Leadership & Productivity

Changing landscapes: The UK's top billionaires are self-made

9 min read

31 January 2019

Reporter, Real Business

The UK's billionaire economy is becoming increasingly defined by those who are self-made. Whilst our island's rich list was once dominated by legacy families and even aristocracy, entrepreneurs from humble beginnings are now gaining self-made 'billion bucks' status. Let's catch up with some of Britain's most iconic self-starters...

According to The Sunday Times Rich List of 2018, out of the richest 1000 entrepreneurs living in the UK, a whopping 94% of them were self-made. The list also revealed that there were 145 billionaires in the UK in 2018, that’s 11 more billionaires than there were in 2017.

What do these statistics say about the UK’s traditionally hierarchal business landscape? That it’s changing, and changing rapidly.

Is British business culture changing?

– The UK is becoming more of a meritocracy, where a little like in the US, it’s hard graft and a stellar business idea that’s turning millionaires into billionaires over those with connections or inherited wealth.

Considering the changes that British business society is experiencing, it’s likely that the 2019 list, due to come out later this year, should herald the creation of even more self-created UK billionaires.

So, say your final goodbyes to a rich list dominated by the scions of legacy families, and say hello to the emerging self-made super-rich economy.

1) Jim Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe is a true success story. Source: Chemistry world.

Ineos
Net worth £21.05bn

Jim Ratcliffe set up Britain’s biggest privately owned company, Ineos, (a company that deals in chemicals), during the late 1990s.

Ratcliffe, who once lived in a council house near Manchester, is now the richest person in the UK.

2) Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley has weathered the retail storm well.

Sports Direct
Net worth £2.437bn

After leaving school at 16, Ashley eventually opened his first Sport & Ski shop in Maidenhead, Berkshire. He eventually went on to found Sports Direct, a retail giant that he started from a £10,000 loan.

Considering the systematic issues now facing the British high-street, and with so many big brands going to the wall, Ashley is showing his business chops and weathering the storm well via good sales and store expansions.

3) Sir Richard Branson

Business success Richard Branson

Richard Branson is well known for his customer-focused approach.

Virgin
Net worth £4.525bn

Born in London’s Blackheath in 1970, Branson went on to start a mail-order record company and within a year had opened his first shop on London’s Oxford Street – Virgin Records which he later sold to EMI in 1992 for £500million.

But this was just the start for Branson, who now boasts a billionaire fortune due to Virgin’s expansion into the telecommunications and space tourism sectors.

4) Laurence Graff (OBE)

Laurence Graff nailed a niche market. Source: The Financial Times.

Graff Diamonds
Net worth £4.781bn

Graff left school and became a diamond dealer apprentice when he was 15. In 1960, he founded the Graff Diamonds company which has now expanded his company across the world with over 35 high-end stores.

Having risen through the ranks of such a specialist industry, Graff can now be considered a master of his trade, and a billionaire one at that.

5) Peter Hargreaves

Peter Hargreaves has grown wealthier through increased share interests. Source: The Times.

Hargreaves Lansdown
Net worth £3.1 bn

Hargreaves and his business partner began their investment broker business from a spare bedroom, with just £500 and their cars as company assets.

In 2007 the company was floated on the London stock market valued at an impressive £800m. His ascent to billionaire status came in 2018 due to his increased 32% stake in the company.

6) John Caudwell

John Caudwell co-founded mega mobile phone retailer Phones4U. Source: BT.com.

Caudwell Group
Net worth £2.259bn

In 1987 Caudwell became aware of a genre-smashing new technology – mobile phones.

From humble beginnings working on a factory production line in Stoke, to running a mail order shop in the Midlands, he eventually founded mobile phone behemoth Phones4U and can now be called a bonafide billionaire.

7) Charles Dunstone

Sir Charles Dunstone dominates the mobile phone game. Source: FT.com.

Carphone Warehouse
Net worth £1.042bn

Dunstone began selling mobile phones out of his flat, but if only that were the end of the story.

He then co-founded Carphone Warehouse and later became executive chairman of the TalkTalk Group, power moves that have made him one of the UK’s most successful self-made billionaires.

8) Chris Dawson

Chris Dawson (right) has acquired a reputation as the ‘Del Boy’ of retail. Source: Insider Media.

The Range
Net worth £1.65 bn

Dawson, nicknamed ‘Plymouth’s very own deluxe Del Boy’ has shown that selling goods from a suitcase can lead to big things, founding nationwide homeware brand, The Range in 1988.

His chain of discount stores made an estimated £88m profit in 2014. In late 2018, Dawson teamed up with frozen foods giant, Iceland, and integrated some of their stores into his own Range stores in northern England.

9) Bernard Lewis

From stall seller to high-street icon, Bernard Lewis is a massive success story. Source: Mosaic Magazine.

River Island
Net worth £2bn

Having opened his first shop aged 20 selling fruit and vegetables in North London, Bernard Lewis has since become the founding face of one of the UK’s most prolific high street stores, River Island. Something that’s made him a billionaire in the process.

10) Richard Desmond

Richard Desmond has become a media mogul. Source: Prolific North.

Express Newspapers
Fortune: £2.5 bn

This self-made media mogul used his natural entrepreneurial skills to build his now vast media empire which encompasses the Express newspaper and various celebrity magazines, such as OK! and New!

11) Lord Graham Kirkham

Lord Graham Kirkham came from truly humble beginnings. Source: Evening Standard.

DFS
Fortune: £1.15bn

Starting his company from a flat above a snooker hall on the outskirts of Doncaster, DFS owner and Tory peer Lord Kirkham entered the billionaire league in 2010 when he sold the furniture company.

Since cashing in on his creation, he has now entered the supermarket world via the acquisition of a majority share control in Iceland supermarkets.

12) Jon Hunt

Jon Hunt proves that starting small can pay off. Source: Evening Standard.

Foxtons
Fortune: £1.186bn

Hunt’s property career began at age 19 when he borrowed a £100 deposit to buy a one-bedroom conversion for £4,500.

In 1981 Hunt, then aged 28, founded Foxtons estate agents with school friend Anthony Pelligrinelli, who put in £30,000 to fund the business in its first year. All that hard work paid off, and Foxtons is now a high-street estate agent stalwart, and what of Hunt himself? Well, he’s a billionaire!

13) Sir Brian Souter

You’re bound to see Sir Brian Souter’s coaches around the UK. Source: The Times.

Stagecoach
Fortune: £1.04bn

Sir Brian Souter, a former bus conductor, set up Stagecoach with his sister and former nurse, Ann Gloag in 1980.

Between them, the Scottish siblings head the now international transport firm, where you’re bound to see one of their buses wherever you go.