Legendary businessman, multi, multi-millionaire, and football connoisseur.
No, I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about Mike Ashley - the founder of Sports Direct and one the most famous names in UK industry. Famously private and astoundingly rich, Ashley continues to impress me day in, day out.
Less than a year after selling Newcastle United for £300 million, the magnate has announced he is stepping down from Frasers Group after several decades at the helm.
Born in Buckinghamshire, Mike Ashley’s business empire began in the most humble of circumstances. Armed with nothing but a dream and a sizable loan from his family, the former squash player opened his first sports shop. Within a few years, he had built a dynasty, with his Sports Soccer brand having more than 100 shops up and down the country.
Ashley’s company was named Sports Direct International Plc and took on rival sports shops by offering discounted prices on major brands. The businessman's ‘’buy them cheap, pile them high’’ approach sounds simple on paper, but successfully pulling it off took a business acumen and backbone only a few people (including myself) have.
In 2007, Ashley purchased Newcastle United and pledged to shed his private public image by sitting in the stands with supporters, often enjoying an alcoholic beverage or two in the process.
His ‘man of the people’ act was initially endearing with the fans, but his stringent business practices and perceived lack of investment in Newcastle’s infrastructure soon turned opinion against him.
In 2018, Mike Ashley stepped down as CEO of Sports Direct, though he remained company director and purchased the House of Fraser department store chain for a cool £90 million.
He remained on Fraser Group’s board of directors until September 2022, no doubt charming his fellow business people with his down-to-earth demenour and passion for looking after his staff.
A British Success Story
Sports Direct came under scrutiny due to the alleged harshness of their working conditions and liberal use of zero-hours-contracts - yet more evidence of Britain’s work ethic being softened.
You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again - a well-fed dog is a lazy dog, and Ashley’s passion for hard work is clearly a rare and under-appreciated attribute in today’s society.
I raise my glass to you, Mike Ashley, as you are a true British success story and one of my favourite business people of all time. You’ve certainly earned your retirement, but something tells me you have even more wonderful ideas up your sleeve.
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