£900m for the Essex sandwich seller who moved into space

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The Independent Online

When Mark Dixon started selling sandwiches from the back of his bicycle nearly 25 years ago he had no idea what "profit margin" meant. A lesson that the intervening years have taught him well - yesterday his 60 per cent share in his current company was valued at more than £900m by the London stockmarket making him one of Britain's richest men.

When Mark Dixon started selling sandwiches from the back of his bicycle nearly 25 years ago he had no idea what "profit margin" meant. A lesson that the intervening years have taught him well - yesterday his 60 per cent share in his current company was valued at more than £900m by the London stockmarket making him one of Britain's richest men.

Not bad for someone who left school at 16 and who worked as a hot dog salesman, baker and sandwich distributor before founding Regus, a company that rents office space by the hour, day, week or month.

But he remains sanguine about his success. Still living in a, relatively, modest house in Virginia Water with his wife and five children, Mr Dixon insisted yesterday that "it's all paper money" and that he would continue to plough money back into the business.

Mr Dixon, 41, founded Regus 11 years ago while wandering around Brussels wondering what the next Big Idea was. "I wanted to run a business in Europe and was trying to find an office where I could work out what it might be and it was impossible. Then I realised that the hotel I was staying in was full of businessmen who had to work in their rooms and it started there," he said.

Regus now has fully equipped office space in 300 centres around the world, providing desks, secretarial support and anything else a businessman or woman might need. Companies such as Toshiba and Kitchenaid were among the first to sign up and many firms rent space for several months at a time.

Regus is the eighth company Mr Dixon has founded. He left school at 16 despite passing nine O-levels. "I'm very proud of those results and I did very well but I just wanted to enter the world of business and to the chagrin of my parents I decided to leave school and start straight away.

He began by selling sandwiches to office workers in Chelmsford from his bicycle.

"Unfortunately at that stage I had no idea about margins and because I was selling a lot I assumed I was making money but in fact I was spending all the money I made on ingredients for more sandwiches so I never made a penny. Mind you those people have never eaten such good sandwiches," he said.

Realising he was not going to make a fortune there, Mr Dixon sold his list of clients and his bicycle to a local sandwich bar and went round the world.

On his return he began selling hot dogs and, mindful of the crucial lesson about margins, soon expanded. Then he turned his hand to making hamburger buns and ended up selling them all over the country. When he sold the bakery for £800,000 a few years later he was well on the way to his first million.

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