouse office complex in Central looked fine and the idea of sinking some putts on the 25th floor of a skyscraper was appealing. Instead, Mr Marwah drew my attention to a collection of Chinese hats, each of which he told me was worn by a Mandarin and each of which was purchased after Mr Marwah - chairman of headhunting firm Executive Access - was responsible for the appointment of someone earning US$1 million or more. He has 23 hats. The diversions of Mr Marwah's office did not end there. The far end is dominated by a huge original Thomas Edison phonograph, in full working order, as I discovered when it was wound up and started playing a song from the 1920's. Mr Marwah danced a brief jig next to me while it was playing and sang along a little. We moved on around the office, past another Edison phonograph and towards a wall dominated by a painting, under which more gadgets were to be found. There was an early 3-D photograph device, an old army-field phone, a Chinese porcelain pillow and an unusual sculpture of an eel. But it was the picture above all this that caught the eye. It portrayed a proud, turbaned man astride a horse with an attractive blue-eyed woman sitting next to him. The horse's nostrils are flared as if about to go into action and the man looks steadily out of the picture with an expression of regal authority. The face looked familiar, and then it twigged. The couple in the picture are, in fact, Mr Marwah and his wife. He told me the painting was commissioned from local artist Gerard Henderson who, Mr Marwah said, had a bizarre habit of attending society parties dressed only in a mink coat and whose idea of introducing himself to ladies was to walk up to them on occasion and - for want of better phrase - fondle their breasts. Mr Marwah made the anecdote crystal clear by grabbing my chest by way of demonstration. Some people know how to make a first impression and Mr Marwah is one of them. I was already in no doubt that he was a wealthy man who enjoyed his money and whose interests went beyond his work. He appeared to be a man who liked to do things in style. Why else have a penthouse for an office with a putting green on the balcony? He also looks sleek. He was expensively dressed and looked as well-groomed as the horse he sat upon in the painting. Not bad for a man who arrived in Hong Kong from New Delhi in 1971 with $8 in his pocket and $300 stuffed in his sock. 'My parents were refugees from what is now called Pakistan. They came from a wealthy landed background and were suddenly neither wealthy nor landed any more, so my father joined the [Indian] government, stayed in government and retired in government, variously in intelligence and as a diplomat overseas. It was middle class rather than privileged. He originally came from a privileged background and I spent most of my youth thinking why was I not going to have a privileged background like he had. So I decided to fix it, and I think we're getting close.' He is being modest. He leads a very privileged lifestyle best summed up in his own words. 'My cupboard can't hold the number of suits I have and even if I give half of them away there are still too many. I eat very fine lunches every day. I am extremely good friends with the leading Maitre d's in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Each lunch is with someone who is interesting and special. I have seven wonderful children, I am married to the first woman I fell in love with. I met her on the Star Ferry and enjoy every moment with her. I play golf, squash, tennis. I have a trainer that comes to my house in my gym three times a week, I have a wonderful summer house in Colorado with a river in it and a private lake and everything else you can dream of. I travel. Last year I went to the North Pole and the South Pole, I went to Eastern Europe, I went to America. I can do everything I ever wanted to do. My life is complete. From earning HK$1,800 a month as a reporter, I have gone to enjoying all of those things. I have actually experienced everything I ever imagined.' Doesn't sound too underprivileged, does it? But it was a long and winding road that brought Mr Marwah to his present position, a road that spans careers in journalism, sales, marketing, advertising, computers and finally headhunting. 'I came here on a 10-day holiday. Part of the US$300 was to buy my Dad a TV set. I had $100 to spend and the rest for the TV. I didn't go back for over a year. I slept on the floor of a news photographer's apartment - I didn't know a soul. Nobody had spoken to me for three days apart from if I paid them for the pleasure of speaking to me. This had never occurred back in India. It was such a new experience. I remember I got hit by a cab and I lay flat next to the tram line for a good 15 minutes. At least 20,000 people walked by and no one did anything. It's Hong Kong. People are too busy taking care of themselves.' On top of being poor, Mr Marwah also had to deal with the fact that being an Indian in Hong Kong puts him - as he described it - in 'the third tier of the racial category'. He remembers getting a job at a newspaper and having it explained to him that the reason the woman he was sitting next to was getting 25 per cent more money than him was because she was Australian and he was Indian, even though he had experience working on the Hindustan Times. Mr Marwah said he found the prejudice motivating. 'That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. You run faster, work harder, wake up earlier and you win over all of those prejudices in your mind.' Despite the fact Mr Marwah's welcome to Hong Kong involved being ignored after he had been knocked down by a car, it did not take him long to settle down, as revealed by one of his earliest projects. 