Rowland aiming to build a dynasty

Business Profile: Dot.com multi-millionaire Jonathan is struggling to match his father
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The Independent Online

On paper, Jonathan Rowland is the ultimate spiv. Son of the rags-to-riches property entrepreneur David "Spotty" Rowland, he was born into a £660m family fortune, began his investment career at 18 and started making his own millions aged 24. And he drives fast cars at the weekend.

He will likely never see or hear his name without "son of the former property tycoon", and his success will be measured against the not-always-spotless touch of his father.

Mr Rowland senior, the son of a scrap metal dealer, made his first million aged 23, earning him the nickname Spotty for having barely shed his adolescent skin. He went on to amass a complex property and investment fortune, and is based in Guernsey.

But dad is now in the back seat. Jonathan is for the most part in control of the Rowland Capital family trust. He has been emerging as a player in a number of deals recently, from Moss Bros to Chesterton International. He is itching to make the Rowland name more substantial than his father did, and this time maybe the City had better sit up and listen.

"Some people accuse me of living in my father's shadow. But we have a good relationship and he's very successful, so why shouldn't I?" he says. "Although, of course, I want to be more successful than he was."

When Mr Rowland junior burst on to the City scene in late 1999, cashing in on the dot.com phenomenon, he was written off for simply flashing his dad's money around. By summer 2000 it was all over, and JellyWorks, Mr Rowland's internet investment company, was sold. Mr Rowland junior was consigned to the scrapheap, but he had just completed a £65m deal and had a thirst for more.

Mr Rowland was a relatively late starter in his father's empire. He left school at 16 with no qualifications to speak of. He didn't apply himself, he says, and who would when they had the Rowland family millions in tow? He bummed around for a couple of years before taking any interest in what his dad did.

It took his girlfriend Zoe, now his wife, to tell him to get his act together and work for his father. He went to Norwich to run one of the Rowland property businesses, but then dot.com fever began taking hold, and Mr Rowland spotted more exciting opportunities.

The success of JellyWorks saw him labelled an internet geek, alongside Martha Lane Fox and other young trendies caught up in the hi-tech revolution. But Mr Rowland is no computer nerd. He is an investor, complete with the traditional pin-striped suit he was wearing for this interview.

When JellyWorks was sold, Mr Rowland turned to other investment areas. "I wanted to create a company that specialised in taking on undervalued, distressed ventures that were in the hands of liquidators or administrators," he says.

Again he met cynicism. The dot.com multi-millionaire now wants to go round the City, cleaning up on the disasters that he helped create? Yes, he said, and got Resurge off the ground despite a difficult start.

Its float on the Alternative Investment Market was only days away, and Mr Rowland had gone to New York to discuss another family investment. He had a meeting scheduled in the World Trade Centre on the morning of 11 September 2001. But having overdone a "quiet drink" the previous night, he was in his hotel room nursing a glass of Alka-Seltzer when the planes hit the twin towers.

Since then, despite much talk, Mr Rowland has failed to pull off a major deal. The problem is that although the suit may fit around his shoulders a little better these days, his face still seems too young.

"When I arrange meetings with people they don't always know who I am, or how old I am, and you can see the surprise on their face when I walk in the door. 'Who's this schoolboy in a suit that's turned up?' they are thinking," he says. "When I read about people that I think are interesting, I'll just ring them up and ask to meet with them. People like Allan Leighton (head of Royal Mail) and Terry Smith (boss of the broker Collins Stewart)," he says, as a display of his unflappable self-belief. For all his spivvy hallmarks, Mr Rowland in the flesh is endearingly unpretentious, and his money-making success does not come with a swagger.

He does not pretend that he would be where he is now without his father and his money. He is not ashamed of it, nor of working hard to grow it further.

But the fund management community has so far shunned him, not wanting to be associated with his father.

He finds this all the more frustrating, as his vision is that the Rowland family should become a financial brand based on a banking dynasty. "I want to run an investment house like the Rothschilds or the Flemings," he says. "There is no one around like that any more."

We are set to hear much more from him in the next few months. He is already talking of having significant deals very close to fruition - but then, doesn't every budding property tycoon?

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