So what of the score of individuals here? All of them have links to Liverpool, Merseyside or, at the very least, the North West. There’s a broad age range, a good spread of activities, a variety of agendas, from social enterprise to solidly profitable corporates. There are too many pale males, but this is a reflection of the Merseyside make-up – without persuading, encouraging and supporting more women and more BME entrepreneurs we are wasting huge amounts of energy and talent which this region can ill afford.
These interviews are not about what they have done, but who they are, their values, fears, mistakes, attitudes. I wanted to hear what they had to say about themselves, and leave it to the readers to react. None of the interviewees baulked even at difficult questions, answering openly and fully. Some asked to see copy before the book went to press, but none has changed more than the odd typo. They are a remarkable, likable bunch. Read on.
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 18:27
In the mid-1970s a young, struggling musician had reached rock-bottom and all but given up writing songs when music publisher Tony Hall changed the course of his life. Eddy Amoo, a singer-songwriter with The Chants, was persuaded by his brother Chris to join The Real Thing. Amoo suddenly found fame and fortune with number one single You To Me Are Everything in 1976 and used the proceeds to make his first and most important property purchase – the home in which he has lived ever since.
‘The first thing I wanted to do was get my family somewhere better to live, to move us out of the ghetto,’ he says. Born and bred in Liverpool 8, Amoo has more right than most to describe it as a ‘ghetto’ even long after the 1981 riots. He can also claim considerable credit for the area’s recent facelift. Through a series of pioneering property developments over the course of nearly three decades Amoo has helped redefine people’s perception of Toxteth. ‘When I was a kid my mother was forced to take our entire family to live in a cellar – where I slept with my brother and sister in a cupboard – because it was the only way she could get the council to rehouse us,’ he recalls. ‘So when we started to look at property in the heart of Toxteth I understood I had a chance to change people’s lives.’
‘If you’re black in Liverpool it’s well nigh impossible to make any headway in business. You have to fight and fight hard.’
Amoo’s mother, who was born in the Mount Pleasant workhouse (to an Irish mother and Ghanaian father), instilled in him a strong and positive will to succeed. ‘I didn’t know any difference between white or black until my early teens because she just didn’t make an issue of it,’ he says. ‘I learnt not to let race become a rock on your back. Too many black people let their blackness become a rock instead of it being a spur to give them the determination to achieve their aims. I’m lucky enough to have married someone who believes as strongly as I do about that.........
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:44
Social entrepreneurs are just as passionate, committed and driven as any other kind of entrepreneur, if not more so – since they can’t profit personally from the enterprise but only take a salary (at best), the incentives and rewards must be other than money.
Alison Ball, one of the three directors of the FRC Group, could of course earn far more in the private sector, and at some later stage she wants to set up her own business. But not yet. There is much more to do, and she very obviously loves the challenge. ‘We’re making a difference, we’re building a phenomenal model and are looked to as leaders, which is very motivating. But it’s hard to stay in this position, and the challenge is to sustain and improve all the time.’
Ball is a perfect example of the entrepreneurial employee: fellow directors Shaun Doran and Phil Tottey make up the trinity of management, but they are not the owners, nor do they benefit from profit share, as all profits in a social enterprise stay in the business.
‘We have a triple bottom line to manage: financial, social and environmental,’ says Ball. ‘We show increasing proof of the economic value of the business. Our social return on investment, for instance: for every £1 invested, £2.20 goes back to the Exchequer.’ Added value, without doubt.
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:37
By the time James Barton entered the music business he was a ‘confident, cocky, ginger haired nuisance,’ a bright nineteen year old who had already learned the basics of business as a market trader.
‘I was very inquisitive,’ he says. ‘I had my head in every box, round every corner, under every rock.’
Barton knew he could sell. Taking a paper round aged 14 he performed his first acquisition buying a friend’s round for £30 on the way to accumulating the biggest paper round in the city; he pumped the profits into a market stall, learning the ropes from a fellow trader. He was involved in clubs in Liverpool, before launching Cream in 1992. He built Cream into the pre-eminent global club brand the centrepiece of which, Creamfields, is the biggest dance festival of its kind in the world.
‘If you’re involved in any creative industry you have to be willing to fall flat on your face. You have to use your imagination – and that comes with some risks.’
Particularly when you’re surrounded by depression, crime and even death as Barton was growing up on the Radcliffe Walk estate in the late 1980s. Heroin was rife and teenagers left school with little education (Barton has a single CSE) to take dead-end jobs or a route into crime.
It had a profound impact on his drive to succeed. ‘People who lived near me or who went to school with me are now in prison for selling drugs or they’re dead from selling or taking drugs,’ he says.............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:36
If your name has been above the door of the business for 200 years, and you are the sixth generation to run the company, the priority is to have something to hand on to the seventh generation.
Sir Michael Bibby, Bt. became group managing director at 36, having joined the firm eight years earlier when his father, Sir Derek, retired from the board. ‘Had I joined while he was still in charge we would have argued, and he, being the boss, would always have won,’ he says.
