UK: Henry Sweetbaum - from dishwasher to Wickes.

UK: Henry Sweetbaum - from dishwasher to Wickes. - It used to be traditional in the United States, where students are long accustomed to working their way through college, that you did not get a degree without also gathering experience as a dustman, dish

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It used to be traditional in the United States, where students are long accustomed to working their way through college, that you did not get a degree without also gathering experience as a dustman, dishwasher, short-order cook and truck driver. Henry Sweetbaum, aged 53, the American chairman of building materials retailer Wickes, has been all of those things.

But college is also a place for making contacts, and Sweetbaum did that too. In his last year of reading economics at Wharton he roomed with Saul Steinberg. When Steinberg went on to found Leasco, using money from his family's company, Sweetbaum took a job as a cost accountant for a year, then switched to a business equipment manufacturer and sold small computers.

One year on again he joined up with Steinberg as a director of Leasco. The company gave up general leasing to become a computer specialist, and Sweetbaum was in on the ground floor. "Saul had a desk in his father's housewares factory; I had a chair next to the desk."

By the time that he left, seven years later, Leasco had acquired Reliance, the seventh largest insurance company in the US, and boasted a market capitalisation of $500 million.

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