IT entrepreneur keeps foot on peddle

Yorkshire IT entrepreneur Peter Wilkinson is happiest doing what he does best - building IT businesses from scratch. He is less happy when he has to deal with financiers from the City of London, which he describes as "farting around down there wasting my bloody time..."

by Financial Times
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Wilkinson founded a data storage company, Storm, in 1983 that has evolved over the years into an IT group, InTechnology. In 1995 he had a spectacular hit when he sold his business-to-business internet service provider, Planet Online, to Energis for £85m.

Wilkinson helped to create Freeserve, the first free internet service provider. He went on to build a football content business, based on Planet Online, which as Sports Internet was eventually sold to BSkyB for £301m, just before the dotcom bubble burst in 2000. His love of football extended to buying Hull City Football Club. He later sold the club, but has considered buying Leeds.

He was less lucky with his involvement in the retailer Gadget Shop, which ended with the company in administration and a prolonged court battle with partners Sir Tom Hunter and Chris Gorman, which Wilkinson lost in 2005.

Wilkinson says his spectacular successes in the late 1990s, which saw his assets rise in value from £1m in 1998 to £200m by 2000, had the side effect that "you start to believe your own bullshit". In the early 2000s InTechnology was also struggling. In 2005 he returned as chief executive of the group, after moving to the position of chairman. Over the last year he led a re-engineering of the company, which involved selling its distribution business and refocusing on smaller, fast growing areas. He says there were an "awful lot of things to fix" at InTechnology. He had to work "horrendously hard" over the last year to turn the company around and he says the job is not yet finished.

The price of shares in InTechnology, of which he owns 55%, are still too low, according to Wilkinson, failing to reflect its much healthier balance sheet. Part of the problem may be him, he admits, as he does not like to "spend hours of my time prostituting myself trying to get people to buy my shares". He prefers to spend time riding his quad bike at his home on the Yorkshire Moors.

Wilkinson believes many private equity firms deserve their reputation as asset strippers. He says there is a distinction between making a profit, which is essential to a business, and profiteering - extracting every last penny from a business. "I think there is far too much profiteering going on in the world…I do think people who own businesses have some moral obligation."

Wilkinson says he prefers to be building the bike, rather than just peddling in a management role, but with InTechnology he is prepared to "peddle like f*** as long as I am going somewhere".

Dotcom doer goes back to his first love
James Wilson
Financial Times, September 26

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