Pitted against the best

THE MONDAY INTERVIEW Nicola Foulston

Brands Hatch is to motor racing what Mecca is to Islam. British motor racing was virtually founded there in 1927 and enthusiasts continue to flock to the Kent race track to take in the petrol fumes and ear-splitting whine of cars with the dedication of trainspotters and callous enthusiasm of circus-goers watching the high-wire act.

In a gleaming blue-glass building overlooking the natural amphitheatre, the guardian of Britain's motor-racing heartland is talking about deals past and future with characteristic determination.

Sitting on a bright red leather sofa, the boss is celebrating last week's landmark deal that raised fresh finance and could launch the £10m-a-year business towards a new period of expansion and, within a few years, a stock market quotation.

And what an incongruous sight the boss makes. With her high heels, Versace- style silk shirt and ski-tanned face, Nicola Foulston looks more Sloane Square than pit-stop.

But the 27-year-old's eyes reveal a glimmer collegues call determination and ambition and enemies describe as greed and arrogance.

"She knows what she wants and, having survived all that's gone on in the past 10 years, she shows every sign of getting it," said a former colleague.

Ms Foulston's involvement with Brands Hatch began when she was 11, when her father suddenly fell in love with motor racing and brought his elder daughter along to help polish the cars and run errands.

John Foulston, the founder of Atlantic computers, built up a £40m fortune through computer leasing and, in May 1986, bought Brands Hatch for £5.25m to satisfy his new-found passion for racing.

A year later, while testing an open-topped Maclaren, a rod worked itself loose in the 800 HP engine and jammed the throttle open.

The thrill-seeking entrepreneur died on impact with the track's wall.

"Because he was such a huge personality, the tragedy came as a great shock," remembers Ms Foulston, 19 at the time. "But, looking back, he was alway taking risks and talked about the possibility of death so frequently it no longer surprises me."

By that time the young heiress was already waist-deep in the motor racing industry, having left her university course in mathematics ("ironically, the computer programming bored me") to run her father's personal racing team, which she successfully turned from loss to profits.

After the horror of the accident she might have turned her back on the sport. Something made her stay.

It was not love of the sport that killed her father that kept her interested in Brands Hatch. She confesses to being a bad driver and fumbles to remember the names of cars a true enthusiast would trot out easily. Many in the motor racing fraternity suggest that she is contemptuous of their sport.

When she suggested that accidents - undeniably a rare source of excitement in the tedious races - could be made more interesting by giving marshals microphones, some professionals were shocked.

It seemed to prove that she was more interested in making money than promoting their revered sport.

Ms Foulston does not deny the charge. "My job is to sell tickets, not to strip a racing engine," she says. Talking with a determined zeal, she says in business she finds a chance to compete with men, something denied to her on the race track.

"Women do not win formula one races, because they simply are not strong enough to resist the G-forces. In the boardroom, it is different. I believe that women are better able to marshal their thoughts than men and because they are less egotistical they make fewer assumptions."

So when her father died, not only did she stay in the business, she took over. In 1990, when the 22-year-old was appointed to the board and the long-serving managers, John and Angela Webb, walked out after a boardroom clash, she persuaded her mother to appoint her managing director.

She found the company a shambles, says Ms Foulston. It was run in an amateur fashion by blazer-and-cravat motoring enthusiasts who had no understanding, or interest, in business. The management was characterised by deals done on the hoof, calculations done on the back of cigarette packets and favours done for old pals. The headquarters was in a portable cabin, everyone wore jeans, there were no computers and little financial reporting.

Ms Foulston's achievement over the past five years has been to turn a glorified car enthusiasts' club into an expanding, well-financed business. The static paper profits, which have not improved from the £1m made on a £10m turnover in 1990, hide a tremendous amount of work.

The headquarters and conference centre, named after her father, were built for £2.6m. New pits were built at a cost of £2.9m. A deal with BMW gave the Nigel Mansell driving school 40 new saloons. Renegotiation of television coverage meant the company stopped paying for coverage and instead received an income of £100,000 a year. And a host of services that had been hived off to third parties at immense cost were brought in house.

"I changed a sprawling mess which leaked margins everywhere into a vertically integrated business with a strong cash-flow, solid balance sheet and proper reporting structures," she says.

At this stage she could have sold the refurbished business to a racing enthusiast or property developer for a fortune. She could have settled down in her Sussex country house with new husband, Craig.

Instead, that baptism of fire has increased her appetite for deals. She talks enthusiastically of buying a ticket agency, setting up joint ventures with toy companies, developing the tiny merchandising operation, hosting pop concerts and exploiting the opportunities of Sunday betting.

These ambitions help explain the deal done last week with John Moulton, the venture capitalist at Apax Partners, and Peter Rickitt, the corporate financier who has links with Manchester City football club.

On the surface, it seems the young entrepreneur is losing control of the business. In fact, the complicated family ownership of the race track never allowed Nicola to be a full proprietor.

Now she has clear control of a 10 per cent stake, her trusts have spread their risk and - most importantly - she says she now has managerial help from people who know more than she does.

"I am 27 and I am limited only by my lack of experience."

Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried