How I went from computer salesman to Bradley Wiggins' manager

HOW I BEAT THE ODDS: Richard Thompson is founder and chairman of M&C Saatchi Merlin, which also represents David Gandy, Sue Barker and Andrew Flintoff.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 30 Jun 2017

The comprehensive I went to in Cheam, south-west London, was described by the Sunday Express as the 'school of terror'. It was around the period in the late 70s with glue sniffing and the Sex Pistols. We were locked in classrooms a couple of times because of former pupils riding on motorbikes along the corridors. I saw teachers beaten up at the gates.

I love making money. Back then, there was a stall at the back of the Oval selling liquidated stock. I bought some stationery and started supplying my dad's advertising agency, and later my own school. Experiencing the profit - thinking 'I had £100, now I've got £200' -God the impetus that gave me, and the taste for success.

I left school at 15 and worked as a computer salesman before starting my own dealership, First Stop. By the time my friends did their A levels, a gap year and university, I was already six years into my career, and had been running my business for three. I sold it after 10 years and started EMS, a technology marketing business, which was later acquired by Mosaic for £6m.

I grew up playing a lot of cricket, and I realised many of these sportsmen needed a career afterwards - what were they going to do? So I started Merlin Elite, a talent management company. We manage their whole career, their whole lives, everything they do.

Take Rugby World Cup winner Matt Dawson. We encouraged him to retire early so he could get out of the 2003 bubble and be the first of that squad to secure the big jobs. Or Bradley Wiggins. He's a retired cyclist looking to cross over to a career in media and he needs a plan.

It's not just sports. Now our roster includes David Gandy, Jodie Kidd and Sir Trevor McDonald. I sold a majority stake to M&C Saatchi in 2013, and the business has doubled in size in the last year.

Read more: How to make it as a celebrity talent manager

It's important to have honest conversations. There is an insecure over-achiever mentality with a lot of talent. That addiction to succeed at the highest level can sometimes be a bit unhealthy and you've got to channel that.

There are times when we will talk someone out of a £1m deal, and you're thinking, what about all that commission? But we're saying we want a £5m deal in a year, and if you take that £1m now you'll never get it.

I've never been star struck, because I entered business to make money, not because I failed in front of the camera like a lot of agents. As soon as you become seduced by it, your judgment goes. At the end of the day I'd be more in awe of a brain surgeon who can save lives.

Over the years I've had my rubbish stolen; I've been bugged and followed. You get a radar - over time you just pick up and read situations. That enables you to ensure a client doesn't get entrapped, exposed and taken advantage of. If all else fails, I'll publish the book - and nobody will believe what's in it.

Richard Thompson is founder and chairman of M&C Saatchi Merlin and chairman of Surrey County Cricket Club


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