Selling up is the spur to another fortune

Tycoons are driven to repeat their success, says Will Bennett
Click to follow
The Independent Online
When Alan Sugar pockets an estimated pounds 80m from the planned sale of his company Amstrad, he will not take it easy by a swimming pool, head for the golf course or potter gently around the salerooms collecting 19th- century porcelain. The irascible self-made millionaire, who spent 28 years building up the consumer electronics group, will direct his formidable energies towards developing the business potential of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, which he bought five years ago.

It would also surprise nobody if he founded another company similar to Amstrad. Entrepreneurs are not only incapable of relaxing with their millions: they are driven to repeat their success stories time and time again.

Michael Cannon has a 1,200 acre estate in Devon, a wonderful manor house in Dorset and enjoys shooting and living the life of a country gentleman. It is all very far removed from the relatively humble beginnings of a man who left school at 15. In 1993, he made pounds 26m from selling the Devenish pub chain he had built up over 19 years; and with the money in the bank and his future assured, he and his wife booked a year-long cruise around the world on a luxury liner.

To nobody's surprise he cancelled the cruise at the last moment because the chance of buying another chain of pubs came up. Last week Mr Cannon, 57, made another pounds 70m from selling that business, The Magic Pub Company, to the brewers Greene King. Those who know him say that even now he is in no mood to retire to the country. Philip Snook, the outgoing managing director of The Magic Pub Company, who himself stands to make pounds 5m from the sale, says: "Michael is a very strong-minded individual and I think that the prospect of not working horrifies him. He is a workaholic."

Professor Cary Cooper, of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, believes that such entrepreneurs are driven by the need to control their lives and to prove to themselves or others that they can succeed repeatedly. "The driving force is usually something negative that happened to them early in their life and that has made them want to control their world in a way in which they did not have control when they were young."

Professor Cooper carried out a survey of successful entrepreneurs and discovered that only 5 per cent of them had both their parents present throughout their entire childhood. The rest lost at least one parent through death or came from broken marriages or were separated for some other reason, such as being sent away to school. Seventy-four per cent of those questioned identified "some significant shaping event in their childhood" that gave them the toughness and drive to succeed in business. In some cases, it was bullying or ridicule from fellow school pupils; in others, the scornful dismissiveness of a parent or teacher.

Professor Cooper says: "When they sell their businesses, they will start another company. It is not the money, they could have pounds 10m, pounds 20m, it does not matter. Money only tells them that they are successful and they need to prove themselves to somebody all over again."

Sir Mark Weinberg, who has twice quit major insurance companies that he founded, but is still in the same business, fits Professor Cooper's theory perfectly. His father died when he was two and he was sent away to a boarding school which he loathed. In the Sixties, with just pounds 70,000, he set up Abbey Life, where he pioneered unit-linked assurance plans and gained a reputation as an innovator and a tough salesman. He left the company, which by then was worth pounds 31m, when the American giant ITT took it over 10 years later.

"I feel I would not be able to adjust to working as an executive for a really large international corporation, it is just not my style," he said at the time. He no longer had control of the business which he had built up from scratch. He was soon back, building up Hambro Life, now known as Allied Dunbar, but left 10 years ago after it was taken over by another company of which he was also a director.

Sir Mark, now 64, could have opted for the easy life but, as his right hand man Mike Wilson puts it: "He didn't want to retire with the graph going down." He soon set up what one observer nicknamed Mark III, a new life assurance company called J. Rothschild Assurance, of which he is still chairman.

Lord Harris of Peckham started in the carpet business by taking over his family's three shops, after his father died when he was 15. He expanded and built up the Harris Queensway carpet empire, which he sold for pounds 70m in 1988. After the sale, he decided to spend some time sailing his yacht around the Mediterranean. He could have kept on sailing for ever, but he was inexorably drawn back to the same business. Within months, he opened a carpet shop in London and eight years later his Carpetright chain has more than 200 outlets and 14 per cent of the British market.

Lord Harris, 53, who is one of the Conservative Party's most important financial backers, has always denied that he is driven by a desire to make Carpetright bigger than Queensway, which crashed shortly after he sold out. But one former business associate said yesterday: "He may not even acknowledge to himself but he is proving himself all over again."

It is ironic that while millions of people dream of taking early retirement if they win the National Lottery, some of those who could afford never to work again are incapable of opting for the easy life.

Comments