'I wrote a synopsis for a book about a prostitute with a heart in Hong Kong. She used to write letters to every American sailor she ever met. I met her in a bar and discovered she had 13 plastic bags full of letters back. I talked her into sharing them with me. They were such fascinating reading I decided to make a book out of it. She was providing something the Defence Department couldn't provide. They wrote such immensely personal details back to her - their hopes, aspirations, broken hearts, lost limbs, lost friends - this kind of stuff. It was an interesting human feeling - an immense amount of human feeling expressed by young men who had gone to war with no preparation.' The book was never published but ran in serialised form in The Asian newspaper. Mr Marwah, meanwhile, was furthering his journalistic career with a stint at a now defunct Hong Kong tabloid newspaper called the China Mail before moving to rival tabloid The Star. 'My job at The Star was to provide the front-page lead story every single day. From the perspective of the sheer excitement of every day, I don't think I have had such an exciting daily routine as I did when I was a reporter. I think I was so exceedingly well-informed. If ever I went to a party or for cocktails the largest crowd was gathered around me. 'People are lonely and they want to talk. All you have to do is win their confidence and they will talk. If you really care about people they will always talk to you. Knowing that about human nature and knowing I like people above anything else in the world, the business I am now in is natural for me. I had realised by then that writing wasn't my passion - information and people were.' Strange, then, that he decided to join the newly-formed Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974. He was, he told me, 'definitely the acknowledged number one government affairs reporter in Hong Kong at the time'. Government bureaucracy did not sit happily with the ambitious Mr Marwah. 'Even though the ICAC is supposedly an independent organisation, at the end of the day it is populated by ex-Government people. Its pace of moving files was glacial. I was used to being a tabloid reporter. I used to take a novel with me every day - sometimes two in case I finished one. I stayed for 2.5 years, took the gratuity when my contract was up and went back to The Star.' It was a seminal decision in his life. On his return to the newspaper, he was made deputy to the publisher and his duties changed from writing stories to running the advertising department. 'I learned something I didn't know about myself. That I could be a businessman and I could be a salesman. None of which I would have considered. At first the concept was abhorrent, having been a reporter. Our view is that we are above it all. But I had a chance to do something I had given no thought and it transformed me completely. 'Selling is the most important attribute a businessman needs. The old adage is true - nothing ever happens unless someone sells something to somebody. Everybody is a salesman - some people acknowledge it and some don't. Those who do hone their skills and those who don't stay at that level.' By this point I was beginning to get Mr Marwah's measure. When he was talking generically he sat back in his chair in a very relaxed fashion and talked in a normal voice. But when he was conveying a personal belief or discussing something close to him, he would lean forward, drop the tone of his voice until it was very low, turn down the volume until it was barely above a whisper and emphasise important points with a small piece of physical contact such as a hand on the arm or a tap on the knee. All of the above are well-known sales techniques, and while I did not get the impression I was being given a pitch rather than a life story, it became apparent that from the minute I had walked in and been introduced to Mr Marwah's gadgets, the presentation had begun. Consider how, for example, Mr Marwah had ended up on the front cover of Computer Asia magazine. By this point Mr Marwah had left The Star after a curious falling out with the management involving 'the personal proclivities of the people I worked with' and had joined AP Dow Jones as Asian marketing director. 'I sold more in the first week than they did in the previous year - and I didn't look back. 'I worked there for 22 months and increased revenue by 2,500 per cent. I was always a motivated kind of guy and did whatever I did with a passion. People who tell you they are not motivated are probably being suffocated where they are. I never took controls and established order too much - I felt like a rebel at all times so I was always master of my own destiny. It gives you such an amazing amount of self confidence and it was only a matter of time until I went into business myself.' Having proved himself at Dow Jones, Mr Marwah then joined DHL selling word processors across Asia. At this point he delved into a cupboard and pulled out a reprint of a cover story of Computer Asia magazine, where the youthful Mr Marwah is pictured holding a pencil. Turn over the page and there is a story with the unpromising headline: 'Ranjan Marwah: having a ball selling word processors' and midway down the page a blown-up picture of the pencil from the cover, on which is written the legend: 'I have met Ranjan Marwah.' Mr Marwah admits the pencils were a ploy to get on the cover and the incident is a good example of two things that make Mr Marwah tick - self confidence and self parody. He takes his work seriously, but crucially doesn't appear to take himself too seriously at all. The article quotes Mr Marwah as saying: 'I believe the world is divided into those who have bought from me and those who are going to.' In his search for people to sell things to, Mr Marwah came across a company called Uniqey and started selling electronic keys to hotels around the region, before having a disagreement with the management and buying the operation for himself after raising the necessary finance in 48 hours. His next step was to set up an outdoor advertising company concentrating on the sale of prime sites for neon advertising - a signature of Hong Kong. 