Bibby now heads a business which, for 150 years, survived the vicious peaks and troughs of the shipping industry until the global economic changes of the 1970s and 1980s threatened to overwhelm the company altogether. Bibby Line diversified into distribution and financial services – the big risk then was not in moving into new markets, but in avoiding change. The two new divisions thrived, though not without hiccups, and Michael Bibby is now extending the group’s portfolio further still.
‘I associate risk with reward, not with failure. It’s not a negative concept, but the way to generate wealth – as long as you can find the way to manage and control the risk. The higher the risk, the higher the returns must be to justify it. Does the story makes sense? Is the market there? Can the people deliver? Is there a corporate fit? If not, there’ll be conflict and violence.........
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:32
Some entrepreneurs want to build empires; some are in business to indulge a lifelong passion. Rob Duce always had an exit in mind. There was never any chance of him working like stink for any longer than he needed to, and since he sold his business in June 2007, he has been delighting in family life, watching telly with his young daughter Sophie, relaxing over Sunday lunch and, he says ruefully, ‘getting fit again’.
It’s a radical departure for Duce, who still speaks at machine gun speeds despite the new laid-back lifestyle. Since setting up his first business in the late 1990s, he has worked about 100 hours a week at breakneck pace, so it will take some time until he gets bored of normal life. His relentless energy comes, he says, from his mother. ‘She’s 66 now and 4’ 11” of pep. She’ll tuck her skirt into her knickers and show us her latest yoga position before you can blink.’
So how come her 42 year old son is ready to retire? ‘When I was 19, my dad died. He was 44. My grandfather died at 45, my great-grandfather at 46. So you can see why carpe diem is my motto. I didn’t want to work till I died.’
Duce’s wife Claire was doing the books for Sushi San at weekends and some evenings, while making steady progress up the PwC career ladder – she is one of a handful of female directors in the UK. ‘Having a hand in the business hasn’t hurt a bit – the experience of life at the sharp end gives her an advantage over professionals who have no experience of the small business environment,’ says Duce. When she quit PwC for maternity leave, she was using the time at Sushi San. ‘Sophie was ten days old when she attended her first board meeting. It must have been pretty dull, because she slept through the whole thing, with my finger in her mouth, snuggled in a vegetable box,’ says a doting Duce.
‘I want to see Sushi San thrive and become a major brand, so Sophie can say “My dad founded that.” Preferably while I’m still alive..............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:29
His Grace the Duke of Westminster, KG OBE TD DL, whose London office building is in a street named after his family, is not perhaps your typical entrepreneur. Indeed, he dislikes the term and says he doesn’t like to think of it applied to him.
Nevertheless, semantics aside, the Duke’s company does take calculated risks, and is – however carefully it is phrased – seizing and exploiting the opportunities espied in the global property market. Sorry, Your Grace, but there’s no getting away from it. You seek opportunities; you undertake ventures. You’re an enterprising cove, and no mistake.
After all, the family assets were, when Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor inherited the estate and title from his father in 1979, substantial enough to ensure that the sixth duke could live out his life in extreme comfort without lifting a finger or exercising a brain cell. Instead he prefers to take the very thoroughly calculated long term risk of building, amongst other schemes worldwide, Europe’s largest retail development in Liverpool, changing the face of the city and giving immensely valuable credence to its revival.
The entrepreneurial traits are all there – the enviable levels of energy, the vision, the ability to pick good people, the work ethic, and the confidence. ‘The work ethic came from my parents,’ he says. ‘My father was very involved in the organisation and his example was my greatest legacy.’ He is passing that on to his children, who are also working. ‘It’s vital,’ he says.
‘I took over the organisation when I was 20 or 21; we had marvellous staff, and Jimmy James, the first chief executive, licked me into shape.’
Communication is key, he explains. ‘It’s a lost art – these days we seem to have forgotten how to talk to each other.’ He illustrates his point with a story from the latest refurbishment of his offices in Mayfair. ‘The architects asked me if I wanted a private lift. I told them that the day I can’t travel in the same lift as my staff is the day I should quit.............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:25
This man has co-created an iconic brand in Liverpool and Manchester over the last decade, but he is the quiet man of the partnership. This is the classic example of enterprising synergy – two talented people who’d have done well on their own, but together, they have made magic. Jonathan Falkingham and Tom Bloxham set up Urban Splash in 1993, and very quickly started making waves both in the property market and in the media. They were doing something different, striking out in a new direction, starting on a shoestring, but with enormous style. Over the five years to 2012, Urban Splash will see more than £1 billion of developments go through the books, with a respectable margin, to boot.
The challenge of each new project – that’s the buzz for Falkingham. ‘It’s a great luxury to do what I enjoy, what I feel passionate about. It’s not about money – at least, that’s not the driver for me.’
