Who's your Mister Big?

Britain's international business reputation may be in the hands of the FTSE giants, but a phalanx of independent business barons give the economy a healthy regional base.

by
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

In a world where the most successful businesses are the biggest businesses, and the huge mega-corporations that span the globe leave governments reeling in their wake, it's easy to assume that the days of the home-grown regional business baron - the classic 'local boy made good' - are gone forever.

Easy, but wrong. In fact, the UK is teeming from end to end with local business heroes (see map), powerful personalities who through vision and sheer hard graft have earned riches and respect, and by sticking resolutely to their home towns have come to dominate the commercial landscape for miles around. Here's MT's list of these local heroes.

TOP 10 BARONS

Sir Kenneth Morrison 73, Bradford

Britain's barons' baron joined his family's small Bradford market trading operation in 1952 and has built it up to become the country's fourth-largest supermarket chain. Morrison's £2.9 billion acquisition of Safeway last year catapulted him into the limelight, and bumped up his family's worth to £1.25 billion. He's now a national figure, yet he hasn't abandoned his home town for London. His new headquarters for 1,500 staff will be built in Bradford - no doubt a decision the local council and community appreciate. He keeps in touch with his staff by stopping at the Harrogate store every morning to eat breakfast with them. Morrison, by far the wealthiest person around, has yet been unwilling to save the failing Bradford City football team and this is the community's only bone of contention. But with a reputation for being cost-conscious, Morrison is in no hurry to see his hard-earned cash drain away.

John Caudwell 51, Stoke-on-Trent

Billionaire Caudwell is known for being a tough player, a self-made man who has created Europe's biggest independent mobile phone company. It's not a bad achievement for someone whose first job was as an engineering apprentice at the Michelin Tyre Company. Driven by a burning desire to get on, up and rich, Caudwell became a successful car dealer, but his path to serious money came through an early move into the mobile phone industry.

A typical entrepreneur, Caudwell shuns bureaucracy and doesn't really like to get involved with local business organisations, although he's a big charity organiser. The gruff-voiced tycoon has never shed his Stokey accent, and continues to live nearby in £10 million Broughton Hall. His wealth and economic power ensure that he's the kind of person you want to keep onside.

Sir Arnold Clark 76, Glasgow

Clark was born in rags but lives in riches. His success story is something Glaswegians relish - that with determination, even a poor boy from Kelvinside can become a knight of the realm. A modest man, Clark runs Britain's largest car dealer, which made profits of £44 million on sales of £1.46 billion last year. The group is now one of the largest private-sector employers in Scotland, with 6,541 staff. This makes Sir Arnold a powerful man to know and Glasgow's most revered entrepreneur. He's also a national hero to Scotland's business community, and was voted Scottish Business Leader of the Year in 2003. It all started for Clark after he trained as a motor fitter instructor in the RAF. He began his own car dealership in Glasgow in 1955. Even at 76 he shows no sign of wanting to slow down or retire.

He enjoys it too much, he says.

Sir Ian Wood 61, Aberdeen

Wood is hailed as an Aberdonian who best represents the city's values of self-reliance and enterprise. As chairman and chief executive of oil and gas services operation John Wood Group, and owner of fishing operation JW Holdings, Wood provides 3,000 local jobs. He took over what in 1964 was a small fishing operation, after gaining a first-class honours degree at Aberdeen University. On graduation, he agreed to help his father on a temporary basis and never left. The Wood family is now valued at £350 million. The oil tycoon is held in high esteem by his business peers and the local community, who regard him as a socially active benefactor, unlike the central belt's largely faceless financial elite.

Wood gives back what he takes out. He was chairman of Scottish Enterprise between 1997 and 2000, and serves as co-chairman of the Oil & Gas Industry Leadership Team. He is the new chancellor of Robert Gordon University.

Trevor Hemmings 68, Preston

Gaming and leisure billionaire Hemmings is a former bricklayer whose best-known asset is the £74 million Blackpool Tower. The local council announced plans last year for a £1 billion development of the seaside resort to include four casino hotels. Hemmings' Leisure Parcs development operation proposed a much more ambitious scheme for six casinos and a huge Las Vegas-style themed hotel. Born in London, Hemmings was evacuated to Lancashire during the war. In the mid-1950s he started his own building business with £12, and sold it in the early 1970s for £1.5 million. He started another building company, later selling it to Barratts for £5.7 million. Hemmings then bought holiday camp business Pontins, which he developed and then sold to Scottish & Newcastle in 1989, netting £100 million in S&N shares at the time. His old family home near Chorley has become the nerve centre of his empire.

John Madejski 63, Reading

A true local baron, Madejski revels in his hard-won wealth and is a popular figure in Berkshire's capital. As chairman of first division Reading FC, the property developer is highly regarded by his business peers and the local community. The Madejski Stadium is testament to his talent for wealth-creation and his sense of duty to a town that has served him well. A former advertising executive on the Reading Evening Post, he launched AutoTrader magazine in 1976, and in 1998 netted £174 million from the sale of the parent Hurst Publishing. Local property and hotel developments are only part of Madejski's portfolio. He also runs Sackville Properties, publishing interests around the world, a bottling plant in China and the Goodhead Group, which prints every telephone directory in Britain. He is also a leading business angel, investing in new ventures that could net millions.

