Darshan Singh Dhaliwal

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  • The son of a Sikh farmer from a little-known village in Punjab is now the largest petrol retailer in the land of opportunity, the US.
  • Darshan Singh Dhaliwal, 52, became the largest petrol retailer in the US.
    What the son of a Punjabi Sikh farmer still holds close to his heart from the day he bought his first petrol bunk years ago for $3,700 (Rs 1.67 lakh) is his tireless passion to strike it rich.
    With more than 1,000 petrol stations across 11 states in the US and an annual turnover of $2 billion (Rs 9,000 crore), five times the annual budget of Punjab, Dhaliwal is the youngest Indian-American billionaire.
    Based in Milwaukee in the state of Wisconsin, Dhaliwal’s ultimate glory came on October 27 when he won the bid for 350 gas stations owned by a company that had gone bankrupt.

    The deal not only exemplified the business acumen in him but also brought to light yet another incredible success story of an Indian American.

    As one who began with a manual job at a warehouse in Milwaukee in 1977, Dhaliwal has come a long way from his native Rakhra village near Patiala in Punjab.

    Known to be close to the Bush Administration and popular among the local Americans as a do-gooder, Dhaliwal, who came to the US as a student in 1972 and completed his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, is a major financier of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as well.

    Incidentally, his rise as a businessman has been powered by the new immigrants, especially from Punjab, who form the centre-piece of his smart “manage-less-earn-more” strategy.

    Until three years ago, he owned three oil refineries which he sold off for a huge profit.

    While petrol stations remain his flagship business, Dhaliwal believes in placing his eggs in different baskets. In the past 15 years, he has diversified his business by entering into real estate and construction. Assisting him in the business are his son Jaspal Singh, 27, and younger brother Charanjit Singh.

    Jockeying for stakes in power politics back home comes naturally to the rich Punjabi-origin NRI.

    Dhaliwal has been no exception. Akali leaders are a regular fixture at his 30-acre ranch in Mequon near Milwaukee, where he once hosted former US President Bill Clinton.

    Dhaliwal made his rather direct foray in electoral politics in Punjab in 1999 by fielding his younger brother Surjit Singh Rakhra in the Lok Sabha polls on a SAD ticket. Rakhra lost but gained enough political capital to get elected as an MLA in 2002.

    Dhaliwal’s community-oriented bids, including a Rs 2 crore trust for rural projects, a Rs 40 lakh grant to Punjab Public School at Nabha and a fellowship scheme that helped 400-odd students to study at the University of Wisconsin, have been tailor-made to buttress the political turf.

    Unlike most wealthy NRIs, Dhaliwal has not let his philanthropist image confine itself to Punjab. His great gesture was the setting up of the Kartar Singh Dhaliwal Professorship of Punjab-India Studies, named after Dhaliwal’s father, at the University of Wisconsin in 1997.

    In return, the university offers fellowships to students from Punjab. The walls of his office are adorned with letters of appreciation for donations.

    Clearly, Dhaliwal’s dollar power is cutting a wide swath from Patiala to Milwaukee.


Profession/Designation Entrepreneur
Location USA
Category