‘I’m a natural problem solver, quite grounded. I can distil complex problems into priorities, see the big issues – and so can Tom, ‘ he says. They struggled to delegate – we were both in every meeting, discussing everything from big deals to door handles. Not practical. But we’re getting better at it.’ Now they have 260 staff and 16 directors, they have learned to give people more of a free hand, ‘as long we keep on course, stay in overall control. We’re very open to ideas.’
Falkingham is ready to admit to his faults. A tall man with a soft voice and a diffident air, he is not a thrower of tantrums. ‘I become visibly irritated, but I don’t lose my cool. Tom says he’s never heard me raise my voice.’ The perfectionist in him gets frustrated at times, at which point he’ll have a moan to someone then goes and gets some exercise.........
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:23
Miscalculating risk for a polar explorer-turned-mountaineer can be lethal – judgement in this man’s world means the difference between living and dying. It is rare for him to give up on a goal, but he also knows very precisely when he has to stop if he is to survive. Although he admires great courage in anyone, and detests the inevitable criticism when a rare project fails, he says ‘It’s important to know when to turn back: better a live donkey than a dead lion’.
For nearly 40 years, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, Bt, OBE led expeditions that set benchmarks for modern exploration and broke world record after world record. The biggest was the three-year Transglobe Expedition, when he and Charlie Burton became the first people to circumnavigate the world over both Poles. To make these things happen, Fiennes needs every skill, behaviour and characteristic of the entrepreneur and the leader. Once the huge goal has been set, the process of planning, organising and executing the venture is an exercise in extreme project management – the equivalent of creating a substantial SME operation from a standing start.
The in-built penalty clauses are somewhat steeper than usual, and the contracts he offers team members are uncompromising. ‘People can’t be plugged in and tested like computers, and there is no way of knowing in advance how they’ll react under extreme pressure. The secret is to paint a very black picture of what is in store. If it’s not as bad, they feel lucky. If it is, and they whinge, I can say “I told you so, up front.”’
He is intensely loyal to family and friends; far from being a loner, as one might imagine, Fiennes is an easy, sociable man off duty, a teller of good stories and bad jokes, a bon viveur who will then go out to run or cycle for two hours, regardless of environment or weather – because that physical and mental discipline is what keeps him fit, alert and alive. He is also increasingly strict about diet, having given up pleasures such as smoking, red meat, cream and – hardest of all – chocolate.
In 2003, Fiennes had a massive and completely unforeseen heart attack, but recovered fast, and four months later, with Mike Stroud, ran seven marathons in seven consecutive days on seven continents. It is a trait of his, succeeding against the odds, and in the face of warnings and prohibitions.
He is not fearless, but doesn’t allow fear to stop him. Climbing the dangerous north face of the Eiger in March 2007, Fiennes had to deal with his life-long fear of heights. Climbing to within 300m of Everest’s summit ridge had failed to cure it, but the Eiger has a 6,000 ft vertical rock face and other horrific obstacles. At the start, Fiennes said ‘it’s hair-raising – not my cup of tea at all.’ After reaching the summit, he said of the vertical climb, ‘My mind crumbled – it was a dizzy vortex maw which I couldn’t stop looking at. My policy of not looking down just wasn’t possible – there was nowhere but down. I think I will have nightmares about it for a long time............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:16
Aged four, little Vic used to ride his tricycle full pelt down the road in Woolton, straight across the main road – and so often that bus drivers learned to look for the small speeding figure as they neared the junction. Ten years later, naughty Vic borrowed his father’s car keys, taught himself to drive, and raced down the East Lancs Road with his mates to Manchester – till his father caught him and put a stop to such adolescent capers. ‘I must have used up most of my nine lives before I left school,’ he says.
At 63, the wild child in Greenberg is still there, albeit contained. Semi-retired from the business his father Nat founded in 1936, Greenberg wants a dream to follow. ‘I always wanted to be something else,’ he says.
There is no ego about the family name – in fact Greenberg told his two daughters and son not to think about coming into the business. They have shares, but were told to go and do their own thing, which they all have, successfully.
‘I felt guilty about it sometimes, but I stuck to my guns. No-one teaches you to be a parent – it’s trial and error. You can only do your best.’
‘I was busy taking care of business, and it was fun. Selling glass isn’t going to change the world, but the success of the business enabled me to have fun, learn new things all the time, meet interesting people. And we’ve enjoyed the rewards............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:13
The thick stone walls of the offices upstairs at the Longridge Restaurant are covered with awards; there are others on shelves and in cabinets. Paul Heathcote gets plenty of recognition as a chef, a restaurateur, an entrepreneur, a trainer, an employer, and more – this is an important part of his reward for 17 years in business so far.
Not the only part, though. He is finally enjoying the financial rewards of his efforts: ‘There’s no guilt trip about that – I’ve taken enough risks, after all.’ He has been close to the edge once or twice: ‘It was a tremendous strain, but I’d get up the next day and fight it out. It takes belief and strength of character, and it gave me huge satisfaction. But it’s not for everyone.’
