Earlier this year, Hick spent nine days undercover in Hendon, Sunderland where he saw the impact of the recession at street level, including issues of mental health, alcoholism and drugs. The area is still reeling from the closure of its once world-leading shipyards two decades ago.
On the programme, Hick talks publicly for the first time about his own mental breakdown six years ago. He says: “One in four of us will be touched by mental health problems in our lifetime, yet there is still a stigma to it. I was incredibly lucky in having supportive family, colleagues and friends so I made a full recovery and moved on. There remains a big part of me wanting to help those who hit problems each year and those who are long term sufferers.”
Ever the innovator, Hick has been spotting business opportunities since the age of 13. But it was not until his early thirties that he began to make a success of his ideas. He puts a lot of this down to building teams of people with complementary skills and experience – particularly operational and financial.
He said: “The Directorbank concept was based on matching some of the UK’s top business people to good business ideas, often in return for a stake. This principle of adding serious management teams makes all the difference to entrepreneurial ideas.”
Today Directorbank turns over £3.8m and is ranked Europe’s leading provider of senior directors to private equity and venture-capital-backed companies.
Despite the recession, Hick’s business interests are thriving and he continues to spot and develop new opportunities.
Apart from The Directorbank Group, Hick’s other businesses are the Spencer Arms, a gastro pub near Barnsley; Blue Sky Cruising; Sterling Graphic Equipment; and CallUma – a 24/7 multilingual help service for tourists around the world. His most recent idea is The Brand Cellar which buys recognised western brands from administrators and licenses them worldwide.
Having grown up in the port of Hull, Hick was delighted to discover his secret destination was Sunderland with its shipbuilding heritage. A significant number of his ancestors were trawler skippers and his father – and three generations before him – were in the timber trade so Hick’s childhood was spent with ships and docks.
Sunderland claims once to have made “half the world’s ships” via a shipbuilding industry that at one time employed over 20,000 people – many of them living in the streets of Hendon and on the banks of the Wear.
The three charities he visits are all in Hendon. Headlight, a drop-in centre to support people with mental health issues; Sunderland Maritime Heritage, a community project to preserve artefacts and skills of shipyard workers; and Sit’nBFit which runs chair or wheelchair based exercise classes for elderly and infirm people.
The Secret Millionaire will broadcast at 9pm on Easter Sunday, 12 April on Channel 4.