Money makers: An eccentric approach to wine-making

Sussex vineyard © Getty images
Grapes from Sussex, Hampshire and Kent are putting English wine on the map

The man who invented the wine bottle as we know it today, 17th-century courtier Sir Kenelm Digby, lent more to Digby Fine English than his name, says Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph. Digby’s famed eccentricity is reflected in Trevor Clough and Jason Humphries’ approach to making sparkling wine. With English fizz more of an emerging category than its cousin in France, the co-founders had to secure the best British grapes.

So rather than own their own vineyard, they contract others, mostly in Hampshire, Sussex and Kent, to grow the grapes and to help produce the end product. “One million new vines went into the ground last year, which should result in another one million bottles within the next seven to ten years,” Clough explains.

“It’s roughly one degree cooler here (than Champagne), which brings some freshness and zip to our wine.” It’s certainly proved popular. While the business has yet to register £1m in turnover, its first vintage (2009) was crowned best sparkling wine in England, while last year, Digby became the fastest-selling English sparkling in the US, where it is listed at three-star Michelin restaurant, Alinea.

The pizza king

Serial restaurateur David Page, 65, is a man used to doing things his own way, says the BBC’s Chris Johnston. Expelled from school in 1969, Page’s career at the Ordnance Survey ended prematurely when he refused to cut his hair. He tried teaching, and washed dishes at his local Pizza Express in southwest London on the side. When the opportunity arose to become branch manager, he ditched the classroom. By 1981, Page had taken out a second mortgage to buy the franchise to operate a Pizza Express in Chiswick, west London.

“If you fancied learning how to become a capitalist you became a franchisee,” says Page. “I didn’t know what a capitalist was – my parents were socialists, so capitalism was a very dirty word.” More franchises followed, and Page eventually became CEO, then chairman, of the chain, which was sold for £278m in 2003. Next, Page co-founded Clapham House, owner of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Bombay Bicycle Club and Tootsies.

Clapham House was in turn bought by South Africa’s Nandos for £30m in 2010. Then, in 2015, Page’s new investment group, Fulham Shore, bought a majority stake in trendy pizza chain Franco Manca for £27.5m. It already has an outpost in Italy. As Page says, “Everybody loves pizza, all around the world.”

Making fat profits from fast-food waste

Support-services firms rarely get much glory, says Francesca Washtell in City AM. Filta is a case in point. It makes deep-fat fryers safer, more efficient and environmentally sound. Since listing on Aim in late 2016, its share price has almost doubled. The inspiration for the franchise business came to 47-year-old founder and CEO Jason Sayers in 1996, after a conversation at his cricket club with a friend who had burnt his hands while trying to clean a deep-fat fryer.

Sayers’ idea was to offer a service, called FiltaFry, providing machines that simultaneously suck the oil out of the top of fryers, and filter it. The business then began buying franchise owners around the world, including America in 2003. “The US is the obvious market to look at – there are big fryers everywhere.” says Sayer. “I mean, it’s the unhealthiest place on the planet eating-wise. It’s Mecca for us.”

That’s borne out in the figures. North America contributed £4.3m to the £6.6m revenue in the first half of 2017. Today, Filta has more than 180 franchise partners, providing services to more than 5,000 restaurants and commercial kitchens – and saved over 7,000 tonnes of cooking oil in 2016 alone.

Mammon Mobius steps back into the shadows

“Exactly what does Mammon look like?” The Economist asked in 1999. “What is the face behind all those markets that seem to determine the fate of poor economies (“emerging”, Mammon calls them) and helpless third-world firms?” The Economist thought it knew – Mammon wore the face of Mark Mobius, emerging-market fund manager extraordinaire. Mobius’s “hint of Bond villain” image was no doubt in part due to his signature bald pate, caused by a fire that damaged his hair, notes Bloomberg, but only added to his fame.

In 2006, a Japanese publisher even created a comic book chronicling his globe-trotting exploits. But now, after 30 years criss-crossing Asia in a $20m Gulfstream IV private jet (lined with suede and upholstered with iguana skin), Mobius, 81, is to step down from his last portfolio management role, on the Templeton Emerging Markets Investment Trust (Temit).

The son of a German father and a Puerto Rican mother, Mobius was born in New York, but swapped his US passport (a liability in his travels) for a German one. He started out in Hong Kong in 1967 and worked for various brokers in the 1980s. In 1987, when he was aged 50, Sir John Templeton asked him to run an emerging-markets fund. That October, the 1987 crash wiped out a third of the value of the fund. Mobius determined to diversify out of Asia and into Russia and Latin America, and became known for his “on-the-ground” approach to stock-picking, although the rise of the internet blunted the edge this gave him.

Still, in the past 15 years, Temit has returned an average of 16.2% a year – well ahead of the MSCI Emerging Markets index, notes The Wall Street Journal. What started out as $100m in his fund in 1987 has “blossomed” into Franklin Templeton’s emerging-markets group, with over $28bn in assets under management.