Five of Britain’s wealthiest self-made men

Len Blavatnik and Peter Hargreaves rank among the highest fliers and wealthiest UK players according to The Sunday Times rich list.

Len Blavatnik

Ranked 4th: £10bn

The Ukrainian-born tycoon, 56, became a US citizen when he emigrated from the USSR in 1978 with his parents, and now divides his time between New York and London. His £41m pad on Kensington Park Gardens, as The New Yorker recently noted, makes the nearby Russian embassy “look like a humble dacha”.

Having founded the private equity firm Access Industries in 1986, Blavatnik moved into Russia on the fall of communism, snapping up stakes in metal and oil companies. He netted £4bn last year from the sale of his stake in TNK-BP to Rosneft.

Questions about his “respectability” were raised in the States in 2011 when he bought Warner Music, but Blavatnik is keen to be seen as “un homme serieux”, says the Evening Standard.

A renowned contemporary art collector and philanthropist, he spent £75m founding the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford. One critic described it as “rather like having a henhouse sponsored by a fox”. Ranked second on the 2013 list, his wealth has fallen by £1bn, largely due to the fall-out from the Ukraine crisis.

Chris Dawson

Ranked 73rd: £1.28bn

When Chris Dawson was at school in Plymouth, the only class he made a point of attending was metalwork – so he could sell the waste copper for scrap. It was a necessary ruse, says the Daily Mail. The founder of the Range empire of discount stores “grew up so poor that he didn’t own a pair of underpants until he was 12”.

Dawson, 62, opened his first shop in 1989; his 100%-owned chain now stretches across the country. “I was put on this planet to make money,” he told The Independent. Describing the secret of his success, Dawson maintains he has always viewed problems, or risks, as opportunities.

“My paranoia is not maximising every day. I would hate to think there’s an inch left in everything. I would hate to think I had missed 50 pence.”

Sir Cameron MacKintosh

Ranked 98th=: £1bn

When asked about his wealth, Britain’s first theatre billionaire “gives the sheepish look of a kid who has bagged all the trophies on prize-giving day”, says The Daily Telegraph. “It’s absolutely barmy,” he says. “It amazes me. I have been successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.”

The son of an Enfield timber-merchant, Mackintosh, 67, fell in love with musicals aged seven, when taken to a matinee of Salad Days. He began his career as a humble props assistant, staging his first West End show – Cole Porter’s Anything Goes – in 1969. That flopped, but it taught him a lot.

“I’m forensic in every detail, in every department,” he says. Cameron hit the headlines with the smash hit Cats in 1981, and went on to produce a slew of blockbusters, including Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon.

Renowned for his acumen as much as his flair, Mackintosh turned British musicals into highly profitable brands, says The Wall Street Journal. He was among the first to recognise that there were highly lucrative markets beyond London and New York.

Peter Hargreaves CBE

Ranked 39th: £2.39bn

The rise of DIY investing continues to fill the pockets of the Hargreaves Lansdown founder. Hargreaves, 67, stepped down as CEO of the online stockbroker in 2010, but remains on the board and holds a sizeable stake in the firm that floated in 2007.

His £867m boost this year is largely thanks to a doubling in the share price. He trained as an accountant, but was fired by Peat Marwick – a setback he claims was the “best thing that ever happened”. He founded the firm with Steve Lansdown from a spare bedroom in Bristol in 1981.

Lancashire-born, Hargreaves says he inherited the frugal traits of his father who ran a small bakery: he hates ostentation and avoids debt “like the plague”; his management style is “open and collegiate”.

Invariably described as “modest”, Hargreaves lives in a Georgian country house near Bristol. “My greatest pleasure is going out on a cold, wet January morning to pick the vegetables for our Sunday lunch… and then spending 45 minutes washing and preparing them.”

Jim McColl

Ranked 98th=: £1bn

The Glaswegian behind Clyde Blowers is an engineer with “a banker’s skill with big money”, says Management Today. His knack for putting together successful deals in rustbelt sectors has resulted in an engineering empire comprising 90 firms in 30 countries.

The son of a butcher, McColl, 64, left school at 16, “at a time of severe industrial decline in Glasgow”. He joined the engineering group, Weir, as an apprentice, putting himself through night-school to gain an astonishing array of qualifications. His big break came in 1992 when he bought a struggling local boiler-cleaning business, swiftly turning it into a substantial player.

The highly-disciplined McColl sometimes seems “part-machine” himself, says The Daily Telegraph. He hates moaners. The problem, he says, is they’re not prepared to do the work. Now a resident of Monaco, he backs Scottish independence as it would give the economy “the full levers of control”.

• Stay up to date with MoneyWeek: Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Google+

MoneyWeek magazine

Latest issue:

Magazine cover
Party's over for Putin

The only portfolio safe from Russia's rout

The UK's best-selling financial magazine. Take a FREE trial today.
Claim 4 FREE Issues

Hedge fund manager Hugh Hendry: 'It felt like the sun rose only to humiliate me'

In a series of three short videos, Merryn Somerset-Webb talks to Hugh Hendry, manager of the Eclectica hedge fund, about everything from China to the US, Europe, and Japan.


Which investment platform?

When it comes to buying shares and funds, there are several investment platforms and brokers to choose from. They all offer various fee structures to suit individual investing habits.
Find out which one is best for you.


19 December 1932: BBC World Service begins

The first royal Christmas message by George V gave the fledgling World Service an early boost six days after it was founded in 1932.