What can you learn from Sir Charles Clore?

The son of a Latvian migrant became one of UK retail's more rebellious trailblazers.

by Paul Simpson
Last Updated: 07 Feb 2019

In 1953, Charles Clore launched the UK’s first successful hostile takeover bid. He acquired Sears, which then owned the Freeman, Hardy and Willis shoe shop chain, challenging the ‘gentleman’s club ethos’ that dominated the finance sector. His entrepreneurial dynamism offended the establishment: one Bank of England official tutted that "this kind of manoeuvre may mean the break-up of businesses which are making an important contribution to the country’s needs".

Did such disapproval stop him?

Hardly. Growing up in London’s East End, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Riga, Clore rightly regarded such opposition as racist. By the time he died, at 74 on 26 July 1979, he owned Selfridges, William Hill betting shops, shipbuilding and road haulage companies and a property empire. His estate was worth at least £80m (£393m in today’s money).

Why was he so successful?

Partly because he worked harder. In the 1950s, at 4pm on a Thursday British bankers would say: "What are we doing here? It’s almost the weekend!" Clore flourished by being bold enough to seize opportunities before his rivals, earning the sobriquet "the man with the Midas touch".

What kind of opportunities?

He made his first big profit when he was 21, buying and reselling the screen rights to a world championship boxing match – at a time when TV was still being invented, he saw that sport could be lucrative entertainment.

Why isn’t he more famous?

Good question. His most audacious bid, for the Savoy Hotel group, was rebuffed in part because Winston Churchill, the then prime minister, lunched every day at the group’s Claridges, and couldn’t stomach the idea. Merchant banker Lord Bicester even asked Bank of England governor Lord Cobbold to urge insurance companies to stop lending to Clore. Cobbold refused but vetoed the tycoon’s investment in a steel firm so as not to "upset the applecart in the City".

Yet he still broke the mould?

Absolutely. He was finally knighted in 1971. A generous donor to charity, he might have become ‘Sir’ earlier but, after divorcing, he became a serial womaniser; he was even linked with Christine Keeler from the Profumo scandal. He was so successful in changing British business attitudes that he lost his own empire to a hostile takeover bid.

Influenced by

Harry Selfridge. As a boy, Clore was sent to deliver trousers to the store and Selfridge asked him: "What do you want to do when you grow up?" Clore replied: "Own the store."

Influence on

Sir Philip Green, who wanted to be as influential and successful as Clore, and briefly threatened to realise that dream.

Image credit: VictorHuang/gettyimages


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