Businesses aren’t just about profit. They have to exist to provide some larger benefit to their communities.
This “Entrepreneurial socialism” is how I’ve built all my businesses.
Profits are essential, of course, they have to exist to be able to do something with them.
But the more excess profit we make, the more of it should be put into the world around us.
They should be used to help design and build projects that improve society and protect the most vulnerable.
I grew up in Walton, Liverpool.
This was at a time when Liverpool wasn’t top of the Government’s priority list for anything – and definitely not investment in business or the community.
If you remember the city from back then, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
My Dad was a docker and my Mum worked in the local Co-op. I’m the youngest of three boys.
Money was tight and we passed school uniforms down from the oldest to the youngest – like many families did.
One year my older brother kept his school shoes for an extra year because they still fit. This meant that I – because we couldn’t afford an extra pair – ended up going to school in my Mum’s patent leather knee high boots.
They just about passed as school shoes but given I went to a pretty rough school, you can imagine how that went.
I was a good student early on. But despite getting As in all my subjects I dropped out of school at 15 before I sat my exams.
Mostly this was because formal education wasn’t something to aspire to in my house.
More than once my Dad would tell us that “an education won’t do us any good” and that we’d be better off getting a job on the Docks.
Hard work pays off
I ended up not working down the Docks.
I shovelled manure for my first ever job.
Eight a day, every day.
People sometimes ask me where I get my attitude for work. That idea that no job is ‘too small’ for anyone to do. The answer is that first job.
If a job needs doing, you get it done the best you can.
The job didn’t last long though. The dispute between Liverpool City Council’s militant tendency and the Thatcher government took care of that.
Jobs became scarce and unemployment became the norm.
Luckily, I managed to get a job through the local jobcentre as a van lad for the retailer Ethel Austin.
This is what started to turn things around for me.
I worked in every position Ethel Austin had available during my time there.
Eventually, I was promoted to the junior buyer within the group’s buying department. I’m proud of this job because it was the first time someone had got to this position without a degree.
Starting my first business
I learnt a lot at Ethel Austin, but by this point I’d caught the entrepreneur bug.
I left the retailer at the age of 23 to start my own company, Yes & Co.
This was a steep learning curve.
But within six years the company had grown to £11m turnover a year with 32 locations in the UK.
That’s not bad for a kid from Liverpool who’d been shovelling manure 10 years earlier.
Moving into development
My retail business had proven a massive success, but now I was looking for something else.
And that would be property development.
In 2004 I sold the business to finance the purchase of my first building in Victoria Street.
All property purchases come with a gamble, but I still believe that with hard work and perseverance you’ll make the gamble pay off.
The 2007/8 financial crash nearly put an end to my business before it had even started.
My original plan to resell the Victoria Street property as flats ended with the crash, but out of that plan came my first hotel – Signature Living.
It’s amazing how losing everything can galvanise you to carry on.
By the end of the first year, we were operating our hotel at 80% occupancy and was consistently outperforming the established hotels in the city.
We added our second set piece hotel to the Signature Living portfolio with the purchase of 30 James Street, the Grade II star listed former HQ of the White Star Line.
This included the city of Liverpool’s first rooftop bar.
Our innovation and early adoption of social media and online marketing quickly made us the premier hotel and leisure business in the city and turned us into a UK brand.
Not all things our own way
Of course, we’ve had the same challenges as the other hotel and leisure businesses in our industry in the last few years.
First the 2016 Brexit vote created an atmosphere on uncertainty that we’ve still not really got over. And then the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 wiped out an entire year of trading.
We’ve had our challenges. There’s no denying that.
But we’re still here. We’ve still got our brand and our determination to do things our way.
And with our investors behind us we’re still moving forward as one of the biggest, most unique hotel and leisure sector brands in the UK.
Want to find out more?
Check out Signature Living.