Leadership & Productivity
Changing landscapes: The UK's top billionaires are self-made
9 min read
31 January 2019
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.