Money makers: driven to success

David Coulthard © Getty images
David Coulthard has struck upon the winning formula

Two-time British Grand Prix winner David Coulthard hung up his driving gloves a decade ago, but since then the 47-year-old Scot has been leading in the boardroom, says the BBC’s Bill Wilson. “Having lived my life at 200 miles an hour, I’m used to making decisions at high speed and thinking quickly on my feet. That has been a real asset to me in business,” says Coulthard. He has written a book called The Winning Formula, which looks at subjects such as teamwork, motivation and leadership.

Fellow Scot Jackie Stewart, who during his racing career in the 1960s and 1970s won the World Championship three times, left his mark on Coulthard early on. “When I was a young driver, [Stewart] invited me to join his own Paul Stewart Racing team… He was one of my earliest influences – I learned so much from him, not only about racing, but also about life and business.” Coulthard also has warm words for his former F1 bosses at McLaren and Williams – Ron Dennis and Frank Williams. “Whenever they came up against… a problem… they would not relent until they found a solution,” he says.

That same determination has led Coulthard to set up several business ventures, including the Columbus hotel in Monaco, from which he made an estimated £30.3m when it was sold in 2010.

Other interests include Velocity Experience, an agency that helped to deliver F1’s Live London event in 2017, and Whisper Films – a production company specialising in documentaries and sports coverage. “There are lots of similarities between sport and business,” he says. “And in both if you do well people will reward you for it.”

Reinventing the cuppa

“I’ve heard us described as an old-fashioned sweet shop mixed with a Lush store,” says Kristina Smith of tea shop chain Bird & Blend. “We’re all about fun flavours and unusual ingredients; we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” she tells Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph.

Smith co-founded the company with her husband Mike Turner. The couple spotted that “flavoursome tea had made it big in North America, with vanilla matcha and rooibos tea lattes and so on”. So they decided to take the idea back to Britain. They opened their first shop in Brighton in 2014 using a £25,000 start-up loan from the government, and raised further money on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to open another shop.

“Our investors were not coldly calculating a return on their investment; they were fans who genuinely believed in and wanted to support us,” says Smith. Today the company has 75 staff and £2m a year in sales, and is planning to open its eighth shop before Christmas – by far its busiest time of the year, accounting for 60% of annual turnover.

Squashed by a tech giant

When Jeremy Stoppelman, 40, co-founded customer reviews site Yelp in 2004, he did not face much competition, says Hannah Kuchler in the Financial Times. But since then, Google has grown into what Stoppelman (pictured) describes as a “very successful monopoly” – one that he is trying to persuade regulators to restrict.

Yelp is on track to make almost $1bn in revenue this year by selling advertising space to companies, and its market capitalisation is $3.7bn. Yet even so, it is still worth less than 0.5% of Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Stoppelman fears his start-up may end up being squashed by the search-engine giant.

In 2005 the two firms signed a partnership deal, allowing Google to access some of Yelp’s reviews, but the deal lasted only two years. The relationship soured and Yelp pulled out. Google “was always dangling this carrot of ‘we might buy you’”, says Stoppelman, but in the end, there was too much “bad blood”. Yet now that Google is launching a robot assistant that can ring up firms and collect the “information curated by the Yelp community” directly, Stoppelman’s crusade seems unlikely to succeed.

A taste of Sicily in the north

Carlo Distefano, 74, is the most successful restaurateur you’ve never heard of, says Oliver Shah in The Sunday Times. Known to the cognoscenti as the “Richard Caring of the north”, he presides over an empire of 21 Italian eateries across Britain, including the Cicchetti, Fumo and San Carlo brands. The latter has recently opened a branch on Lower Regent Street in central London, while there are also overseas franchises in Bahrain, Bangkok and Qatar.

Distefano grew up in Ragusa, Sicily, and worked in a barber’s shop as a child. In 1962, at the age of 17, he came to Britain with £12 in his pocket, attracted to the country by its “history and democracy”, he tells Shah. He ended up going to Leeds simply because “the man who gave me my work permit was from Leeds”. There he worked in a barber’s shop before opening his own. Three more followed, plus a cafe and disco. He was earning “£40 a week when the [average] wage at the time was £7”, he says. He moved to Manchester, where he dabbled in fashion and launched a restaurant, Coco. But the real breakthrough came in 1992, when he opened the first San Carlo in Birmingham.

The chain became popular with celebrities, from former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli (who would visit twice a day for the escalope milanaise) to Liam Gallagher of Oasis. Templeton Holdings, the family’s company, showed pre-tax profits of £1.3m on sales of £50m last year and Distefano has no plans to retire. “Money doesn’t really bother me,” he says. “It’s all paper. I love this. I don’t know when I’m going to stop – maybe when I go into the other world.”