By the end of 2007 he will have 15 restaurants open in the North West, so it’s rare for him to get into a kitchen these days other than to peer over the shoulder of his head chefs on his travels around the various Heathcotes venues.
He is far from the image of the tempestuous celebrity chef, hurling curses and knives at sous chefs: Heathcote is a softly-spoken Lancastrian who has learned some of his most valuable lessons from kitchen bullies. He mentions a chef at a famous hotel in London: ‘You don’t treat people like that; he was aggressive and uncompromising. I understand that now and then you have to be tough if you can’t get through to someone – we all need a kick up the arse occasionally – but you must double that in compliments and encouragement............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:10
Sharon Hilditch’s Crystal Clear clinic on Rodney Street is smart, sophisticated, and calm – a glamorous success story that transcends its Liverpool base to reach a Hollywood A list of clients.
Hilditch set up Crystal Clear with her partner Philip Ball in 1995. The opportunity was clear to Hilditch. ‘Looking back I suppose it was a risk, but I didn’t see it that way at the time. I think if you analyse things too much you’d never do anything. I am very black and white,’ she says. ‘My partner laughs at me because I refuse to see the grey in the middle, but there can’t be any. The longer you ponder, the worse the decision-making process becomes, and to be honest I don’t have time for that any more anyway. Of course, if I have an important decision to make I’ll sit down and think it through, but you can become paralysed by indecision.’
‘You have to learn from failure. Recently I met up with a buyer from abroad who’d said ‘yes’ to our eye pen, and was going to put it into scores of outlets. He changed his mind at the last minute – I was upset for the first two seconds, but five minutes later I’d made appointments with their competitors. I had to change it to a positive. Negativity can move in very quickly, so, for me, it’s all about how you deal with the rejection.’
Hilditch has a strong network of family and trusted advisors. ‘My sister is a huge inspiration. She’s a very positive person, and we know how to pick each other up............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 17:08
How many years would it take to amass a group of property companies spanning China, the Middle East, Europe and America? For Bashar Issa, looking back on the time taken to build such an empire does not cover 50, 60 or 70 years. All this has been done before his thirtieth birthday.
Yet the man behind such heady activity is as laid back and relaxed as he is fiercely ambitious. His friends are musicians and artists, rather than surveyors and bankers, and he avoids the claustrophobic networking scenes of any of his adopted cities, with confident indifference.
Born into wealth from both parents’ sides in Kuwait (his mother is Kuwaiti, his father Iraqi), Issa, the youngest of three, grew up speaking the language of money more than his brother and sister. He claims his mother could only teach him to count by putting currency in front of the numbers, and that when she would fly back from London, studying for her masters at Hammersmith Hospital, he would sell the chocolates she gave him to his cousins.
‘It is very difficult for a child to be half something and half something else. The society in Kuwait was trying to identify itself as a separate country, so they were very precious about being Kuwaiti. It was and remains a very nationalist state with a nationalist society. This filtered down to the school and made for a lot of racism. That was very much a battleground for a child.’
His mother took her three children with her to London at the start of the 1990s and a brief spell at a school for Arab expatriots outside Bath was brutally halted by the first Gulf War when the family bank accounts were frozen in war-torn Kuwait. Issa and his brother spent an incongruous year in a state comprehensive in Kilburn, central London, to keep the bills down..........
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 16:48
Moving job is a big enough step, especially at 44; jumping from public to private sector a major switch in attitude; leaving Merseyside Police and going into business takes some doing. David Jones, born off Admiral Street, Liverpool 8, stood on the thin blue line in the Granby riots of 1981 and was cracked on the head with a scaffolding pole. The legacy of that injury, compounded by a later accident caused by an over-enthusiastic police dog, finally forced him to take early retirement from the force in 1995, ‘which was devastating, to be honest,’ he admits. ‘We wondered how we were going to survive, with two kids under 10,’ he says.
It was Jones’s wife Joyce who suggested they set up in business; DogDetectives was born in 1999. This wasn’t a whim. Jones had been head of the search dog unit with Merseyside Police with many years of research, training and experience behind him, along with an exemplary service record. DogDetectives are now leaders in the field, sending 90% of their successful trainees abroad, many to the Middle East.
His key motivation remains the same as it was when he joined the police at the age of 19. ‘I wanted to help others in the way that I’d have liked help when I needed it. I got a huge thrill from helping people,’ he says.
As a dog sergeant he had 30 constables under his command, and throughout the 1980s there was no shortage of work. ‘The provisional IRA kept us busy. We did all the defensive searches before VIP visits and responded to bomb alerts,’ he says.
