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."

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Data Analyst/Planning and Performance – Surrey – Up to £35k

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker