The UK is full of entrepreneurs who know their industry inside out. They use that knowledge to create new opportunities and become the best in their field. Thousands of people in Britain have started their own business, with their entrepreneurial mindset manifesting itself in many ways.
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t just mean the person who has single‐handedly developed a range of business ideas. It also encompasses those people who have the ability to work with others, sharing their ideas, inspiring their peers and being adaptable and flexible.
Out of these people, there’s a small group who have risen to the top of their sector, earning themselves vast wealth and becoming highly revered in their chosen industry. Read on to find out the identity of the top 10 entrepreneurs in the UK…
1. David and Simon Reuben
Business: Property investment
Net worth: $14.4 billion
Brothers David and Simon Reuben are number one on the list of Britain’s wealthiest entrepreneurs. Simon, aged 77, and David, 74, were born in Mumbai in British India, moving to Islington, London, with their mother in the 1950s. Simon started out working in the carpets industry and eventually bought his own company, while David became a scrap metal dealer.
They invested their earnings in property and metals such as aluminium and copper. In the 1990s, they launched Trans World Metals, which became the third‐largest producer of aluminium in the world at the time. By 2016, their business activities involved mainly real estate, including many prestigious London commercial properties.
2. Philip Green
Net Worth: $5.8 billion
Philip Green is the current CEO of the Arcadia Group ‐ a retail company that includes many major brands such as Miss Selfridge, Topshop, Topman, Evans, Wallis, Burton and Dorothy Perkins. Born in Croydon, he left school at 15 and worked for a shoe importer, which took him across Europe, to the US and the Far East.
At the age of 21, he set up his own business with a £20,000 loan, importing and selling jeans. He then bought up bankrupt stock from ten designer label brands and sold the clothing from his own retail premises. He gradually built up his business over the years, buying many clothing and retail chain stores, earning him the bulk of his fortune today.
3. Laurence Graff
Net worth: $5.6 billion
Laurence Graff, founder of the world‐famous Graff Diamonds, was born in Stepney, London, in 1938. He left school at 15 and became an apprentice jeweller. He then went into partnership with Schindler’s jewellery shop, where he repaired rings and items of jewellery.
He began selling his own designs independently in 1960, when he founded the Graff Diamonds company. By 1962, he had two shops in London, including his premises in Hatton Garden ‐ the centre of the capital’s jewellery trade.
Now aged 80, he attributes his success to being intricately involved throughout every stage of the diamond business, from locating and mining the raw materials to cutting and polishing the diamonds and marketing the finished product.
4. James Dyson
Business: Vacuum cleaners
Net worth: $5.2 billion
Born in Norfolk in 1947, James Dyson studied interior design and furniture at the Royal College of Art between 1966 and 1970, before moving on to engineering. He became an inventor in his youth, even appearing on the BBC TV technology show, Tomorrow’s World, with his “Ballbarrow” ‐ a wheelbarrow that had a ball, rather than a wheel.
He began designing a better vacuum cleaner with cyclonic separation after he became dissatisfied with the deteriorating performance of his own vacuum over time. This led to the design of his innovative creations, including the Dyson Ball and Dyson Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaners, which earned him his fortune.
He set up his own business, Dyson Ltd, in June 1993. He also expanded into other technologically advanced inventions, including HEPA‐filtered hand dryers and the bladeless fan.
5. Richard Branson
Business: Virgin Group
Net worth: $4.9 billion
London‐born Branson is CEO of the Virgin Group, comprising Virgin Airways, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Megastores. Born in 1950, he left school at 16 and immediately started his own business ‐ a magazine called Student. He was encouraged by his mother, Eve Branson (now 94), who herself was an entrepreneur who ran her own real estate business.
He interviewed many famous people, including Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He started a record shop in London’s Oxford Street in 1971 and earned enough money to found Virgin Records in 1972. He signed controversial bands such as the Sex Pistols, and Virgin became the world’s biggest independent record label.