So Jones is no stranger to risk and risk management. In that job there was no getting away from it: the keys to survival were sharp instincts, discipline, and constant communication. Jones is a believer in fate – ‘some things are meant to be’ – but also that if you don’t try, you’ll never know............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 16:45
Waiting is a frustrating, aggravating process, fundamentally opposed to an entrepreneur’s way of doing things. And Colin McKeown is waiting for the great monolith of the BBC to heave itself into action. (McKeown and screenwriter Jimmy McGovern have pitched a new soap to the Beeb, to replace Neighbours)
He’s not sitting about twiddling his thumbs in the meantime. He and McGovern have another two active projects in the pipeline and McKeown has high hopes for them. ‘I’d love to bring back an Oscar to Liverpool,’ he says, wistfully.
Born and brought up in Huyton, McKeown is one of 13 children – his parents had both been married before, so the line-up was a mix of ‘his, hers, and theirs,’ as he puts it. ‘I was utterly inspired by my Mum – her belief in me was fantastic: she stood up for me, and was absolutely straight.’ he laughs.’
McKeown saw less of his father. ‘He could be quite emotional, my Dad, and we got lots of love and affection.
‘But the flip side was the violence. I used to get battered – not just a smack, but punches and kicks. He was a wonderful, loving parent, so if he hit me, I’d think I must have been naughty, and blame myself.’
School gave McKeown no great encouragement. The typical comment, he says, was: ‘You must understand that the best you can hope for is an apprenticeship at Imperial Metals.’ ‘The traditional way out for kids like me was to be a priest or a footballer...........
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 16:41
Gary Millar is not an easy man to pigeonhole. His first job was as a message boy for the owner of a pram shop; her only previous message boy was Sean Connery. His first business was selling stair treads, from which he moved on to start his own computing business, buy Liverpool’s famous Parr Street recording studios and establish a boutique hotel. His next venture is providing financial backing for small businesses in Liverpool.
He can, it seems, turn his hand to almost anything. ‘I think entrepreneurs are people who spot opportunities, are very single minded, and often don’t comfortably delegate,’ he says. ‘My attention to detail is OK, but it’s not a passion.
Born in a tenement building in Edinburgh in 1959, Gary was fostered between the ages of four and ten, moving school eight times in his formative years. ‘I went to good schools,’ he says, ‘just a lot of them. I wasn’t a settled child, and I wasn’t bright at all. I was picked on because I was always the new boy, mentally rather than physically. But I never had time to settle down and make friends.’
‘If you have a dream you can action it. Circumstances can stop you, but there’s no reason why anyone can’t do what they want to. I think being working class makes you more competitive. You will take risks; it’s worth taking risks. You have less to lose in the first place.’
Gone are the days when his ambitions were a better house, car and holidays. ‘I’m more interested in giving people a chance to better their lives. I really believe in the concept of paying it forward – the idea that if you help somebody out, then they can help the next person...............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 16:37
To call this woman outstanding is not so much a compliment as a literal fact. Clare Molyneux stands out from the crowd in almost every way bar her physical self: small, dark, pretty, with a big smile and sculpted eyebrows, she could disappear into a crowded Liverpool street in a heartbeat.
But it doesn’t take more than a sentence to realise that this is a formidable individual who you’d be foolish to ignore.
Her theatre in education company, Open the Door, was named Liverpool’s best new business in 2006; Molyneux was awarded the MBE for services to education; to her personal credit is a string of properties in the UK and abroad, which, she says, makes her more money than the business does at the moment. In 2016 – when she’s 36 – she’ll have paid off all her mortgages and could retire.
Very young? Well, yes, but she started early. ‘I wrote my first play before I was three,’ she says, sounding faintly Mozartian. ‘It was gibberish, but I even wrote the credits,’ she giggles. When she was 13 she got a play on at the Everyman in Liverpool. ‘But I was 25 before I made any real money,’ she says.
She doesn’t talk much about money, she isn’t flashy. ‘Money is a by-product, a tool. Showing wealth is vulgar – wearing it all...’ she is no WAG. ‘I bought a 1979 Aston Martin,’ she smiles. ‘Gorgeous.’ So she isn’t miserly. ‘No. I buy nice things because I want them, not because I think they’ll impress people. And the only thing better than perfect is free. I love a bargain.’
So where does this drive come from? Hers is not a common career path. ‘It’s massively important to know that I was a fat, spotty kid from Anfield: eight stone when I was eight, ten stone when I was 10; glasses, acne from the age of seven, couldn’t do sport, and badly dyslexic. I was an only child, didn’t get on with kids – couldn’t be bothered with them, really. ‘No-one thought I’d amount to anything – I had to prove them wrong,’ she says. ‘When I got to senior school and had my first drama lesson... it was tremendous, being someone else.’ Drama, writing and performance became her saving grace and her lifelong passion – and then a business.
‘When I turned 21, I was made redundant, and six weeks later my dad died. At home I took on the role of the breadwinner. I swore I’d never again give anyone the power to sack me.’
Not wanting to be two women living in Anfield, ‘which had turned into Mad Max country by then,’ Molyneux mother and daughter sold their house for a pittance and bought a doer-upper in West Derby.
