'I got wiped out, but I was determined to make it back'

The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to serial UK entrepreneur Andy Scott.

When Andy Scott was run over by a taxi, breaking both his legs and all his fingers, it was the least of his problems.

“The accident was my fault,” he says. “I was walking across a road in Washington DC in the early hours of the morning, and looking at emails on my phone.

“I wasn’t paying any attention, and a taxi ploughed into me, throwing me onto its roof.”

A successful young British businessman, Andy was visiting the US in 2008 after sailing his yacht across the Atlantic. But as he was rushed the hospital, the main concern of the then 29-year-old was his collapsing business back in the UK.

A self-made millionaire, Andy had built up a property, hotels and bars empire. And he lived a life of luxury. In addition to the 130ft (38m) boat he flew his own aircraft and drove two Ferraris.

Yet over-extended on his loans, when the 2008 global financial crisis hit he lost everything.

“When I was in my 20s the banks were throwing money at me,” he says. “As I had never seen an economic downturn I didn’t realise the downside to that. Then the financial crisis happened, and I literally got wiped out. I avoided going bankrupt, but I lost about £6m. Everything was repossessed.”

Andy says he was initially hit by dark depression, but then he vowed to rebuild his business – and his life. “I said to myself ‘just belief in yourself, you have done this before, you can make it back’.”

And that he did. Today, 11 years later, his London-based company – REL Capital – has a reported annual turnover of £30m, and his personal wealth is said to be around £25m.

Born and raised in Portsmouth on England’s south coast, Andy says he got his drive to earn money from his father-in-law who owned a number of sweet shops.

A keen rugby player and amateur boxer, Andy started to work as a doorman at Portsmouth nightclubs in 1995 when he was just 16.

“It seems very young, but it was legal to do the job at that age back then, and I was a big lad,” says the now 40-year-old. “It could be a bit rough – I was bottled a couple of times – but I actually really enjoyed the work.”

Then when he was 18 he inherited £5,000 from his grandmother, and he decided to buy a very run down terrace house.

“Even back then that was not a lot of money for a home, so it needed turning back to basics,” he says. “But I did it up, and doubled my money. And I was up and running.”

Andy was soon buying ever more houses to renovate and sell. So much so that he says he had developed 250 by the time he was 25. He was also buying and running hotels, bars and a hair salon.

Then 2008 arrived, and after the accident it took three months before he was able to walk again. Needing an income he then returned to working as a bouncer and also as a builder.

He did want to go straight back into buying property again, “but nobody wanted to lend to someone who had almost gone bankrupt”.

Eventually a friend agreed to lend him some money to turn a disused church and a former cinema into nightclubs. Both venues were successful, and Andy says he was able to build up his business again from there, always keeping his eye out for takeover opportunities.

Today his company – REL Capital – owns everything from a pubs and bars chain, to haulage firms, recruitment companies, and a business that supplies music festivals.

“It is diverse, but I have experience of all the sectors that we work in,” he says. “What we specialise in doing is buying and turning around struggling but established firms. Such as a 10-year-old business that has just run out of steam.”

Andy describes himself as a “dealmaker”, and after he has bought a new company he appoints managers to run it. “I learned very early on about my strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “I’m terrible at the details, but very good at the numbers, getting deals done and moving on.”

Looking back on how he successfully rebuilt his business empire, Andy says it was frustrating that no banks would back him the second time around. He says that in the US lenders are “much more forgiving” of businessmen and women who have had an initial setback.

Eleanor Shaw, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Strathclyde, agrees that the UK needs to follow the example of the US.

“In the US, entrepreneurs are not necessarily disadvantaged on the basis of having previously ‘failed’,” she says. “Instead, investors are interested in what they learned, and what they would do differently if they were to secure funding.

“It would be helpful if. in the UK business world. we could reassess our relationship with so called failure, and instead recognise it as a learning opportunity.”

Julian Birkinshaw, professor of entrepreneurship at London Business School, says that the situation has improved in the UK’s technology sector, but not yet across the economy as a whole.

“I can think of many people who have had failed [technology] ventures who subsequently received money,” he says. “As long as you can show what you learned, how you pivoted to a new opportunity, the appetite for funding is still there.”

Back at Andy’s London headquarters, he says that while his business is now bigger than it was prior to 2008, he now lives more modestly.

“When you have lost everything it makes you more humble,” he says. “I have learned from my mistakes, I used to have a big overdraft, but now I don’t have any debt. And I used to have Ferraris, but now I have a moped, or I just walk.”

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