Steve Gibson 46, Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough FC chairman Gibson was over the moon when his side landed its first trophy, the Carling Cup, this year. And the local people quickly gave him the freedom of the borough. The son of a local welder, Gibson was raised on a council estate, left school at 16 and worked at ICI before joining a shipping firm. He quit at 23 and, with £2,000 in savings and a loan from his father, started out on his own. Today, Bulkhaul specialises in transporting chemicals for local plants and has become a formidable operation. Middlesbrough FC is a subsidiary of Bulkhaul and Gibson has been happy in the past to underwrite the club's hefty costs, having saved it from administration 10 years ago. He has strong views on local politics and is keen to improve the lot of Middlesbrough's poor.

Bernard Matthews 74, Norwich

Still writing commercials for his turkey operation, Matthews is best known for his 'bootiful' Turkey Roast ads. The former auctioneers' clerk started the business in 1950 and six years later bought Great Witchingham Hall near Norwich. The 35-room mansion is still his HQ. The business floated on the stock market in 1971, but in 2000 its owner took the company private.

In 2002, the holding company made £28.2 million profit on £400.9 million sales. Though admired by East Anglians for creating a food empire from three turkeys, Matthews' steely business ways have led to criticism. Still, as Britain's premier turkey farmer, the Government would turn to him for all things poultry-related.

Peter Thomas 61, Cardiff

The family money comes originally from pies. Brothers Stanley and Peter built up a large snack and pie business, Peter's Savoury Products, which they sold to GrandMet in 1988 for £75 million. They went into property and built up the quoted TBI, which later moved into airport development.

Stanley chairs TBI, and the Thomas family has a £67 million stake in a business boosted by budget airline growth. Peter runs Atlantic Property Developments and is chairman of Cardiff rugby club, which brings God-like devotion. Both Stanley and Peter make large charity donations.

A well-known entrepreneur and often on television for his work with the rugby club, Peter is a recognisable personality around the city. He is also a man with formidable connections.

John Kirkland 66, Derby

Property developer Kirkland is well respected in the Midlands town of Derby. He is group chairman of the family-owned business Bowmer & Kirkland, set up by his grandfather in 1923. A Derbyshire construction group, it builds supermarkets for the likes of Sainsbury and Tesco, but its latest project is in the premier league: the third phase of the Royal Docks Business Park, London, which will be the capital's largest urban business park.

Kirkland is involved with many local projects. He chairs Derbyshire's Learning & Skills Council and is keen to boost literacy among the county's young. He is also a former chairman of the county's ambulance service.

TWENTY MORE BIG NAMES

BATH

Andrew Brownsword, 56

Bath's richest resident and rugby club owner also owns the Bath Priory Hotel, Exeter's Royal Clarence Hotel, the refurbished Sydney House in Chelsea and Langmans Fine Cheeses. Brownsword worked as a van driver selling greetings cards before setting up his own company. The Andrew Brownsword Collection was sold to the Hallmark group for £165 million in 1994.

BIRMINGHAM

Don and Roy Richardson, both 74

The 'Kings of Dudley' left school at 14 to start trading in ex-army vehicles, later moving into transport and property. The twins are best known in the Midlands for developing the Merry Hill shopping centre, which they sold in 1992 for a £50 million profit. They are now concentrating on expanding their European operations. The Richardsons are the nearest thing the city has to royalty.

BOLTON

Jonathan Warburton, 47

Warburtons, the Bolton bakery group, is serving up its best-ever profits.

Led by fifth-generation family member Jonathan, the business made a £32.5 million profit on sales of £229.7 million in the year to September 2002.

Warburton, who featured in the company's national advertising campaign, is a sponsor of local charities. The business suffered a setback in January when its Wednesbury bakery was devastated by an arson attack.

BRISTOL

Sir David McMurtry, 64

McMurtry, born in Dublin, is chairman and chief executive of Wotton-under-Edge business Renishaw, which makes high-tech measuring devices. It was set up in 1973 and floated 10 years later. McMurtry, whose stake is now worth £144 million, encourages the training and employment of skilled British workers, and Renishaw has close ties with 10 secondary schools in the Bristol area.

CAMBRIDGE

Paul Thwaites, 50

Thwaites is powering ahead in the East Anglian property market with a future development programme totalling £3 billion of work at his Cambridge-based Ashwell Property Group. Thwaites, who is described as 'owning half of Cambridge', is busy on a £600 million Cambridge development and a £400 million housebuilding programme across East Anglia. He is worth an estimated £135 million.

COVENTRY

Terry Lister, 61

Publicity-shy Lister runs and owns half of Coventry-based car dealer Listers of Coventry, which made a £5.6 million profit in 2002-03. That should improve to at least £9 million in the year to March 2004, valuing the business at perhaps £90 million in the current climate. That would put the Lister family stake at around £45 million.