‘I took the wallpaper off, and the walls fell down. It was a bigger job than I’d thought.’ The builder failed to come up to scratch, so Molyneux binned him and did the work herself. ‘Went to B&Q for plaster, downloaded instructions from the net, and got on with it.’ They sold that house for three times the price they’d paid for it, and Molyneux was on the property ladder in fine style. ‘It’s still a hobby, but you can’t be enterprising in just one part of your life,’ she says.
‘People can’t believe I do the building work’ she says. ‘They don’t like it, either – they make out I’m weird.’ Not that she cares a hoot about being thought weird – she’s more afraid of being dull. ‘Fear of failure, fear of the mundane, forces me on.’
Then the business happened. Molyneux had been asked to run a drama workshop for 250 kids in their first term at secondary school, and wrote a play for them in a weekend, thinking some of the school’s drama pupils would perform it. The school, however, assumed Molyneux would also supply the acting company and asked what they would turn up on the day. Barely missing a beat, she said ‘About half past nine?’ then rushed off, found actors and started rehearsals. ‘Luckily I still had several thespian friends after training as an actor, and talked them into it. We had a great time rehearsing in my living room.’
The performance was such a success that Molyneux realised she had stumbled on to a business with prospects. She didn’t need to be told twice.
‘I’ve got no fear of taking chances – I love it. I’m addicted to fairgrounds – rollercoasters, anything where you’re dropped from a great height. What a rush!’ So Molyneux is an adrenalin junkie – but is she competitive as well?
‘I want to win, but to beat myself, not other people. Not only do I want to win, but I want to do a wheelie over the finishing line,’ she laughs. ‘I read an article about megalomaniacs recently. I ticked six out of the eight boxes.’
So risk is not a problem: in fact it’s a big fat challenge. ‘I love a close call. What’s the worst that could happen? Nobody’s going to die. So let’s have a go.’
But Molyneux isn’t daft. Adrenalin is all very well, but business decisions have an effect on everyone in the company, and it’s one thing risking her own money, but to risk others’ livelihoods is something else. Molyneux has her mother as a lodestone. ‘Your capers...’ she’ll tease her daughter. ‘I can hear your brain tick,’ when there’s a new idea simmering away.’ But she’s also a major asset to the business. ‘She does figures like Rain Man – she’s done the sums before I’ve got my pen out,’ says her daughter. And Molyneux has staying power, despite her aversion to wasting time. ‘I don’t prevaricate, and I can’t see the point in putting things off. But I am willing to have a horrible miserable time for six months if I know there are good times to be had at the other end of it.’
Achieving gives her a buzz, but the feeling doesn’t last long. ‘Getting a house finished, the first show of a new play, gives me a great feeling of accomplishment, but the next day I need to get going again. We’ve just got a huge new contract for a client in Liverpool, the Midlands and Cumbria, but almost as soon as I’d put the phone down on the news, I was thinking “How come not London too?” Sometimes when I’m up at 4am to meet a deadline, and I haven’t seen my mum for 16 hours, I wish I could be happy with my lot instead of always needing more,’ she says. But you get the feeling that being contented is not what she’s about. ‘Friends tell me I work too hard, tell me to get a life. But this is my life,’ she insists. She says with conviction that she will never marry, that she sees no reward in having a man in her life. She’s devoted to her mum, and needs no third party. She allows that there’s no knowing what the future might hold, but cannot imagine wanting children. The business and her new ideas are her babies – all her creative energies go into the work.
A brilliant starter, Molyneux is – unusually – a finisher, too. And she has learned to delegate – she says that’s hard, learning to let go. ‘I was working so hard in the business that I had no time to build it,’ she says. ‘But I’m good at surrounding myself with people who share my vision; I’m fiercely loyal to my staff, and I’m obsessive about giving people credit for what they contribute. But it’s me that signs the cheques, so in the end, if someone can’t see where I’m going, I will say goodbye.’
She doesn’t think everyone can be an entrepreneur. ‘You can learn enterprise skills, certainly. But a true entrepreneur is like a singer or a sportsman – you need talent as well as technique. And you need the heart. Are you willing to work, to take the risk, to wait for the rewards?’
When The Plan matures in nine years, and Molyneux can afford to quit, she can’t see herself retiring, but if she has another plan, she’s not saying. She hates sitting around on holidays; the countryside is anathema. ‘All that quiet: I get like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Five or six hours, that’s enough. I need the city.’
She’s an avid reader, but the only time she gets is in the loo. ‘And I sometimes get in a few paragraphs at traffic lights,’ she says.
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 16:02
Jon Moulton has a habit of screwing up his eyes during a conversation, probably so he can look that bit further inside one’s head. You begin to understand what it feels like to be a set of badly drawn accounts.