He continued to build his business empire with the launch of Virgin Airways in 1984, later branching out with Virgin Trains, Virgin Media, Virgin Fuels, Virgin Healthcare and more. Today, the Virgin Group controls more than 400 companies. Branson is also known for being a great philanthropist.
6. Alan Sugar
Business: Consumer electronics
Net worth: $1.15 billion
Alan Sugar earned his wealth in the consumer electronics industry. Born in 1947 in Hackney, he has the typical “rags to riches” story, growing up in a council flat and working at a grocers to earn extra money while still at school.
After leaving school at 16, he worked at the Ministry of Education as a statistician. He decided to start his own business and saved £100 to buy and insure a cheap van. He bought his first lot of stock (car radio aerials and electrical goods) and sold them from the van.
In 1968, he founded AMS Trading (Alan Michael Sugar Trading) as an importer and exporter of consumer electronics. He then launched the computer brand, Amstrad, which he sold to BSkyB for around $187 million in 2007. He founded Amsair Executive Aviation in 1993 and is chairman of Amscreen ‐ a company selling digital advertising space. Famously, he’s the star of the BBC TV reality series, The Apprentice.
7. JK Rowling
Net worth: $1 billion
Best‐selling author JK Rowling has earned her fortune as a result of her legendary Harry Potter series of books about the pupils of Hogwarts wizardry school. The books have been made into a popular series of films too, turning Gloucestershire‐born Rowling into the seventh richest entrepreneur in the UK.
From humble beginnings, she has become the first author in history to earn a net worth of $1 billion. Born in 1965, she worked as an English teacher and also as a secretary but following her mother’s death from multiple sclerosis and the break‐up of her marriage, she ended up unemployed ‐ and felt like a failure!
All that changed when she wrote her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 1995. She was catapulted to superstardom and 23 years later is a billionaire.
8. Duncan Bannatyne
Business: Health clubs
Net worth: $645 million
Born in Dalmuir, Scotland, in 1949, Duncan Bannatyne left school with no qualifications at 15. After a stint in the Royal Navy, he learned a trade repairing tractors but has admitted to being poor and not having a bank account until he was 30.
He started his first business selling ice‐cream from a van bought for £450 and gradually expanded by buying more vans. After selling the business for £28,000, he invested in a nursing home business, Quality Care Homes, which was also a success. He sold it for £26 million in 1997, making his fortune at the age of 48.
He then launched Bannatyne health clubs and today, the Bannatyne Group is the UK’s biggest independent chain of health clubs, boasting 71 sites. He has also expanded into the hotel industry.
9. Simon Cowell
Business: Music industry
Net Worth: $550 million
Simon Cowell was born in Lambeth in 1959 and after a series of menial jobs upon leaving school, his first serious job was working as a post boy at EMI Music in 1980. By 1983, at the age of 24, he had saved enough money to quit his job and co‐found his own record label, Fanfare Records, with friend Iain Burton.
His first mega‐hit was Sinitta’s So Macho in 1986 and Cowell’s empire has grown ever since. He has launched a number of television reality shows, such as the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, which have gone global.
He now owns the Syco record label and its sister television production company, Syco TV. Reportedly, he earns around $95 million each year, thanks to all of his “search for a star” style television enterprises.
10. Peter Jones
Business: Technology, leisure, retail and property
Net worth: $500 million
Peter Jones, born in March 1966 in Maidenhead, has a number of business interests, including travel and leisure, real estate, mobile phones, TV and media. He had entrepreneurial instincts from an early age, setting up his own business making personal computers after leaving school.
By the time he was in his mid‐20s, he had earned enough money to open a cocktail bar in Windsor. Throughout his life, he has expanded his business empire, launching Phones International Group in 1998 and founding a string of businesses between 2004 and 2008.
He enjoyed particular success with his online wine and champagne store Wines4Business.com and has founded his own charity, The Peter Jones Foundation, helping to educate young people in the skills of enterprise and entrepreneurship.
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