The business on: John Whittaker, Property developer

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The Independent Online

Should I know him?

Not necessarily – Mr Whittaker is relatively low profile. Still, Peel Group, his company, is definitely not. And it has been exceptionally busy wheeling and dealing this year. In January, it sold the Trafford Centre, the giant shopping centre in Manchester, for £1.6bn, and it has just clinched the purchase of Pinewood Shepperton, the film studios company, for £96m. It is also developing the MediaCityUK project in Salford. And its Liverpool John Lennon airport is expanding too.

So he's got a few quid then?

You could say that. According to The Sunday Times Rich List, just published, Mr Whittaker saw his wealth grow more quickly than any other British billionaire last year. He's worth almost £2.1bn these days, up from £1bn a year ago.

How did he get started?

Mr Whittaker founded the Peel Group in the early Seventies, but his family have a long history as leading lights of commerce in the Manchester area, particularly in textiles and farming. The company is named after the Peel textiles mills it owned, which were in turn named after Sir Robert Peel, one of the North-west's proudest sons. Mr Whittaker chose to focus on property and has built quite an empire during his 40-year career.

And what else do we know about him?

Not a great deal since he's protective of his privacy. Friends describe him as a devoted family man – when the Trafford Centre opened, he put his mother's classic Mercedes convertible on show as the centrepiece of one of its displays.

Does he have plans to step down in the near future?

Well, several of his children work for Peel Group, so he could pass the baton on if he so desired. But there is little sign of him doing so: though he turns 70 next year, Mr Whittaker is still working hard on some ambitious projects – none more so than the Ocean Gateway development. He hopes this multi-billion-poundregeneration of the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey will transform the area.