The Business On... Sir Tom Hunter, Businessman

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The Independent Online

Sir Tom is back?

Not on the frontline, but he's pumped £1m into buying shares in Sports Direct, the highly successful retailer that is majority owned by Mike Ashley, who is also the owner of Newcastle United.

So what's this all about?

About a month ago, Mr Ashley bought 80 per cent of Sir Tom's USC and Cruise Fashion chains. They will be the core of a new premium and luxury division of Sports Direct. That might seem something of a contradiction in terms, but he's serious. And Sir Tom remains involved and invested in the chains.

Sort of back to the future then?

Yes, the tycoon-turned-charity hero is back to being a businessman. A number of his investments rather came unstuck during the credit crunch. Scotland's first home-grown billionaire is a billionaire no longer. Maybe his new bessie mate Mike can help. After all, Sir Tom did make his first fortune with Sports Division.

What happened to that?

Sir Tom pocketed a cool £252m after JJB, Sports Direct's big rival, paid £290m for the chain. The proud Scot's reputation took a bit of a battering in the process: the deal came at the cost of 500 Scottish jobs. Des Browne, then the local MP, was a vocal critic saying he was "profoundly disappointed the people of Ayrshire have lost out because of the actions of one man".


Indeed. But to be fair, he ignored his accountant's advice to relocate to Monaco at the time, remaining in Scotland because he wanted to bring his kids up there. And he set up the Hunter Foundation – initially it was a tax management vehicle, but it has made a number of big donations to worthy causes. Sir Tom was alsopersonally involved in the delivery of initiatives he backed, coining the term "venture philanthropy".

Didn't he promise to give away a billion pounds?

He did, but the credit crunch intervened. Perhaps Mike can provide the Midas touch that Sir Tom has rather lost and help him realise what he has described as "his dream".