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Jo White (April 2016)
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Famous Entrepreneurs Who Bought And Built A Business

Thinking of buying a business? You’re in good company! Many famous businesspeople started out by buying and building an existing business.Here's our list of the top 5 entrepreneurs...


Duncan Bannatyne, BBC Dragon and Entrepreneur

It was the late 1970’s when Duncan Bannatyne bought his first business in Stockton-on-Tees. Bannatyne bought a second-hand ice cream van for £450 and used his engineering skills learned in the navy to give the vehicle a new lease of life. He then sourced cheaper ice-cream suppliers who were offering a higher-quality product, and began outselling his competitors with a high margin on every cone.

It wasn’t long before Bannatyne’s other business interests began to distract him from his first business, so Duncan eventually sold his ice-cream business for £28,000 – more than 60 times his initial investment. 


Michael O’Leary, Ryanair CEO

At around the same time that Duncan Bannatyne was selling his ice cream truck empire in the North of England, A young tax accountant in Dublin by the name of Michael O’Leary was handing in his notice at a prestigious accountancy firm, with plans to buy his own business.

Michael O’Leary’s first investment upon resigning from his accountancy role was a small suburban family-run newsagents in the Dublin suburb of Walkinstown. As soon as he had signed on the dotted line, O’Leary became heavily involved in his Walkinstown shop, increasing the opening hours and taking every opportunity to improve his margins. 

Within a few short years, Michael O’Leary had built up a small chain of newsagents profitable enough to pay his living expenses indefinitely. 

Having proved himself as a capable businessman in his own right, O’Leary then approached Tony Ryan of Ryanair with an unusual deal: O’Leary would become Mr. Ryan’s personal assistant and would earn no salary whatsoever. Instead, O’Leary would get a percentage of any money he managed to save Ryanair. Decades later, Ryanair has grown to become one of Europe’s largest low-cost airlines, with Michael O’Leary still at the helm. 


Antonio Carluccio, namesake/founder, Carluccio’s Restaurants

Antonio Carluccio was working in the wine trade when his brother-in-law, Terence Conran, invited him to become the manager of his prestigious Neal Street restaurant (a hit with A-list celebrities and royalty that had been trading since 1971). Carluccio took to the restaurant trade instantly, and after a few years of hard work, he had bought out his brother-in-law, and he and his wife had become owners not just of the Covent Garden restaurant, but of a small delicatessen in the neighbouring premises. 

In the decades that followed Antonio’s initial business purchase, the Carluccio’s empire grew from strength to strength, becoming a nationwide chain of highly successful restaurant-delicatessens. The original Neal Street restaurant is no longer trading, but the multi-million pound restaurant chain that bears his name continues to thrive. 


Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, founder, "The Black Farmer" Food Range

Growing up in 1960’s Birmingham, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones had a dream: he wanted to own his own small farm somewhere in the UK. Before he could become a farmer, his ambitions led him into a career in TV, where he worked on the long-running BBC show “Food and Drink” for 15 years. Emmanuel-Jones then set up his own marketing agency, which allowed him to leverage all that he knew about the UK food industry and mainstream media and launch many now-famous UK food brands such as Kettle Chips and Lloyd Grossman sauces.

Following many years of hard work in his marketing business, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones finally achieved his childhood dream, purchasing West Kitcham farm in Devon. The Black Farmer food brand was brought into existence in 2004, and has grown to become one of the UK’s best sausage brands, using 100% British pork to create gluten free sausages. 


Tom Kerridge, Head Chef, The Hand and Flowers 

Already a popular Chef de Partie in the London restaurant scene, Tom Kerridge had originally planned to start up his own high profile restaurant somewhere in the capital. Kerridge’s careful research revealed that the startup costs for a new restaurant in London could exceed £700,000; costs that would prove prohibitive and unappealing to the talented chef.

Instead, Kerridge took out a bank loan of £25,000 and bought the tenancy of a little-known Buckinghamshire pub called the Hand & Flowers.

In the 10 years since signing on the dotted line, Tom and his wife Beth have won a host of culinary awards, including becoming the first pub ever to win 2 Michelin stars, and have grown their brand and their business to include a range of cookery books and television appearances. Kerridge is about to open his second restaurant in Marlow. 


Have you just bought a business? Are you starting out on your own personal journey of entrepreneurship? Let us know in the comments below.




 By Sam Haythornthwaite at




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