Poonam Gupta, an Indian immigrant who co-runs a £10 million commodities and logistics business from her home in Kilmacolm, is determined to quadruple the size of the operation over the next five years – but her husband, Puneet, wants to keep it as a cottage industry.

The Guptas’ conflict is more than just a disagreement between a married couple. It is a dilemma faced – and a balance that must be struck – by high-growth small businesses everywhere: whether to grow steadily and carefully in the interests of future stability, or drive full steam ahead and grasp every opportunity.

To date, the strategy for PG Paper – the Gupta’s award-winning Scottish company that buys and sells redundant waste materials such as paper, metals and other industrial castoffs – is defined by the latter.

In the Guptas’ home, the trappings of their success are all too apparent.

A housekeeper opens the door and leads the way into a large living space where paintings, family photographs and a cricket bat covered with the signatures of the Indian international cricket team adorn the walls.

I was working 20 hours a day, and after 10 months I got my first deal. Poonam Gupta A new silver convertible Bentley Continental is parked in a courtyard in front of their home.

Poonam, appearing slightly self-effacing, says: “It’s the latest addition to our fleet.”

The company, which employs six people, including Poonam and Puneet, operates from a nerve centre in a wing of the couple’s palatial residence in the Renfrewshire countryside on the outskirts of Kilmacolm, which is reputed to have more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in Scotland.

However, the self-effacement, fancy sports car, large home and fast-growing multimillion-pound business mask a remarkable life or death tale of determination and willpower that has led Poonam and her husband to this privileged point.

Behind every business is a story, and the bones of Poonam’s extraordinary story go back eight years.

Poonam, who last year won the Scottish Asian Businesswoman of the Year award, arrived in Scotland in 2002 as the well-educated, newly-wed wife of a Belfast-born pharmacist of Indian descent in Greenock.

In spite of months of searching, she was unable to find work.

However, slight of build and standing just five-feet tall, she is easily underestimated.

“I had an MBA in international business, but no one would employ me because I had no experience,” Poonam says.

“But I couldn’t just sit around all day. That is not in my nature. To sit around all day and do nothing is shameful. Plus, it would drive me crazy with boredom.

“I was ready to work in a call centre, but my husband put a stop to that. He said, ‘You’re an educated woman, you should not undersell yourself’.

“In the end, I did voluntary work for an accountancy firm in Greenock. But I come from a business family in Delhi and I always wanted to work for myself,” she adds.

By the time her first child entered the world, she was operating a pharmacists’ locum agency from home.

“My heart just wasn’t in it,” she says of her efforts.

Meanwhile, she was exploring other business avenues.

“Puneet’s family manufactured specialist paper in India,” she says.

“Their factory uses paper rejects and converts it into stickers and other specialist papers, so I started to investigate the idea of sourcing paper around the world.

“I was working 20 hours a day, and after 10 months I got my first deal. I bought the paper from a factory in Italy for €22,000 and sold it in India. I made €300 – not a fortune, but it was a profit. I was overjoyed.

“I learned quickly that if you can buy at the right price, you can always find someone to sell it to.

“I specialise in the things nobody wants, all the rejects. It’s a very green business, because it utilises waste, which means less goes into landfills – and it’s also profitable. I desperately wanted to see if I had the ability to develop this thing.

“So I became even more determined. Within two months, I turned over £200,000. In six months, I’d made profit of £13,000. I thought I was rich.”

However, in 2006, disaster struck. Half way through her second pregnancy, she was seized by a terrible pain in her foot.

By the time she was seven months pregnant, the foot had swollen to three times its normal size and she was in a wheelchair, unable to walk.

Doctors were unable to diagnose her ailment – but instead of slowing down, she worked even harder.

Poonam says: “I thought I was going to die and I was organising for my death.

“It was plain I was very ill, but the work made me forget about it – so at the same time I was building up the business.”

Then, a few months later, after the birth of her second child, she was visiting family in India thinking it might be the last time she would see them. A doctor asked if she had ever been tested for bone tuberculosis, which is still found in India, although it has been many decades since bone TB was a common ailment in the UK.

“It turned out bone TB was exactly what I had,” says Poonam. “I must have contracted it a few months earlier in Mauritania, when I was buying scrap metal.

“I was treated with antibiotics and I began to get well very quickly. What I remember most about that time is not the way the business was growing – we were doing that almost automatically – but it was the way my family came together.”

Nonetheless, the business had grown very quickly.

In the year to March 2010, PG Paper turned over £10.5m and it is now on track to turn over more than £15m in its current financial year.

Puneet says: “We’re coming to the point where we are going to have to make a very important decision about the business.

“I think we should now aim to grow modestly to hit £20 million in 2015. Poonam wants to grow to £40m in five years. It’s not so much a conflict, but a question. I think a lot of growing family businesses must face this question.”

Both agree that, given their increasing expertise in sourcing materials and the logistics of moving commodities around the world, as well as their growing customer base, both scenarios are achievable.

The latter carries the prospect of super-success, but also the risks and obvious pitfalls of overly-ambitious expansion.

Many operations, including most recently Starbucks, have learned the hard way that expansion is a bad idea when it is more opportunistic than strategic.

But PG Paper is not in the latte business. Its success in trading redundant waste materials such as paper, metals, confectionery, industrial plants and machinery, granite tiles and base oil, in more than 30 countries, is based upon its ability to seize price and timing opportunities.

Puneet, a pharmacist with an MBA from Strathclyde University, prides himself on prudence and caution.

“To grow to £40m means that the structure of the business will have to change.

“We will have to become more like a corporation than a business run from our home,” he says.

“One of the reasons we have been so profitable is because our overheads are low. If we grow much bigger, we won’t be able to work from home any longer,” he adds.

“We have been very successful, and I think that maybe we should slow down and preserve what we have created.”

However, Poonam, who holds an MBA in international business from India and Holland, is the kind of woman who wants to have her cake and eat it too.

“I want to keep to working from home and reach £40m. I believe we can do both – I am absolutely sure we can do both,” she says, confidently.

Puneet smiles. “Yes, you can see, she is a determined and stubborn lady. “I’m very proud of my wife, but she likes to have her way.”

By Mark Smith (The Herald)