I was born in Cyprus in 1953, and moved with my family to the UK when I was 5 years old. Camberwell became our home, where my father opened a restaurant and we lived in modest circumstances. I went to Peckham Manor School and spent every moment of my spare time working in the family restaurant. It was here that I was inspired by my father’s work ethic and I learned many of the values that I maintain today: hard work, determination and always making time for family. I spoke hardly any English when I arrived in the UK, and managed to leave school with eight good O-levels.
My father wanted me to enter a stable profession, so after I left school I trained to become an accountant. However, it was not long before I realised that accountancy was not for me; I felt dissatisfied by the work and confined by the profession. Instead, I wanted to create something from scratch and be my own boss, like my father before me.
My fascination with retail and manufacturing began early; I used to purchase clothes for my Grandmother to sell on to her friends. Soon this became a business and in 1976, when I was 18, I established my own company, clothing manufacturer, Kingsland Models. Eventually my start-up would supply to notable high street names including C&A, Dorothy Perkins, Dunn Stores and Topshop.
Over the following years my success grew. I was ambitious and wanted to expand as quickly as I could, so I bought a substantial stake in another manufacturer and then invested in one of our largest retail clients. At the time the synergy made perfect sense and by my early twenties I was Chairman of three outwardly thriving companies and living the dream.
What I later learned was that I had made the mistake of not applying sufficient financial research to my investments. After a revealing and surprising audit, one of my companies was forced into liquidation. I vividly remember having to ask twice, out of disbelief, after hearing quite how badly the company had been hit. Asil Nadir, who was running Poly Peck at the time, offered to help. He was a fellow Turkish Cypriot and I had met him a number of times before. I thought that I had found a lifeline, however in spite of the original offer, at the final hour, Nadir’s secretary called to say he was no longer interested. The effect of this resonated through my other businesses which were heavily invested. I resigned and was forced to sell off my home to repay my debts.
I was devastated and virtually wiped out financially. However, I learned a great deal about business and loyalty during this difficult time. I was determined not to let these challenges get the better of me and with the support of my brother I established a ladies wholesale business, Low Profile. A friend helped me to move the production to Turkey and, thanks in part to the fantastic loyalty of many of my former customers, before too long I was again supplying the high street. The business expanded to manufacturing sites in Turkey, Georgia and Bulgaria, employing 2000 people. Its rapid expansion was acknowledged in 2012 when Low Profile was recognized at the Turkish Business Awards, winning the accolade of Most Successful Company. Today, Low Profile supplies a number of leading retailers including Marks and Spencer.
It was in 2000 when I was manufacturing for Ralph Lauren Europe that I discovered a passion for shirts. Eager to build on this, I searched for a quintessentially British menswear brand where I might be able to invest. I was in luck; the proprietors of a Jermyn Street shop called Hawes & Curtis were selling the business and in 2001, due to their considerable financial liabilities, I was able to buy it for just £1, taking on all the debt. It was one of the best investments I ever made and today the business is debt free, has twenty-eight stores nationwide and has plans for global expansion. I adore brands with a strong heritage and was delighted to celebrate Hawes & Curtis’ 100th anniversary in 2013.
Following the Icelandic banking crash in 2008, I purchased the iconic British womenswear label ‘Ghost’ from a troubled Icelandic investment fund. The acquisition safeguarded 142 jobs across the company and protected a piece of British fashion history. Ghost is currently undergoing a very exciting re-launch and I hope to restore it to the success that it achieved in the early 90’s.
I’m a serial entrepreneur, with multiple investments including, the luxury bag brand Huxley & Cox, Bikesoup (online bicycle market), Docks Rio (a casual boat- shoe brand), Intelligent Futures (a behavioural marketing company) and a number of commercial property ventures.
I firmly believe in responsible business and support various charities including WellChild, Retail Trust and The Prince’s Trust. If I am not working I also love to find ways to support young entrepreneurs in developing their companies.
I live and breathe my career and besides spending time with my two beautiful daughters I like to spend as much time as possible developing my businesses and considering ways for future growth.