The Business Class

10 Champions of British Enterprise

10 Champions of British Enterprise

Photo: CARL DE SOUZA | AFP | Getty Images

With economic growth in the U.K. remaining sluggish, unemployment remaining high and many large corporations sitting on cash, the U.K. government is turning to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for a boost. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the next decade as "the age of the entrepreneur."

So who have been some of the most successful U.K. entrepreneurs? We've chosen ten British businessmen and women, who have reinvented or disrupted an industry with their business idea or brand.

The entrepreneurs come from a variety of sectors and their net worth figures are for 2012 from publicly available sources and the Sunday Times Rich List. Figures in British pounds have been converted to dollars at the current exchange rate.

Click ahead for these entrepreneur's stories and steps to success.

By Jessica Wilkins and Bianca Schlotterbeck
Posted 22 Nov. 2012

James Dyson

Getty Images

Company: Dyson

Net Worth: 2.65 billion pounds ($4.2 billion)

Dyson literally cleaned up by improving the humble vacuum cleaner. He credits his school hobby of long-distance running with teaching him determination, a handy trait for his later life. It took Dyson over 10 years to break the U.K market with his product – a vacuum cleaner which did not lose suction.

Relying on his art teacher wife's salary, Dyson spent five years perfecting his "G-Force" prototype only to be turned down by every U.K. manufacturer and distributor. The industry feared the loss of the lucrative vacuum cleaner bag market, which Dyson's prototype wiped out after entering the market. By the early 90s, The Dyson Dual Cyclone had became the fastest selling vacuum cleaner in the U.K. Dyson set up his own manufacturing company and broke into the mainstream after the "say goodbye to the bag" slogan proved a success with the public.

Dyson hasn't stopped innovating and his new product Dyson Airblades aims to replace toilet hand-dryers.

Natalie Massenet


Company: Net-a-Porter

Estimated Net Worth: 60 million pounds ($96 million)

This Los Angeles native moved to London to be with her boyfriend, a month after meeting him at Notting Hill Carnival. After a stint working at fashion magazine, Tatler, Massenet went freelance to set up The luxury fashion website, which sells brands like Alexander McQueen, YSL and Proenza Schouler, was one of the first of its kind and went on to be one of the most successful start-ups of the 2000s.

Massenet sold her stake in to Swiss luxury group Richemont earlier this year, netting herself 50 million pounds ($80 million) from a business valued at 350 million pounds ($560 million). She now heads the British Fashion Council and has expanded her online retail empire into and

Candy Brothers

Photo: Dave M. Benett | Getty Images

Company: Candy & Candy

Shared wealth: 330 million pounds ($527 million) (as of 2010)

The name Candy Brothers has become synonymous with luxury property. Brothers Nick (left) and Christian (right) got a start-up loan of £6,000 ($9,600) from their grandmother and began buying and renovating flats in London during their University years.

Eight years later they went into business with the Prime Minister of Qatar and built 86 luxury apartments facing London's Hyde Park that created a new category of real estate for the uber-wealthy. Back in 2010, a flat at the development called One Hyde Park was sold for £140 million ($220 million) – making it the most expensive apartment in the world.

The Candy brothers recently sold their superyacht for £39 million ($62.4 million). Don't worry – they have a new one on order.

Steilos Haji-Ianou

Photo: Adrian Dennis | AFP |Getty Images

Company: EasyJet

Net Worth: 1 billion pounds ($1.62 billion)

This London School of Economics graduate transformed air travel in Europe with EasyJet, the no frills carrier. He founded the company back in 1995 when he was just 28 and partially floated it on the London Stock Exchange five years later. Over the last 17 years the Luton-based airline has become a staple in airports across Europe and is now branching out to the Middle East.

However, Haji-Ianou has not had an easy ride over the last few years. Boardroom battles over "fat-cat bonuses" and a failed attempt to oust Chairman Sir Michael Rake earlier this year have isolated the self-described "serial entrepreneur". The first flight from his pan-African no frills airline FastJet takes off in November.

Sinclair Beecham

Bloomberg via Getty Images

Company: Pret A Manger

Net Worth: 95 million pounds ($152 million)

Sinclair Beecham and his business partner, Julian Metcalfe knew their market when starting up sophisticated sandwich shop, Pret A Manger in north London. They strategically placed their shop opposite London Underground's Hampstead station for a year before scaffolding erected in front of the property by the council forced them to close. The sandwich shop reopened near London Victoria station and in 2001 and McDonalds bought a non-controlling stake. The brand now trades in New York, Paris and Hong Kong.

