Capitalist With A Conscience
Solving the global financial crisis will require a huge collective effort. But, as John Caudwell tells Andrew Shirley, there is more to worry about than just the economy
John Caudwell’s vision in identifying the potential of mobile phones when the technology was still new turned him into one of the UK’s richest men. But the self-made entrepreneur, who built up and then sold the Phones4U brand, says he is now more concerned about helping others and the environment than further enlarging his fortune.
ANDREW SHIRLEY Of all the challenges facing the world at the moment, which do you think is potentially the most serious and what could its implications be for global wealth generation?
JOHN CAUDWELL The current financial crisis, especially as it appertains to Europe, is clearly of epic proportion and will only be solved with a lot of pain for a lot of people. Even so, it is dwarfed by the escalating ecological crisis already upon us. We have no option but to invest massive amounts of government money into renewable sources of energy before it’s too late.
The planet faces increasingly serious consequences as a result of water shortages, and global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions or cyclical climate change. Deforestation will result in widespread soil erosion and the loss of hundreds of millions of acres of arable farmland. This will lead to vast numbers of people having to relocate, and even states to fail.
A renewable energy revolution is needed to replace 80% of the world’s fossil fuel requirements by the year 2020 in order for the world to stand a good chance of surviving in its current state. I know that this can be achieved; I just don’t know whether the world is suffi ciently motivated to make it happen quickly enough.
AS What do you think will be the biggest opportunities for successful entrepreneurs like yourself in the future?
JC Opportunities clearly exist, especially within the worlds of the internet and e-commerce. But if I were looking for a business that combined entrepreneurial activity with massive growth potential and a feel-good factor, that business would be all about the innovation, manufacture, implementation and maximisation of the renewable resources industry.
AS Are there any specific projects or investments that you are currently focusing on that are particularly exciting?
JC I have lots of projects on the go at the moment, primarily of a philanthropic nature. These include the building of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London, the regeneration of the Burleigh Pottery factory in Stoke-on-Trent and my own charity, Caudwell Children. But my most exciting new project is my ambition to create the world’s most prestigious new address in the heart of Mayfair Village in central London.
AS How do you view property as an investment class and what sectors have you invested, or are considering investing, in?
JC I think trophy assets are probably the most resilient and successful investment options at the moment, and will be for the foreseeable future.
AS How important do you think it is for the wealthy to contribute back to society?
JC I think it’s imperative that wealthy people help the less well-off in society. It’s imperative from a point of view of fairness, imperative from a point of view of compassion, but, more importantly, imperative from a point of a view of our social systems. It does worry me that the gap between rich and poor is increasing and will continue to increase, and this will ultimately increase civil unrest, especially in those countries worst affected.
I am not particularly bothered about making money any more since I'm far more focused on helping society
AS What form have your own philanthropic endeavours taken and what was the motivation behind them?
JC My number one philanthropic ambition is to help every desperately ill child in the UK that needs assistance but cannot be helped by the National Health Service. I can’t think of a more heartrending and worthwhile cause than helping children who have been dealt such a tragic blow in life, and this will always remain a passion in my life. I recently became a major sponsor of the Bomber Command Memorial to be built in Green Park, London. I did this because I felt it was so unjust that 55,000 young men should have given their lives, and yet not be commemorated with a monument. I thought of the ageing war heroes, and felt something should be done while there was still time.
AS What is the most important city in the world to you and why?
JC London is the most important city; we can be proud of it being the centre of the financial world, although I’m not too sure we should be particularly proud of the financial world’s performance recently. It’s a city with amazing heritage and tourist attractions in one of the most civilised countries in the world.
AS Do you think India and China’s leading cities will eventually supplant New York and London as the world’s most important financial centres?
JC India and China will eventually be the new First World; it’s a matter of when rather than if. As that happens, their cities will become increasingly important as world financial centres. However, I’m not sure that they are likely to overtake the likes of New York and London in terms of financial importance in the next 50 years.
AS What achievements are you most proud of so far in your life?
JC I’m very proud of my children and I’m proud of my philanthropic work, but I suppose my most significant achievement was growing a business from just me to 10,000 employees, from no turnover to a £2.4bn turnover, and from no value to an eventual sale price of £1.5bn.
AS Is there anything else you would really like to achieve?
JC I am not particularly bothered about making money any more since I’m far more focused on helping society. However, when I do get sucked into a project, like my Mayfair Village development in London, then I intend to make it world-beating in every respect.