Speaking at the autumn meeting of networking group the London Entrepreneurial Exchange last night, Toni Mascolo, the dynamo behind superbrand Toni & Guy, talked about his early life in his native Italy, and how he first got into hairdressing.
'My father was a hairdresser,' he explained, 'and I used to come and do perms and shampoos in his salon after school. He was the only hairdresser who was offering perms and people would come from all neighbouring towns and queue from 4am. I was only in it for the tips, of course. So that I could go and gamble with the other boys.'
And so, from the tender age of 14, Mascolo was a practising hairdresser. He came to London when his family emigrated a short while later, and found himself in a strange place, unable to speak the language. 'I couldn't speak a word of English so I knew I wasn't going to be a lawyer,' he quipped, 'and I liked hairdressing, so I kept doing hairdressing. It was like a hobby to me - and still is. I love going to work and I enjoy it every day.'
Today, Toni & Guy turns over £130m worldwide, boasting not only a global hairdressing franchise, but several product ranges, from haircare products to curling irons. Not even the current recession is hampering growth. 'This is my fifth recession,' said Mascolo. 'And each recession, I grow, and I am growing now. I looked at the number for my new business Label.m this week. It has grown 13%.'
Now 70 years old, Mascolo is still as passionate about the business as he was when he founded the company back in 1964. 'I am like a little boy with his toys,' he said. Indeed, Mascolo recalled that the only time in his life that he had been truly unhappy was when he was out of work. 'I had no job for three days,' he said. 'It was the most depressing time of my life. I was desperate. So I walked into the nearest shop and asked for a job.'
Of course, it all turned out rather well for Mascolo in the end: 'The owner said, 'I like Italians, they are hard-working boys. How about I make you the manager?'... so that was a good day.'