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14 July 2014
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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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 Inside Out - South East


Ken Wills
Ken Wills shares his tips on making it to the top

Have you've ever wondered what it takes to become a top business mogul? Inside Out follows three self-made South East entrepreneurs and their stories of rags to riches. It could be you...

Think of top businessmen and household names like Richard Branson, Bernie Ecclestone and Easyjet's Stelios Haji-Ioannou spring to mind.

But have you ever wondered what special qualities took them to the top of their respective business trees?

They share several common characteristics with three South East business entrepreneurs who have enjoyed a spectacular rise to riches from humble beginnings.

Inside Out investigates what it takes to run a business empire, and shares the secrets of three southerners success.

From rags to riches

Paul Burfoot
Paul Burfoot is the new kid on the block, with a penthouse and luxury lifestyle in Maidstone

The world of business can be incredibly cut-throat, high powered and difficult to break into.

So where do you start if you have dreams of becoming a successful business man or woman?

One of the keys to success is having a clear goal and vision.

You've also got to be incredibly focused and driven to make it in the business world.

Paul Burford runs a chain of hairdressing salons and a hair products business.

Keep Your Feet on the Ground

From working class routes, Paul started working on building sites until he swapped his hod for hair crimpers in his early 20s.

"When you're young, you're kind of fearless," he says.

It's the ability to take a risk that has contributed to his impressive business turnover of £3 million per year.

Paul hasn't forgotten where he came from though. It makes him more grounded and realistic. He believes in "longevity" rather than the "one big cash-in".

A Business Empire

Ken Wills started with nothing and has worked his way up to a business empire with a turnover of £20 million.

Ken Wills
Ken Wills works and plays hard in his native Kent

Ken's fortune was not made through a lucky lottery win, nor did he inherit his wealth.

Ken came from modest beginnings, growing up in a semi in Ashford, the son of an auxiliary nurse and a jobbing builder.

It was sheer determination and hard work that rocketed Ken Wills from obscurity to a lifestyle complete with a big house by the sea and expensive cars.

Today he boasts a jet engine maintenance shop, a helicopter firm, a fire prevention company, a restaurant, a jewellery business and a radio station on the Isle of Thanet.

"If you do what you love, you're going to be better at it," advises Ken to budding entrepreneurs.

But Ken isn't resting on his laurels. His low boredom threshold means that he's always keen to find new pies to put his fingers into. Success breeds success so it seems.

Empire Building


What does it take to be a top entrepreneur? Here's a few tips from Inside Out:

Be focused and have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.

Have a passionate belief in your ability to succeed.

Hard work, determination and having amazing foresight are vital.

Don't be content to rest on your laurels.

See everything as a positive. Make negatives into positives.

Success can breed success but don't overreach yourself unless you have a sound business plan.

Be 'hands on' and know your business inside out. But don't be afraid to delegate to someone you trust.

Be opportunistic - know how to back a winner.

Know how to network.

Do your homework and write a Business Plan

Advice on Business Plans from BBC

Frank Thornley's game is the pub and club business.

His company owns thirty businesses with an annual turnover of £20 million.

Frank's love of the South East led him to invest in his first pub in Broadstairs and an empire was born.

Today he's one of the best known businessmen in Kent.

So what's the secret of Frank's success in the business world?

For a start Frank knows how to back a winner and he's a sharp operator when it comes to business investments.

He was also in the right place at the right time.

In his youth the Kentish coast was still frontier country and a fertile ground for enterprising young people looking to make their mark outside London.

Secrets of Success

So what do these three successful businessmen have in common, apart from a love of Kent?

All of them has a classic rags-to-riches story to tell, but the real secret of their climb up the business ladder runs much deeper.

All of them are dedicated and determined, and they're very grounded by a knowledge of where they came from - their modest Kent roots.

To be successful you also need to have a good eye for business.

Setting up a successful new business depends on a combination of factors - self-motivation, a bit of brains, luck, good planning and effective implementation.

Frank Thorley
Frank Thorley knows a business winner when he sees one

Hungry for Profits

You also need to have absolute self-belief and determination. Ken Wills is the first to admit that you've got to be hungry if you want to get to the top.

If you want to succeed, you may have to elbow other people out of the way.

"I've trodden on people on the way up, I've very much regretted it. My want to succeed was initially at the cost of others," says Ken Wills.

Ken is also a fan of delegation - it enables him to juggle several different business interests at a time.

"It's not important to delegate - it's essential. Really, my job is to say what needs to be done and how we can best do it. It's a question of applying yourself, making the most of opportunities, and sticking at it," he recommends.

Kent Rules!

Last but by no means least, it's no coincidence that all three entrepreneurs have been successful in Kent.

Their passion for Kent has meant that they've invested their money and time in the area they know and love.

It's a tale of rags-to-riches that many others will be keen to emulate.

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
BBC - Inside Out - John Caudwell

BBC: How to Achieve Business Success
BBC: Business and Money
BBC: Business
BBC: How is Britain's best entrepreneur

On the rest of the web
Business Link Kent
Kent County Council - Business Awards
The Sunday Times Rich List
The Guardian - The Secret of Success
Kent County Business Briefing

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

This was all very interesting seeing how these chaps made it big, but I thought taking them back to their old houses and gloating over the current owners was a tad tasteless and rather a desperate way of making a very pedestrian article seem more interesting.

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