The John Caudwell Story
by Vishva Samani
From sweeping floors in a pottery to living the life of a billionaire– John Caudwell’s life is a remarkable tale of rags to riches. But what’s the Stoke-on-Trent born businessman with a notorious hard-man image really like?
John Caudwell is a busy man, who’s finally taking some time to redirect his energies away from mobile phones. Having generated the biggest independent mobile phone retailer in Europe he’s sold his money-spawning business to two private equity investors so he can spend more time enjoying his £1.6 billion fortune.
But Caudwell told BBC Stoke & Staffordshire that his money still can’t draw him away from his home town of Stoke-on-Trent.
“You can always think for various reasons that the grass is greener on the other side, but home is where the heart is" says Caudwell, whose friends and heritage are firmly rooted in Stoke-on-Trent.
“People are much more important than superficial environments.”
The billionaire was born and raised in a terraced house on Wellesley Street in Shelton. The curly ginger haired school boy with freckles at the Shelton Church of England School did experience some bullying, but the present day razor-sharp businessman claims to have been a strong tough kid who stood his ground - even as an eight year old. He quickly developed his ambitious streak to become wealthy and successful.
As a young lad in the mid 1980s, John and his brother Brian began selling mobile phones when they were largely unheard of. They were still the size of a brick and a craze that many thought would never catch on.
But it wasn’t always an easy ride for Caudwell – he lost money every month for the first two years, but remained firm in the belief that mobile phones were to be a key product of the future. Nevertheless, Caudwell insists his original success was more to do with himself than the fast-growing mobile-phone market:
"It did not have to be mobile phones. It could have been a whole host of other things."
To a Life of Luxury…
Along the way Caudwell has amassed a huge personal fortune that pays for a flamboyant lifestyle. He owns a 50-room Jacobean mansion worth around £7.5m in Staffordshire, a helicopter, a six-seater plane, a £1m Sunseeker motorboat and a £250,000 Bentley Azure with the personalised number plate JC1.
Caudwell admits to being an adrenalin freak and his hobbies include racing around on supercharged motorbikes (he has three of the fastest road-legal bikes in the UK). He also grinds out the miles when training for his 1,000 mile charity bike rides, which raises hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The exchange of the business does signal an approaching retirement and means that Caudwell will now be able to spend more time on charity challenges, like his next big project…to sail around the world!
Caudwell doesn’t always take the most conventional route to work; he’s been know to cycle from Stoke to London for meetings, "I do like a healthy dose of adrenalin, but my character is more rounded. I am not timid, I like excitement," he says.
"I think part of that is because I have a very low boredom threshold. It is also a function of why I am always looking at changing and improving the business. It is my nature."
Caudwell at Home…
John Caudwell is a family-orientated man with five children and says he’ll always take the time out to go to any functions that the kids are taking part in.
He says, “It’s important to show children love, affection and balance and invest time in their moral upbringing.”
A passion for nurturing children is also reflected in his choice of NSPCC as one of the main charities he raises funds for. Caudwell says that helping children who are maltreated before they’ve even had a chance in society is something he is wholeheartedly dedicated to.
In Staffordshire his favourite places are the Churnet Valley and the River Manifold where he often takes his narrow boat. Caudwell also loves cooking and eating Thai food (though he has been known to wolf down scampi and chips en route one of his long distance bike rides!)
And does he either support Port Vale or Stoke City? I’m afraid not! After confessing that he’s not a keen football fan Caudwell does admit to supporting Liverpool FC and frequenting a game or two in Merseyside, mainly because his son is an ardent Liverpool fan.
And if a film was to be made tracing Caudwell’s life story, which star would play him?
“I couldn’t even contemplate anyone even making a film about my life! But if I had to choose I’d say it’d be a bit of Mel Gibson and a bit of Charles Bronson.”
Caudwell’s top entrepreneurial tips…
The billionaire shares some entrepreneurial pearls of wisdom with BBC Stoke & Staffordshire, he says, “going to business can change your life for the better, but it’s fraught with risk and challenges”.
Here are the attributes that you need to be successful according to John Caudwell:
Don’t just focus on the business idea, honestly analyse yourself, if you have the following qualities:
Then get into the business headlong. Try and make sure it’s a good idea as well! Because the more difficult the idea – the more you’ll need those six qualities!
What do you think about Staffordshire's heroes and heroines?
last updated: 18/03/2008 at 15:20