If you’ve just started a business or are a budding entrepreneur, it’s always helpful to seek advice from the most successful businessmen and women of our time. So often, inspirational words can provide the necessary energy if you’re struggling for ideas and drive, and when they come from someone who’s been there, failed, started again, then failed again, then started all over again and then succeeded spectacularly, those words mean even more.
Inspirational words can provide the necessary energy if you’re struggling for ideas and drive, and when they come from someone who’s been there, failed, started again, then failed again, then started all over again and then succeeded spectacularly, those words mean even more.
There are some truly inspiring business leaders who have done just that, achieving phenomenal things against all odds and becoming some of the most important figures in British business. Here are the 10 most influential business leaders in the UK.
Lord Alan Sugar
From humble beginnings to fame and fortune, Lord Alan Sugar is the ultimate success story. His first foray into business was with the local greengrocer, where he earned his pocket money as a youngster. He wasn’t much older when he founded Amstrad, at the tender age of 21. Amstrad began selling consumer electronics and in the 80s it was listed on the stock exchange. It went from strength to strength, with the profits doubling year on year, and at its peak, its stock market value reached £1.2 billion. It hasn’t always been success for Sugar; the 90s proved a difficult decade with financial loss and a damaged reputation, as well as difficulties when he purchased Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. But he has since entered various other ventures and became a household name with his role in the hugely successful BBC show The Apprentice.
Sir Richard Branson
The charismatic, tie-hating founder of Virgin Group, has an estimated net worth of over £3 billion, according to Forbes. Like Lord Sugar, his first business venture came at a young age, starting the magazine Student when he was 16 years old. In 1970, at the age of 20, he set up a mail order record business, and two years later, Virgin Records, later known as Virgin Megastores, was born. Nowadays, Virgin is everywhere you go – from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Trains and Virgin Media – it’s no wonder he’s worth so much. He’s also not shy, appearing in a number of TV shows including Friends, Only Fools and Horses and even Baywatch!
The longest-serving dragon on the BBC’s excellent business show Dragon’s Den always had big ideas for business and continued to pursue those ambitions despite failing several times in his 20s. He lost £200,000 when he decided to sell his cocktail bar (inspired by the Tom Cruise film Cocktail), and his computer business also failed – forcing Jones to sell his house and cars and move back in with his parents. When he started Phones International Group in 1998, he slept on his office floor, but by the end of the first year, revenues grew to £14m and kept growing. His success continued with his role in Dragon’s Den, where he’s the last remaining original dragon.
Another dragon to make our list, Meaden joined the show in its third series, replacing Rachel Elnaugh. Meaden studied Business at Brighton Technical College, before moving to Italy at the age of 19 to set up a glass and ceramics export agency. It failed. Her success came with her work in the leisure and retail industries, running the multimillion-pound family holiday business, Weststar Holidays. She sold the company in 2005 in a deal worth £33m, but still retains 23% stake.
The youngest entrepreneur on our list, 25-year-old Edwards is the owner of SBTV, a company that specialises in making music videos for YouTube – and he has plans to expand the channel to cover business, fashion and sport. SBTV has hit 300 million views, but he wants to get to the half-billion mark. He’s mates with Richard Branson and recently spoke about his plans to work with Virgin in the future. He’s also interviewed a range of influential figures, including filmmaker Spike Lee, and even (briefly) the Prime Minister.
Another young, influential entrepreneur is Pete Cashmore, the founder of the hugely popular tech blog, Mashable. Crowned by Inq as the most influential Briton and most influential Twitter user in the world in 2009, it’s amazing to think of what he’s achieved since starting Mashable as a 19-year-old in 2005. When it comes to tech, this guy’s as influential as they come.
Her father, businessman David Gold, cried when she was born as he wanted a son; but Jacqueline Gold’s success has likely given him plenty of reasons to be pleased she was a she. Gold is Chief Executive of Gold Group International companies Ann Summers and Knickerbox, where she’s completely altered the reputation of the sex industry. She introduced the Ann Summers Party Plans, which have proved enormously popular, helping to develop the company into a multi-million pound business.
Initially famous for being Posh Spice, and then for marrying David Beckham, Victoria has been incredibly successful in the fashion industry, achieving success not because of the novelty value of her name being attached to the brand, but because of her appealing designs and quality products. In 2022, her and David’s joint wealth was estimated at £900m.
Credited for turning Harvey Nichols into a leading fashion brand, Mary Portas first tasted business success as the company’s creative director. Her famous window displays have become part of the guided tours of London, and persuading the owners to use younger designers, completely changed the reputation of the company. She started her own agency in 1997, focusing on brand development, and her clients have included Clark’s, Louis Vuitton and Swarovski. Her first television show, Mary, Queen of Shops, aired in 2007, and she continues to be an influential figure in the fashion and retail industries.
Best known for Dragon’s Den, Bannatyne has numerous business interests, including hotels, health clubs, media, TV, transport and property. The former dragon didn’t have a privileged upbringing, living in one room with his parents and siblings, and left school at 15 with no qualifications. He founded a nursing home business called Quality Care Homes, which he sold for £26m in 1997, and Just Learning – a nursery chain – which he sold for £12m. His health clubs brought him huge success; Bannatyne’s is the largest independent chain of health clubs in the UK.
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This document is marketing material for a retail audience and does not constitute advice or recommendations. Past performance is not a guide to future performance and may not be repeated. The value of investments and the income from them may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested.