Penny Streeter, 50, is not the only multimillionaire with a failed 1980s start-up on her CV. But her experience of empire building as a penniless single mother makes her a unique entry to The Sunday Times Rich List, says Zoe Thomas.
Streeter was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), but returned to Britain aged 12, after which her parents split up. She got married at 19, and set up her first recruitment business in 1989, aged 22. But the early 1990s recession put paid to her firm, and with her debts mounting, the family left their rental property and eventually moved in with her mother. The house was too small for a growing family; with Croydon council’s help, she moved into temporary homeless accommodation, where she stayed for two years.
Her marriage had collapsed under the strain, and she had three children (she now has four). “It was a horrible time. But I’ve always been optimistic and I thought: ‘Right, how am I going to drag myself out of this rut?’,” she tells Helen Weathers in the Daily Mail. With her mother and another partner she gave recruitment another go in 1995. They kept costs low and paid for advertising using money earned at weekends on the children’s party circuit.
She called her company Ambition (now A24 Group), and was soon supplying NatWest bank with staff. A24 now focuses on medical recruitment, with more than 20,000 healthcare professionals on its books in both Britain and South Africa. Streeter eventually remarried – her first and second husbands both work for the firm – and was awarded an OBE in 2006. Her net worth is now £157m.
Lessons from Steven Spielberg
David Sheldon-Hicks has worked on some of the biggest films ever made, with recent superhero release Avengers: Infinity War and sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049 on the books of his design agency, Territory Studio, says Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph.
“I always knew that I would go into animation, having spent my early years creating stop-motion Morph [a plasticine TV character] videos on an old camera,” says the co-founder, whose firm specialises in visualising futuristic technology for films, brands and video games (think spaceship consoles and sci-fi cityscapes). “A lot of our work is about imagining what the future will look like.”
In 2010, he and his friend Nick Glover launched the studio out of his spare room, then moved to an office in Clerkenwell, London. Their first project was Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Prometheus. That landed them work on Zero Dark Thirty, Ex Machina and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Being small and agile allows Territory to make its team available to directors whenever they want.
“We learn so much from those conversations – you can’t pay for a training course with Steven Spielberg, but to have weekly phone calls with him is of serious value to us,” says Sheldon-Hicks. Territory now turns over £7m a year.
The “creative Davos” for tech firms
Since 2015, Daniel Ek, Swedish co-founder and chief executive of music-streaming service Spotify, has teamed up with Sweden’s top business families, to finance an annual conference they hope could be a “creative Davos”, says Richard Milne in the Financial Times. This year’s Brilliant Minds event features a keynote speech from David Solomon – favourite to become the next chief executive of Goldman Sachs – plus a talk from a dance-music DJ.
The aim, says Brilliant Minds boss Natalia Brzezinski, is to bring together technology firms and traditional business families in a bid to stop Swedish tech companies from leaving the country, due to issues such as high taxes. Whether Ek has the clout to succeed remains to be seen, says Alex Webb on Bloomberg Gadfly. Spotify’s first results since listing (somewhat ironically) in New York last month disappointed investors, notes BBC News.
The English teacher who made $480m
In 1991, 19-year-old Brazilian Flavio Augusto da Silva landed a job in Rio de Janeiro selling language courses over the phone, says the BBC’s Luana Ferreira. The problem was, he didn’t have a telephone, and the job didn’t come with an office. His solution was to use public telephones at Rio’s Santos Dumont airport. “I have no doubts that I found my call in life at that airport,” he says.
A natural salesman, Augusto did well, and after four years, decided to set up his own English language school, Wise Up. But Augusto himself didn’t speak English very well, and he couldn’t get a bank loan. So, with a $20,000 overdraft, he hired 18 English speakers to create the teaching materials, and gambled that enough people would enrol before he went bust. As international companies were then arriving in Brazil in droves, he focused on courses for adults that would help them find jobs. It paid off – 1,000 people signed up in the first year.
By 2012, Wise Up had 400 branches nationwide. Conglomerate Grupo Abril bought it for $480m, but struggled. So three years later, he bought Wise Up back for $107m. The parent company, Wiser Education, now turns over $113m a year. “I see my trajectory as proof that everybody is capable of doing it,” he says.