A business wizard, Moulton has a just reputation for turning dross into gold. Having graduated with a degree in chemistry, then discovering there was no future in it, he trained as an accountant, learned how to deal with failing companies, and turned to the arcane science of alchemy, where he found his philosopher’s stone. This does not make him universally popular.
Moulton is a private equity specialist. He is very, very good at what he does, and he has made a mountain of money. ‘The Sunday Times Rich List gets it wrong. I’m worth some hundreds of millions.’ He is neither bashful nor boastful, just factual. The beans are counted as a means of measuring his cleverness at spotting opportunities, judging the risks, beating the odds, and confounding the enemy. An entrepreneur of the first order. His track record before and after he set up Alchemy Partners in 1997 shows him to be a net creator of jobs, and indisputably a creator of wealth – for himself, certainly, but also for his partners, employees, backers and those working for his investee companies. And, he says with reference to continual criticism of highly paid bosses, ‘I pay tax on everything I earn.’
He works ferociously hard, and he loves it. ‘The joy of what I do is extraordinary,’ he says. ‘The diversity of it is very stimulating: keeps my brain engaged.’
He is not a man to sit on a beach, so leisure is his vineyard in Kent, or a Carry On film. ‘Silly jokes give me ridiculous amounts of pleasure,’ he says.
A player of bridge and chess to competition standard, Moulton enjoys delving into the occult world of tax law; he delights in chewing up regulators and select committee members, but he takes a particular gleeful joy in fencing with local government jobsworths. ‘I like dealing with bureaucrats,’ he grins. He relishes a good scrap.
People love to hate him. He doesn’t care. ‘I’m insensitive,’ he says. ‘I don’t get depressed, or moody, and the only thing that makes me angry is people lying.’ Insensitive? Perhaps. Even tempered, perspicacious, and unsentimental. But not unaware of the consequences of his decisions. ‘Capitalism is not an entirely humanitarian activity,’ he says, wryly. It helps, in his business, to be able to keep an emotional distance from the feelings of people at the wrong end of hard decisions. It’s the same for surgeons.
Civil servants, politicians, lawyers and many journalists must find Moulton hard to take, since he wastes no time prevaricating, but says what he thinks; and means what he says. A plain speaker. ‘I’m very bad at lying,’ he says. ‘And I have a very low tolerance for liars.’ It is his pet hate, and he takes great pleasure in ridding newly acquired companies of fraudsters and weasels. ‘I am relatively forgiving of a CEO who says he’s got things wrong. But I have no time for the bastard who tries to hide behind false accounting. Incompetence, weakness, dishonesty – they make the decision easy. The hardest person to fire is someone trying hard but not quite able to cut it.’
More stories, of finance directors and chief executives unceremoniously defenestrated or hoist on petards they had been foolish enough to ignite.
When it comes to putting employees out of jobs, however, it is a very different story. ‘I’m dead straight about what we are going to do, and we do what we can to mitigate the losses. I am by no means unaware of the human cost. It can be incredibly painful for people, and hard to deal with when some bastard comes along and tells them their jobs are lost.
‘But often it’s a choice between no jobs and some jobs. I prefer the latter option,’ he says. Arresting a company’s slide into the depths needs swift and often brutal action, but then comes the upside, with regrowth and more jobs. ‘I love watching a good management team prosper.’
The media is quick to brand Moulton as a heartless asset stripper, but he dismisses the charge as foolish. Why asset strip for £X when there is £X00 to be made by turning the business around? Not to mention the unpleasantness it would create for his investors. Bad business. Not on his agenda.
What he prefers is the fun of a tricky challenge. Alchemy has made a name with good products or brands that have been poorly managed – Parker Pens, for instance. Slice away the gangrene, save the soul, regrow the body.
Failing to buy Rover in 2000 he still feels was a huge shame, for Alchemy, for Rover and, most of all, for Rover’s workforce. The deal went, in the end, to the sentimental option which promised a pile of gold and delivered dross. Alchemy had promised nothing, except to those people who would lose their jobs, and they were promised a decent sum and a full pension. When it was too late, former Rover workers realised that Moulton’s seemingly harsh option had been their best bet. ‘I keep meeting people who tell me they now wish we’d got it.’
He will walk away from deals, too, even at the last minute. Last minute horrors come to light; ‘sometimes it’s a good old fashioned balls-up,’ he says, ‘and sometimes excessive greed. Greedy people are easy to deal with.’ Another grin.
‘By 1997 I’d made enough money to see me off the planet in comfort.’ He has made more money through his private investments in early-stage companies than from his day job, please note.
‘By setting up Alchemy I could have fun grabbing opportunities that others couldn’t see, or wouldn’t take. I expose myself deliberately to risk, set myself up in situations where I could fail,’ he grins again. It’s the game that sets him alight. He’s a chess player prepared to play for high stakes, because he can afford to lose – that gives him a massive advantage. He is hugely competitive, but he knows when not to play.
‘I don’t think about risk, just do my best. Sometimes the decision process is a finger in the wind, sometimes a very sophisticated model. Nothing works all the time.’ Indeed, he expects to lose on a sizable number, knowing that the winners will more than make up for the fallers.
