Bob Geldof, the former pop singer and celebrity activist, is back in the media spotlight. This time he's launching a $750m private equity fund, 8 Miles (so named because it is eight miles from Gibraltar to Africa).
A scruffy 58-year-old musician and fund management hardly seem a natural fit. But Geldof has been a successful businessman for years and has apparently been persuaded that Africa can best be helped through direct investment rather than aid, says Margareta Pagano in The Independent. "I have never understood the concept that business is dull," he tells Fred Redwood in The Sunday Times. "There's an element of creativity that's just as strong in business as it is in music."
But unlike many businessmen, what drives Geldof is anger. When he set up his internet company, Deckchair.com, in 1992, he told a reporter, "I start things because what I see is crap and it makes me angry. I started the Rats because all the records I heard were crap. I did Live Aid because what was happening was crap. I started Planet 24 because everything on TV was crap. And I'm starting the internet company because I am angry at all the crap on the net."
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Geldof says that his anger, "manic energy" and "depressive tendencies" all stem from the loss of his mother when he was seven, says David Thomas in The Sunday Telegraph. Geldof was born and raised in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, and his father was a travelling salesman who often left Geldof and his two older sisters to fend for themselves. After a brief stint as a music journalist, Geldof rose to sudden fame as the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats. Their 1979 song, I Don't Like Mondays was a No. 1 hit in 32 countries. That early musical success was never to be repeated. The 1984 famine in Africa then set him on a new, and very different, path.
Shocked into action by coverage of the disaster, Geldof used his contacts to set up Band Aid. The resulting charity record, Do They Know It's Christmas? became the biggest selling album of all time and raised more than £8m. The following year, he masterminded Live Aid, which created the largest TV audience the world had ever seen (1.6 billion viewers). He was given an honorary knighthood in 1986, aged 34. Twenty years later, he was cajoled into backing the Live8 concerts. Since then, he has twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Last seen on the Sunday Times Rich List in 2006, when he was worth a reported £35m, Geldof's financial fortunes have been mixed. He amassed money with the Boomtown Rats in the 1970s but was broke by 1986, following two years travelling across Africa deciding how best to spend the Band Aid money. This prompted him to write his bestselling autobiography, Is That It? He lost most of the proceeds in a property venture that "went sour", says The Sunday Times.
It wasn't until 1999, when he sold his stake in TV production firm Planet 24 to Carlton for £5m, having joined forces with the "business savvy" Charlie Parsons and Waheed Alli in 1992, that he says he felt financially secure. Geldof has attracted criticism for his non-dom status and charging $100,000 to give speeches about world suffering. But he isn't fazed. Of fame he once said, "It is just a currency... it all depends on how wisely you spend it."
How Geldof does business
Although people who have worked with Geldof speak highly of him, Geldof says he is a "f****** useless businessman".
He admits to being chronically impatient with the mechanics of business and shudders at the thought of going into an office. His unkempt appearance and tendency to swear don't always sit easily in the boardroom either. He once told an "important red-faced, portly" businessman he "should get some of that weight off", says Redwood.
But none of this matters to his business partners. As Alex Connock, chief executive of Ten Alps, says, "He has never sent a memo, signed a cheque or studied a VAT return in his life, but he's our human capital. He has this amazingly fast Intel processor of a mind, and he's incredibly perceptive." Luca Lindner of Red Cell, an advertising agency network that recruited Geldof as an "idea hamster", agrees, describing him as clever, innovative and inspirational.
Geldof's strengths are generating ideas and marketing them. And he is forthright about the origins of his informal, off-the-cuff style. "I was chairman of the debating society at school," he tells Thomas Haire in Response, "my family was constantly debating. Irish culture is a culture of rhetoric. Look at Irish pubs conversation is a sport."
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