Julian Richer's crusade to clean up capitalism

Julian Richer, the entrepreneur who put people before profits, and yet produced plenty of the latter, has been lauded for handing his empire over to his staff. What is his motivation?

948_MW_P29_Profile

1021480716

Everyone from politicians to newspaper leader writers has been queuing up to salute Julian Richer, who has just handed control of Richer Sounds the hi-fi store chain he founded as a teenager to his 522 staff. The move wasn't entirely a surprise: "My life's work is my legacy and I haven't got a spoilt child to run the business," Richer observed in 2013. But at 60, "he has reached the age when he thinks of posterity", says the Financial Times.

Richer "made the big reveal" to staff, who erupted into cheers, in a small Salvation Army hall in central London, says The Guardian. A committed Christian, with a weekend sideline as the drummer in a funk band, Richer has long since passed responsibility to his "team of loyal lieutenants". His declared mission now is to clean up capitalism, in a crusade reserving special ire for "people who think it's funny and clever not to pay tax".

An inspirational speaker

Despite his £160m fortune, Richer is a big champion of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party, notes The Sunday Times and particularly admires the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. "He said capitalism has to be radically changed, and I absolutely agree with the guy." Clearly a gifted speaker himself, the author of The Ethical Capitalist has become big on the corporate "inspiration" circuit. Hired last year by the ailing Marks & Spencer as an adviser on "culture change", Richer gave such a stirring talk that CEO Steve Rowe said he felt as if he'd had "17,000 volts put through me".

According to Richer, life began quite literally in M&S, where his parents met as trainee managers in the 1950s. "The people at the Kilburn store now joke that I was conceived in the changings rooms and they're going to put a plaque up." He "got his first taste for money" as a teenage boarder at Clifton College in Bristol, says The Sunday Times: he bought old turntables, repaired them, and sold them on. He left school at 18 to work in a hi-fi store, opening his first Richer Sounds shop at London Bridge in 1978.

That "tiny unit" went on to hold "the Guinness record for the highest rate of sales per square foot in the world" for several years as Richer Sounds evolved into a "highly successful niche retailer" in the 1990s. Despite (or arguably because of) its mantra,"people before profits", the chain has survived "four decades of tumultuouschange in music and retailing" and last year notched up record results, says the FT. Cautious management (Richer owns the freeholds of 47 of the group's 52 stores) has helped, but the key was customer service; and, according to Richer, the key to that is a happy workforce. Hehas always championed providing secure, well-paid jobs. Staff perks include holiday houses and use of the company Bentley.

Practical Christianity

This "driven entrepreneur" can comeacross as "too good to be true", saysThe Guardian. But in his youth, Richerwas something of a boy-racer. He bought his first Rolls-Royce at 23 and, four years later, a Georgian mansion in Yorkshire where he still lives, in low-key fashion,

with his wife Rosie. "I had jets, helicopters, cars and all that," he says. "I had two helicopters at the same time. One wasn't enough." These days, he hosts Bible study groups and plays ping-pong. Richer says

his embrace of Christianity in later life he was baptised at 47 has "reinforced" his ideas. "I call my faith practical Christianity. I just want to try and make the world a better place."

Recommended

Peter Cowgill: the force behind a fashion phenomenon
People

Peter Cowgill: the force behind a fashion phenomenon

Peter Cowgill became the accountant for a small sports shop in the Pennines in the early 1980s. Now, JD Sports is one of the most formidable forces on…
23 Jan 2021
Christopher Columbus Wilson: the spiv who cashed in on new-fangled radios
Investment strategy

Christopher Columbus Wilson: the spiv who cashed in on new-fangled radios

Christopher Columbus Wilson gave radios away to drum up business in his United Wireless Telegraph Company. The company went bankrupt and Wilson was co…
21 Jan 2021
Elon Musk: the space oddity seeking world domination
People

Elon Musk: the space oddity seeking world domination

Elon Musk, the electric-car and space-travel pioneer who wants to move to Mars is now the world’s richest man. If he seems delusional, that’s all part…
16 Jan 2021
Great frauds in history: Philip Arnold’s big diamond hoax
Investment strategy

Great frauds in history: Philip Arnold’s big diamond hoax

Philip Arnold and his cousin John Slack lured investors into their mining company by claiming to have discovered large deposit of diamonds. There were…
13 Jan 2021

Most Popular

The FTSE 100 is set for a makeover with an influx of new tech stocks
UK stockmarkets

The FTSE 100 is set for a makeover with an influx of new tech stocks

The FTSE 100 – the dullest index in the world – is about to reinvent itself as a host of new firms list on the market. The change is long overdue, say…
24 Jan 2021
Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021
House prices

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021

Lockdown sent house prices berserk as cooped up home-workers fled for bigger properties in the country. And while they won’t rise quite as much this y…
18 Jan 2021
Think Tesla is a bubble? This might be the best way to bet on it bursting
Oil

Think Tesla is a bubble? This might be the best way to bet on it bursting

The huge rise in Tesla’s share price means that, by market value, it’s now the sixth-largest company in the US and and the world’s biggest car-maker. …
25 Jan 2021