Car dealer Nas Khan has been recognised for charity work that has boosted communities in the North East and thousands of miles away. Business editor Graeme Whitfield speaks to the boss of the Jennings Motor Group about the importance of community involvement to his company.
When people think of car dealers, the phrase “pillar of the community” does not often spring to mind.
But Nas Khan, managing director of the North East-based Jennings Motor Group, has been doing his level best to reverse that particular cliche with a lifetime of philanthropic work that has now been recognised on a global scale.
Mr Khan, who started work for Jennings as a 22-year-old university graduate 32 years ago and now owns the company, has been honoured as one of only six people worldwide receiving the Ford Motor Company’s Salute to Dealers award.
The prize - which has since been accompanied by a $10,000 cheque from Edsel Ford, great-grandson of the famous motor company’s founder, Henry Ford, to go to a charity in the North East - recognises people within the Ford business who have gone “beyond their showroom doors to make a difference”. Portraits of the six recipients will hang in the lobby of Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, to mark their achievements.
This year’s recipients of the prize include three from the US and one each from Mexico and the Phillipines, who have worked to help their local communities with health projects, disaster relief and supporting veterans.
But even among their remarkable stories of philanthropy and community involvement, Mr Khan’s stands out.
“I joined Jennings when I was fresh out of university at the tender age of 22,” he says. “I’d qualified as an accountant but I wanted to take a year out so I took the job. Thirty two years later I’m still here. I’ve been through three management buy-outs and in the last one I became the owner and sole shareholder.
“I’ve always been involved in charity work because I truly believe that I have achieved in life and that has all been from the North East. I’m a proud North Easterner and it’s my duty to give something back to the community and do something to help people who haven’t been as fortunate as me.”
Mr Khan’s charitable involvement began early in his Jennings career with the company’s support for various local charities and schools in the North East.
For the past 16 consecutive years, Jennings has supported The Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Appeal by using its branch network across the region as ‘drop-off’ and ‘collection points’ for gift donations and last year, the company donated £1,000 worth of gifts in addition to donating the use of a Ford Transit van to the charity’s Southwick Community Project in Sunderland.
But his philanthropic effort stepped up a gear in 1999 when earthquakes caused massive damage in his native Pakistan (Mr Khan lived in the country until he was 14, when he moved to Stockton, where he still lives). Seeing footage of the massive devastation led him to form the Emaan Foundation, a charity which he runs to this day.
“My father flew across to Pakistan and told me to come and look at the devastation,” Mr Khan says. “I went out three days after the earthquake and what I saw really affected me.
“I saw small children wandering the streets who had lost their parents, people with absolutely nothing. It was horrifying to see and I decided to set up the charity. I came back and embarked on raising enough money to set up an orphanage, which took us six years to build.”
Mr Khan also provided thousands of lifesaving water purifiers called Life Straws, which were distributed to people where water supplies had been contaminated via the charity Human Appeal International.
When massive floods devastated around 25% of Pakistan in 2010, the CEO of Human Appeal International contacted Mr Khan to explain his organisation’s plan to build four new villages for people affected by the disaster.
“He said it would cost around £120,000 for each village so I said: ‘Put me down for one’.”
If the goal of building a whole new village sounds ambitious, it did not deter Mr Khan and the village in Rahim Yar Khan, south of Punjab, is now nearing completion. Consisting of 60 homes complete with livestock and clean drinking water to make it self-sufficient, the village has a school and a mosque and now Mr Khan has set himself the goal of building a health centre for the community.
Mr Khan visits the village every three months to see its progress and back in the UK holds a variety of fundraising events with the help of his family and his staff at Jennings to keep the money rolling in for the project.
The involvement of colleagues has been a crucial part of Mr Khan’s charitable life. Jennings, which was formed in Morpeth by Septimus Jennings in the early 20th century and was one of the first Ford dealers in the UK, has grown over the years to become a network of 12 dealerships selling new and used cars.
But throughout it’s history, the firm has, as Mr Khan puts it, “always been a company committed to supporting the local community whenever we can.”
“It’s important for me to do this became I’m part of this community,” Mr Khan said. “Jennings has been around in the North East since 1917 as motor dealers. We’re proud to be based in the North East and it’s very important for the company that we’re fully involved.
“It’s something that was part of the company before I joined and my predecessors were very similar. It’s something that’s very much part of the culture at Jennings.”