How Linford Christie went from runner to running his own business

Linford Christie is best known as Britain’s fastest-ever sprinter, says Alex Williams. But he is also a sharp investor and entrepreneur.


Linford Christie: Britain's fastest sprinter

Linford Christie is bestknown as Britain'sfastest-ever sprinter.But he is also asharp investor, saysThe Daily Telegraph,and has his own sportsmanagement agency,Nuff Respect.

Christie's family wereJamaican immigrants; hegrew up in Kingston, the island'scapital, moving to England whenhe was seven. He always knew hewas a fast runner, but after leavingschool he worked for six years forthe tax office and in the accountsdepartment at the Co-op rather thanpursuing an athletics career. Christieonly took running seriously when hewas 24 and went full time, without anysponsors. "Things were very tight."

After winning every major title in thesport, Christie tested positive for drugsin 1999, losing sponsors and his income.But by then he had saved money and hadfounded Nuff Respect, which represents otherathletes. "I've always lived by the maxim, ifyou look after the pennies, the pounds look afterthemselves." Christie now plays the stockmarketand has shares in Aviva, the insurance group, plus aportfolio of Premium Bonds. "My Dad was good withmoney," Christie says. "He used to say: While you aresleeping, have something growing'."

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Ten percent crazy

Black Swan Data is one of Britain's brightest tech start-ups. The Waterloo-based firm uses sophisticated algorithms to predict what people are about to buy. It recently worked with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline to boost the group's vitamin sales, by pooling tweets, Google search trends and government health statistics. "We were able to create a model that could predict cold and flu faster than any local authority," co-founder Steve King tells The Evening Standard.

The data allowed Glaxo to time its advertising perfectly and make sure its products were on the shelves at the point of peak demand. Similarly, King has also worked with Tesco to predict the all-important first barbecue weekend of the year, using online data, weather forecasts and sales in previous years. His firm's impressive client roster also includes Pepsi, Unilever and Panasonic.

Black Swan, which is named after a best-selling book on uncertainty by the economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, was co-founded by King and Hugo Amos four years ago. Initially the business was funded by King, but it has since drawn larger investors, including Blackstone, the American private-equity giant.

The firm now has annual sales of £12.5m, with a staff of 250, and King is planning a stockmarket listing in three to five years. However, he wants to keep the company's experimental edge. A former DJ, he recruits "un-normal people" and hosts an annual staff party in the Cotswolds, which is an overnight music festival. But it's not all money and parties.

The company has a charitable arm, called White Swan, which helps the NHS to predict medical emergencies. King likes to express the company's ethos as a statistic. It's "10% crazy", he says.

A future for advertising

William Eccleshare, the head of advertising group Clear Channel, was "flattered" when his daughter followed him into the industry. But advertising has lost its sparkle, Eccleshare tellsThe Times. In the 1970s and 1980s, if you needed to find a colleague after 11.30am, you had to go to Meeting Room X, better known as The Coach and Horses. Executives had Martinis for lunch, "and for tea. It was the best fun. I hada superb time". Now his daughter tells him that advertising "is a lot less fun than you described".

Nonetheless, the industry has a vibrant future, Eccleshare believes and it does not lie with Google or Facebook. Instead, the unlikely beacon is billboard advertising. The modern equivalent of a cave wall, it is still the best way for brands to attract attention. "What you want for your brand is fame," says Eccleshare, 60. "If a brand is confident enough to put itself out there, that sends a powerful message... people like to buy brands other people know about."

Clear Channel has sales of $1.8bn and profits of $300m. Its biggest client is Apple even tech companies seem to recognise that outdoor advertising is the best way to convey their message. "You can't ad-block a billboard."

The rise and fall of America's online gossip kingpin

Nick Denton,the founder ofcontroversial USgossip websiteGawker, has filed forpersonal bankruptcyprotection, fourmonths after losinga lawsuit againstformer wrestler Hulk Hogan, writes Chris Carter. Hogan hadsued Gawker after it published a videoclip of him having sex with the then-wifeof his friend, shock-jock Todd "Bubbathe Love Sponge" Clem. In March, a juryawarded Hogan $140m in damages.

Proceedings in the case wereunsurprisingly colourful, but therevelation that Silicon Valley billionairePeter Thiel had bankrolled Hogan's casewas the most controversial aspect.The PayPal founder had been "outed"as gay by one of Gawker's sister sitesin 2007, and Thiel was furious thatDenton had made a private matterpublic. "I refuse to believe thatjournalism means massive privacyviolations," Thiel told The New YorkTimes in May.

Denton, who is openly gay, says thatThiel had made no secret of his sexualityin Silicon Valley circles. He has describedThiel's funding of Hogan's lawsuit as a"personal vendetta" and attempted tocast the case as a battle over free speech.It is "disturbing to live in a world in whicha billionaire can bully journalists becausehe didn't like the coverage", he wrote in amemo to Gawker staff.

Under the judgement, Denton a formerFinancial Times journalist is personallyliable for $10m of the damages and jointlyliable for a further $115m. In court papershe valued his 30% stake in Gawker Mediaand his Manhattan flat at under $50m,and says he cannot pay. The bankrupctyfiling is intended to protect his assetswhile he and Gawker appeal against theverdict.

Whatever the outcome of the appeal, itseems likely that Denton has lost controlof the business that he founded in 2002and grew into a string of sites with annualrevenue of $45m and profits of $6.5m by2014. Gawker Media filed for Chapter 11bankruptcy protection in June and hasbeen put up for sale, with publisherZiff Davis making an initial $90m offer.