The sandwich chain made its name by making fresh food from natural ingredients. Its stores can now be found in many cities around the globe including Hong Kong, Washington and Chicago.

Pret A Manger was sold to private equity firm Bridgepoint in 2008 in a deal valuing the company at 345 million pounds ($552 million).

Richard Branson

Photo:Adrian Dennis | AFP | Getty Images

Company: Virgin Group

Net Worth: 3.4 billion pounds ($5.4 billion)

This man once said: "There is no point in starting your own business unless you do it out of a sense of frustration" as he sold vinyl records out of the crypt of a church. Branson eventually opened his own record shop on Oxford Street in London before diversifying the Virgin brand. Now he has planes, trains, a Formula One team and beleaguered British bank Northern Rock.

It has not all been easy for Branson – the principle building on his beloved Caribbean private retreat, Necker Island, burned to the ground when it was struck by lightning in 2011. All 20 occupants of "The Great House" made it to safety after lightning from Hurricane Irene struck the building, which Branson's 90-year-old mother and 29-year-old daughter were staying in.

Branson's next venture, Virgin Galactic, will take tourists into space for the first time in human history. All you need is a spare 200,000 pounds ($320,000).

Tamara Mellon


Company: Jimmy Choo

Net Worth: 180 million pounds ($287m)

The daughter of an entrepreneur, Mellon approached bespoke shoe designer Jimmy Choo in 1996 and created the luxury shoe label. By 2001, Jimmy Choo had over 100 wholesale clients, including Harrods and Bergdorf Goodman. Mellon sold her stake in the shoe line to Australian luxury goods group Labelux for 85 million pounds in November 2011.

The mother-of-one is rumored to be starting her own shoe line, made up of her own designs, next year. She is also a global trade ambassador for the U.K and advises the ruling Conservative party on how best to support small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Simon Fuller

Photo: Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images

Company: 19 Entertainment

Net Worth: 375 million pounds ($598m)

The man responsible for The Spice Girls and Pop Idol, Fuller's entertainment ventures have defined popular culture for better or worse over the last 16 years. The Sussex-born entrepreneur has joined forces with the producer of hit musical Mamma Mia! to put together a show based around the music of The Spice Girls. "Viva Forever" has won the blessing of his current client Victoria Beckham as well as her former band mates.

Fuller has had very few flops in his entertainment career – the star-studded period film "Bel Ami", staring Robert Pattinson, is the only notable bomb to date. His 100 million pound operation, XIX Entertainment, which counts Formula 1's Lewis Hamilton among its clients, has offices in London, New York, Los Angeles and Nashville.

Serena Rees and Joseph Corre

Getty Images for Agent Provocate

Company: Agent Provocateur

Net Worth: Serena Rees unknown, Joseph Corre 32 million pounds ($51m) (as of 2011)

Fashion is clearly in the blood of Joseph Corre (pictured left) whose mother is British fashion royalty Vivienne Westwood. Corre co-founded the luxury underwear group Agent Provocateur with his ex-wife, Rees. It was Rees who was tired of seeing women wearing lacklustre underwear and decided to do something about it. After feeling frustrated with the underwear on offer, the pair started designing an offering more to their taste.

Favored by fashion-forward celebrities like Kate Moss (pictured right), Agent Provocateur was sold in 2007 for 60 million pounds to private equity group 3i. Rumor has it Corre, who turned down an MBE (Member of the British Empire) award in protest at the Iraq war, was reluctant to sell the company as part of the couple's 2007 divorce settlement.

Lord Alan Sugar

Photo: Gareth Cattermole | Getty Images

Company: Amstrad

Networth: 730 million pounds ($1.16 billion) (as of 2010)

The face of the British TV show Apprentice, Lord Alan Sugar is the ultimate rags-to-riches story on this list. He famously started with 100 million pounds in 1967, but is now so rich he happily donates his Apprentice salary to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a specialist facility for sick children. Despite his humble upbringings, Sugar profited from the success of his electrical goods company Amstrad started in 1968.

The former east-London boy was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the computer boom in the last 80s and made millions selling personal computers. Stock in the electrical goods company peaked at 1.2 billion pounds. Sugar sold Amstrad to BSkyB in 2007 for 125 million pounds, but continues to make a killing on the property markets. After he negotiated a lucrative deal with publishers Pan Macmillan Sugar watched his self-penned autobiography race up the top 10.