EDINBURGH

David Murray, 53

Murray's metals-to-property group, Murray International Holdings, is based in Edinburgh, yet he is Glasgow Rangers' majority shareholder. The group should make profits of £20 million in 2003-04, and Murray is planning a £250 million expansion of his Premier Property Group. He recently received the green light to develop luxury homes round a £5 million golf course that he completed three years ago but has yet to open because of a long-running planning dispute - now resolved in his favour. The son of an Ayrshire coal merchant, he had just set up Murray International in 1976 when he suffered the car crash that cost him both his legs. Murray's worth is estimated at £450 million.

EXETER

Mark Kay, 54

Kay is a prominent Exeter developer, who founded the Rockeagle operation in the city. In 2001, he sold the business to the local EBC construction group in a £14.7 million deal, and the business was renamed ROK Property Solutions. Kay has sunk money into Exeter City football club, which is trying to stave off financial disaster.

HULL

Christopher Oughtred, 52

The food-to-motor group, William Jackson & Son, is run by Oughtred and family-owned. It dates back to 1851, when a William Jackson opened a Hull grocer's shop. With other assets such as a stake in a local haulage group, the family is worth £70 million. Last year, Oughtred pledged £6,000 to help promote his city.

IPSWICH

David Sheepshanks, 51

Food tycoon Sheepshanks is best known for his role as chairman of Ipswich Town football club, which has only recently come out of administration. His family owns sauces-to-pickles group Suffolk Foods, which is worth perhaps £8 million. The Sheepshanks also have stakes in other companies, such as the Radgrade property group.

LEEDS

Paul Sykes, 61

The son of a Barnsley miner, Sykes made his first fortune breaking up old buses and selling the parts to the Far East. He moved into property, later teaming up with Eddie Healey to build the Meadowhall shopping centre outside Sheffield, which made him about £280 million. Sykes returned to regeneration with new company Highstone Group and recently paid for a new £1.5 million urology centre at St James's Hospital.

LEICESTER

David Wilson, 62

Wilson recently stepped down as chief executive of housebuilder Wilson Bowden, but remains chairman of the business to which he has devoted his working life. He started from humble beginnings in Ibstock, north Leicestershire, where he joined his father in a building venture. It prospered, and today Wilson's stake is worth £356 million. He is chairman of Leicester Business Awards.

LIVERPOOL

David Moores, 58

The second son of the late Cecil Moores, who co-founded the Littlewoods empire, David chairs Liverpool FC, in which he has a 51.6% stake. He has provided transfer funds and an £11 million no-interest loan to build the Centenary stand. Liverpool made a £9 million profit on sales of £98.6 million in 2002-03, though the club recently appointed Hawkpoint to investigate its financial options.

MANCHESTER

Sir David Alliance, 72

The textile and retailing tycoon arrived in Britain as a 17-year-old from Iran. He has seen the rise and fall of the Coats Viyella fashion empire he built up. Mail order company N Brown, his remaining quoted venture, has also had a torrid time.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Freddy Shepherd, 62

Shepherd co-owns Shepherd Offshore, a warehousing and haulage group based in Newcastle, with brother Bruce. He is also chairman of Newcastle United, with Bruce as a non-executive director. The brothers are estimated to be worth £25 million, taking into account their £11 million stake in the football club.

NOTTINGHAM

Sir Michael Bishop, 62

It's nearly 40 years since Bishop joined the then British Midland, rising to general manager at the tender age of 27. In 1978, he led a management buyout of the group and has been paring down his stake ever since. After-tax, Bishop should be worth at least £185 million.

OXFORD

Firoz Kassam, 49

In October, Kassam came close to selling Oxford United FC for £1, despite spending £50 million on the club, including a new 12,450-seater stadium named in his honour.

He is also investing £4 million in a new cinema on a site given by Oxford City Council in return for rescuing the club. A leading hotelier, Kassam is worth £90 million.

PERTH

Brian Souter, 50

With the disastrous foray into America behind it, Stagecoach returned to the black in the first half of 2003-04. Brother-and-sister team Souter and Ann Gloag, now together worth £327 million, launched the company in the early 1980s, floating it in 1993. Souter, who learnt his craft as a Glasgow bus conductor, masterminded an acquisition spree both at home and abroad, taking Stagecoach into train services and as far as Hong Kong.

PLYMOUTH

Chris Dawson, 52

A former market trader, Dawson has been called 'Plymouth's very own deluxe Del Boy'. From trading out of jackets, he settled down to open his first superstore in 1988. His CDS (Superstores International), which sells everything from DIY products to textiles, is going from strength to strength and is on course for a profit of more than £10 million in 2004-05. Dawson's wealth has been put at £100 million.

SHEFFIELD

Dave Allen, 62

Former bandleader and nightclub owner Dave Allen, said to be worth £51 million, now runs the A&S Leisure group, an entity with interests in casinos, greyhound racing and speedway tracks. Allen is chairman of and 99.9% shareholder in the Sheffield-based company, which operates six casinos. Allen also chairs cash-strapped Sheffield Wednesday, struggling in the second division.

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