'Before long I controlled two-thirds of all the neon signs in Hong Kong harbour. There are those who have said I have made a permanent contribution.' It was while he was running the advertising business that what would turn out to be his most successful business venture to date landed on his plate. 'In 1987, I was playing volleyball in Repulse Bay waiting for [the] net to go up and the COO [chief operating officer] of a leading conglomerate was standing there mumbling about not being able to find a particular type of executive. He gave me some finer points and I said, 'I bet I know exactly the guy you want'. Well, he took the guy and sent me a big cheque. I said 'What is this?' He said it was head-hunting fees. He explained it to me. I said have you any other leads and he gave me the others. Eventually he said: 'Stop sending me bills on your advertising company paper. Are you too cheap to set up a second company?' The answer was no and Executive Access came into existence. 'There are such watershed moments in one's life that one remembers and recognises. It was still a side business for me, but in 1989 some venture capitalists came along and invested in my outdoor advertising businesses and in '91 we decided we didn't wish to be partners, so they kept the business and I was left with nothing but a few people who had been with me in the search business, so I went full time into the search business. 'I have no capability, desire or patience to live in conflict so we parted company. Instead of getting under a chair and putting my head between my legs I moved to Central, took a space in Jardine House and set out to become in a year and half the biggest and finest search company in Asia. By the end of '93 we were there.' Mr Marwah leaned forward, tapped me on my knee to make sure I was paying attention and I knew something serious was coming up. He confirmed this by telling me: 'This is the most important part, this is the secret of it all,' reaffirming my earlier impression this was a sophisticated presentation. 'My function is to meet with heads of global corporations, identify what he sees as his organisation with him, show him what he has and what is vacant and show him the benchmark - ie: who is the best for this job in Asia. If he does not have one of them, then he has an opportunity to upgrade. That is more or less my entire business in a nutshell. 'We have to know much more about the individuals in our lives, we have to take more interest in them to be able to maximise out interaction with them.' There is a strong degree of idealism in Mr Marwah and now that he has financial security - with all the trappings - his idealistic bent is starting to blossom. Faced now with the dilemma of having spent his entire working life setting himself goals and working flat out to achieve them, I was curious to know how a man who admits he has 'experienced everything I ever imagined' stays motivated. 'I have dreams more than goals. I want to start an art fund, get a tract of land on which to build an art colony and invite young struggling artists from across the globe selected very carefully for their potential to live and work in ideal art conditions. One day each year we will host a massive extravaganza with Prince Rainier and Sophia Loren and anyone of any consequence in the fashion world - and ask them to come to the art ball held somewhere in Europe where the best of the year's products from the art colony would be auctioned with the money going to the foundation.' Was this some desire to achieve immortality, I wondered? Would this be the Ranjan Marwah Foundation? 'No. No, not at all, just the Art Foundation. it is meant to help young people. It is not meant to help Ranjan Marwah. Ranjan Marwah has made a significant amount of financial wealth for himself and seven children and can take care of them handsomely, thank-you very much. The challenge is doing something that has consequences, that has substance, that helps other people. 'The one I want to do with the rest of my life would be mentoring. I have discovered senior members of corporations have very many trappings of success but lack people they can talk to - bounce ideas off, review their objectives with. There is a serious lack of mentoring. Even now I am thinking wouldn't it be lovely to set aside two hours a day for mentoring. To be available to people that need to talk.' Mr Marwah has come a long way from arriving in Hong Kong with a sock full of cash. He does have a tendency to promote himself pretty strongly - as testified by the portrait of himself on the wall - and he can occasionally seem a little too much the salesman. But those are characteristics that got him where he is today and can be excused for that reason. 'One thing I know about myself is that I have the attention span of a dead gnat. I try to make my business around the level of my attention span - eclectic, varied and multi-tasked. And new. That's who I am. I am very happy with who I am. I do not have to be anyone else.' Ranjan Marwah was born in 1948 in New Delhi, India. In 1971 he emigrated to Hong Kong. After successful roles in government, information services and advertising, Mr Marwah established Executive Access in 1988. Mr Marwah is the chairman of the Access Asia Group, a diversified group of companies which includes among others Executive Access, the largest executive search firm in Asia. Mr Marwah and his wife Phyllis, an American educator, were married 23 years ago. They have seven children aged 4 to 19 years.