Moulton is tall, lean and fit; he regularly runs half marathons and has phenomenal energy and stamina. For much of his childhood, however, he was very ill. Undiagnosed tuberculosis for years; aplastic anaemia in his teens, overweight and unfit.
A great deal of his money is being spent on big experimental medical projects – his children are financially secure, he and his wife of 33 years are ditto, and he generates far more than he could ever spend. It’s not a sentimental choice. He wants answers – so he’s prepared to invest in getting them, for as long as it takes.
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 16:00
Leonard Steinberg is characteristically understated as he assesses his career. ‘I never realised that I was an entrepreneur – it's something that just happened.’
Aged 19, he inherited an illegal betting shop in Belfast (until 1957 all betting shops were illegal); gradually he built his gambling business up until deciding to float the company, Stanley Leisure, on the Stock Market in 1986, by which time it was the largest casino operator in Britain and one of the biggest bookmakers. The betting shop business was sold in 2005 to William Hill for £504 million, but Steinberg remained chairman of Stanley Leisure until it was bought by the Malaysian corporate giant Genting for £639 million in 2006.
The sale of Stanley Leisure made Steinberg one of the wealthiest people in the UK and, yet, to meet him you would never guess it. He does not wear his success conspicuously; of medium height, with swept back grey hair and astute blue eyes, his demeanour is measured, calm and underpinned with quiet charm.
Never one to waste words, he is an accomplished observer – not just of people, but of businesses, opportunities and politics. He has had to be good at this because his whole career has been based on assessing risk in one form or another, from simply deciding whether to accept money on a particular horse through to how much to invest in a business or choosing the right person to be a chief executive.
Although Steinberg plays down his entrepreneurial flair, the signs of this talent were already apparent at school when, aged 15, he made a profit from buying penny chews and selling them to fellow pupils for twopence. However, it was the sudden death of his father in 1955 that was the catalyst for Steinberg’s transformation from being a trainee accountant to being a self-employed businessman. His mother and three younger siblings were now entirely dependent upon him financially – a daunting prospect for anyone, let alone someone who was still a teenager himself. It explains the pragmatic attitude he holds towards money: ‘It’s much better having it compared to not having it. It makes you feel secure, although doesn’t necessarily make you feel happy.............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 15:56
There can’t be too many pre-schoolers with a head for business : throughout his schooling Heikki Viitikko had got into trouble by exhibiting a single-mindedness and go it alone attitude at odds with his fellow pupils.
He had begun aged four by selling the domestic roller blinds that were the mainstay of his parents’ own business. Two decades later, following their retirement, he briefly took over management of the company as the same time as climbing the rungs of technology and manufacturing group Honeywell in his native Finland. With his self-employed parents working all hours he had little emotional support throughout childhood ‘leaving me to carve my own way out.’ It was largely this ‘stand on your own two feet’ approach that Viitikko attributes to his own resilience and determination to succeed.
‘Entrepreneurs are risk takers who are determined to walk their own way,’ he says. ‘They rarely copy other people. Although their idea may be similar to another’s they refine that idea and are utterly determined to make it happen.’
‘As I’ve got older my principles and values have combined into a strong and stubborn belief about what’s wrong and what’s right,’ he says. ‘Justice is a principle I don’t give up on. For instance when I was in middle management and I came across white lies being told by colleagues to customers in order to secure a deal I would contest that with them quite vigorously.’
‘When you’re young money is a driver but for me what ranks highest is the sense of achievement,’ he says. 'Sometimes when I’ve made a deal I sing from the office all the way home.................
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 15:54
Mothers have a knack of hitting a nail squarely on its head. ‘You’re never satisfied, that’s your trouble.’ Malcolm Walker’s mother said such things to him on a regular basis.
Another maxim was: ‘Big, better, best – never let it rest till big’s better and better’s best.’ Grammatical logic says it should be ‘good, better, best’, but Walker thinks big.
The company Walker founded has grown and thrived, twice (either side of the hiatus when he was elsewhere). And even with many millions to his name, Walker wants more, and isn’t afraid to say so. ‘Bloody right I’m not. Many people, including staff and suppliers, have become millionaires through Iceland.’
A neat, well dressed figure, Walker radiates energy, and has an intense presence. He laughs easily and seems relaxed; he is assured but not arrogant, and no longer having anything to prove, seems not to feel the need to impress: which is, of course, quietly impressive.
Walker is the classic Northern entrepreneur, with an archetypal story behind him. Born in Yorkshire, his father was a colliery electrician who, after an accident at the pit, concentrated on his smallholding and set up a shop. ‘Mum made cakes, Dad grew veg; he died when I was 14, and Mum had to manage on a widow’s pension of ten shillings a week. It was hard,’ he says, with feeling..............
Posted by Arabella McIntyre-Brown at 15:45