Fixing the waste management industry

Bruce Bratley © First Mile
Bruce Bratley: fixing the waste management industry

In 2004, Bruce Bratley bought a van, got a licence and started a waste-management company, says Harriet Green in City AM. “It’s a very easy business to set up, because that’s all you need,” explains Bratley, the founder and chief executive of First Mile, which provides recycling services to businesses. “But it’s also a broken industry, and that’s why I wanted to change it.”

He has an atypical background for a budding capitalist – he wrote a PhD on “environmental Marxism” that examined the effects of a Tyneside waste incinerator on local women. Yet he realised halfway through his PhD that he didn’t want to be an academic. Instead, he saw a niche in the London waste market. “People were paying a lot of money for something that was being done badly. Businesses wanted to recycle, but the councils just couldn’t be bothered.”

Bratley has been trying to innovate. His firm not only collects waste, but also “waste data”. “I’ve got sensors on my drivers’ seats, telematics and GPS location data… waste can tell you a lot about the health of a company.” His approach has been successful – last year First Mile did 15 million collections, servicing more than 16,000 businesses every day.

The uni dropout who built an on-trend brand

Ben Francis was just 20 when he set up his fitness clothing brand, says Laura Onita in The Sunday Times. Today GymShark attracts millions of followers on social-media platforms and last year turned over £12.8m from the sale of gym clothes, with even higher revenues expected this year.

A gym devotee since high school, Francis “was building iPhone apps and websites for gym-goers” even before going to university. He tried the academic route, studying business at Aston University in Birmingham, before dropping out in his second year. “It was out of frustration and wanting to make things,” he says. He started out selling food supplements online, before buying a £200 sewing machine in order to make gym clothes himself.

Today he employs 60 people and brought on a senior management team 18 months ago to manage the financial and operations side of the business. GymShark manufactures in Britain and China, and lead times can be as little as four weeks, something the “on-trend millennials” who account for most of the clientele have come to expect. Francis has put this direct relationship with customers at the core of his strategy. “We’re a company that people know,” he says. “People celebrate GymShark’s birthday in July”.

Suave troubleshooter who bills £8,000 a day

“This is massively difficult, incredibly complicated and time-consuming work,” Simon Freakley, the “smooth” boss of restructuring group AlixPartners, tells Jim Armitage in the Evening Standard. Freakley’s career has been “frenetic”. At the age of 34 he was running the Buchler Phillips insolvency firm. Three years later it was bought out by private investigator Jules Kroll – who had made his name tracing the Marcos millions – and Freakley became the CEO of a Nasdaq-listed firm.

Today he runs AlixPartners, which bought out his old firm in 2014 in what was “clearly a multi-million-dollar payday” for him, although “he blusters when asked” how much. The opera lover is now working “flat out” with clients, “particularly in the financial sector”, as they work out how to meet the challenges of Brexit. He lists retail, power generation and the automotive sector as industries that will face big challenges in the years ahead. What of the restructuring business itself? AlixPartners took $1bn in fee income last year, a sign that clients now “want far more complex work” than the “simple mid-market administrations” of yesteryear, says Freakley. It’s “not just about providing a decent burial any more”.

The high school that made $24m out of Snap

Bake sales and car washes? That may be how most schools raise funds, but St. Francis High School in Mountain View in Silicon Valley aimed higher. It’s turned a $15,000 punt on the firm that developed the Snapchat app into “a windfall of at least $24m” after Snap’s multi-billion-dollar initial public offering earlier this month. The school holds another 17,000 shares in Snap, which are now valued at about $19m.

The school launched its investment fund in 1990 at the instigation of two venture-capitalist parents of children at the school. “The fund’s aim is to tag along with deep-pocketed investors when they make big bets on start-ups. The school takes a small sliver of a venture capitalist’s bigger investment in a start-up”. The windfall will now be added to the school’s endowment, enabling it “to offer scholarships [and] improve facilities”.

The fund has not always reaped such big rewards, however, as St. Francis’s president Simon Chiu told the media. The school made $2m on a previous investment, but has lost money on several others. It’s no coincidence that St. Francis is “in the middle of Mountain View, California”, says the BBC’s North America technology reporter, Dave Lee. “At $17,000 a year for tuition, the school isn’t exactly strapped for cash” and counts “some of the world’s wealthiest technology investors” among the parents of its student body.

These parents include Lightspeed Venture Partners’s Barry Eggers, who managed Snap’s first investment round. He found his children and their friends talking about and playing with Snapchat, prompting him to research and eventually invest in Snap, bringing the school along for the ride. Most schools don’t have the parent networks, not to mention the spare cash, to put together a fund like the one at St. Francis, of course. “Imagine the impact if every big deal held aside just a few thousand dollars at the beginning for a good cause. It would allow the needy causes to accumulate
real wealth. Now that would be truly disruptive, wouldn’t it?”