Fast Track: CV - Dutch courage leads to success

Robert Bonnier, Chief Executive Of The pounds 200m Company, Scoot Freep ages
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ROBERT BONNIER, 28, is chief executive of Scoot Freepages, an information service that connects consumers to businesses - chiefly, to date, by telephone. Two years ago the company was valued at about pounds 200m. Its young Dutch boss started in business early, dealing in the financial market when he was just 14 years old.

I grew up in a town called Tilburg in Holland and moved to England when I was 19. When I was 14, I hurt my hand playing football. The hospital made a mess of my fingers and I got a small compensation pay-out - around pounds 600. I used the money to buy my first shares.

From a very early age I became interested in analysing companies. I would even read all of their annual reports and then, on the back of that, decide whether it was a suitable business opportunity.

My father was involved in the equity market, and so he was able to help me. I was quite fortunate as the value of my equity holdings rose rapidly.

The money grew very quickly to a few thousand pounds. I suppose I could have used it as extra pocket money, but I continued to invest. I had all sorts of jobs when I was young, which taught me about business: I worked on factory floors and at a paint shop, and I cleaned and prepared cars for distribution.

All the while, I was building up a nice level of capital rather than spending it in nightclubs.

When I was 17, a friend and I formed a small group with which we started to attract capital by investing in the markets. Again, I was fortunate because we made big returns and so my capital base continued to grow.

At college, I did a bachelor of business administration degree, which was an American programme. The first year was in Holland, the second was in France and the third at the Schiller International College in London. Then after that, aged 21, I started to work in the City for the Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC).

I became a corporate finance manager and started to get particularly interested in the media and technology sector.

After nearly four years at SBC I became involved with the start-up of a company called Freepages. What I was struck by was the way that consumer purchasing was changing. You could see this in firms such as First Direct, which sold insurance over the phone.

And Freepages - which we re-branded Scooter Freepages - fell into that basic concept. Really we are what I call an "infomediary" - helping consumers to make their purchasing decisions in the most efficient manner.

I came on board as the chief financial officer, responsible for operational activities and for developing business strategy. We lost some money in the early days but the City has always been confident of our potential.

Two years ago the business was valued by the alternative investment market at pounds 200m.

We have expanded into Europe with Scoot Holland and Scoot Belgium, and one day hope to be Europe-wide. Over the past three or four years I've invested around a couple of million pounds in the company. And when Nigel Robertson - who had been a leading figure with the original concept - wanted to move on, it was natural that I stepped up to chief executive.

In the past, I said that leisure time is the drive into and back from work. But though there is still a strong work ethic here, that's changed for me since getting married earlier this year.

My life has become more balanced, which is good because I think that you need to reflect in peace on everything that's going on. That's particularly true in the quickly changing environment we are operating in.

I would advise people coming into business first of all to understand the industry you want to work in. Get a number of the skill sets you will need by working in a company with a relatively protective environment. Also, you must know what the key drivers of the industry are.

In a world that is changing so rapidly, you can't do 200 things at once. If you have a good idea, develop it well and make sure you know the negatives as well as the positives. There are very few people like Bill Gates, who can come out of university and develop one of the most valuable companies in the world.

I think I did well to do what I did as early as I did. And I still manage to play the odd game of football.