Colourful career of a 'high street king'

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The Independent Online
He has been called many things in his eventful career - "the Hinch" by some of his Sheffield cohorts, even "the King of the high street" - before the dramatic collapse of his Facia retail empire, writes Nigel Cope. But no one has ever called him dull.

Stephen Hinchliffe's colourful image is that of the classic 1980s-style entrepreneur with all the trappings. There is the fondness for large baronial houses as corporate HQs (one had a disco in the basement) and a collection of 70 classic cars, including a jade coloured Mercedes with the number plate SH1. There have been private jets and helicopters. There is even the obligatory interest in the local football club, Sheffield United, where he is a director. He once asked: "What's money for?"

In the sombre 1990s of the grey suit and the Greenbury report, Mr Hinchliffe always stood out. At 6ft 5in it was hard to miss him.

Now 46, Mr Hinchliffe was born and bred in Sheffield. He worked as an accountant before leaving for spells in the grocery trade and computer systems. In 1984 he led a takeover of the Wades department store group, turning it round before selling it for pounds 20m. His next move was to James Wilkes, an engineering company where he became chairman. His time there ended in controversy after he was arrested as part of an investigation into a separate company. He was never charged and subsequently cleared his name.

Then came Facia which he started with the purchase of the Salisbury luggage chain in August 1994. A blizzard of deals followed in which he snapped up underperforming brand names cheaply. They included Sock Shop, Contessa and a string of tired shoe shops.