Dragon who won the battle
Hilary Devey is a born saleswoman.
The business entrepreneur known to millions for her appearances on BBC’s Dragon’s Den, took her first job on a crockery stall in Bolton at age 11.
In her autobiography, Bold As Brass (Macmillan £16.99), Devey writes that ‘it was there that I first learned just how much I loved the banter, chatting and joking with customers that came with sales. I was a natural’.
She was already helping out in her parents’ trail of pubs and clubs.
Another youthful job was working on an ice cream van where Devey managed to negotiate a deal whereby she was paid a commission on sales that turned out to be so lucrative for her, her boss put her back on flat wages.
She also learned to ‘upsell’ by convincing the young customers to buy, say, a cornet instead of a lolly, a Flake with that, and to target parents as well as their children.
Devey’s schooling was short and she was soon earning a living, first as a waitress then a stint in the WRAF followed by a haulage company.
She was back in sales at a haulage company and discovered she ‘thrived on the challenge of hitting targets’. This led to a succession of other sales jobs but she was never completely fulfilled until in 1996, after an arduous struggle, Devey set up the company that was to make her fortune.
This was Pall-Ex, a ‘hub-and spoke’ logistics company, using smaller pallets and ensuring that hauliers going to a particular area of the country always had full loads, which minimised waste.
Her description of the problems of setting up a business from scratch gives a fascinating insight the tasks involved, from signing up members and getting planning permission, to rents, wages and controlling costs. Money is not made easily.
Today, the business has turnover of £100M and Devey’s personal wealth is thought to be about £50M.
But apart from business, Devey is honest about every aspect of her tough life. She was raped at 12 and went through three failed marriages as well as having an abusive partner. Then, at the height of her career, Devey discovered her son was a heroin and crack cocaine addict.
She also suffered a stroke, followed by seizures which, even today, have robbed her of some feeling in her left arm and hand.
None of this stopped her working for long and it seems that nothing will.
From dream to nightmare
You’re mad about football, you’ve got a few bob, and your local club is up for sale. What do you do? Obvious isn’t it? That’s what Simon Jordan thought when he decided to take over Crystal Palace FC in 2000. By the end of the decade, his fortune was dissipated and he watched helplessly as his beloved club sunk into administration.
Jordan, in Be Careful What You Wish For (Yellow Jersey Press £18.99), describes in vivid detail each stage of his personal riches to rags story.
Jordan made his money as an initially reluctant salesman. When it was suggested he go into sales, he writes, “I was mortally offended and proceeded to argue there was no way on God’s earth I was a salesman”.
But after quitting the world of computers, he joined a company selling mobile phones run by a friend. After a few other jobs, including one at Carphone Warehouse, Jordan set up his own business, The PocketPhone Shop, which in 2000 he sold for £78M.
The rest of the book concentrates on Jordan’s travails as chairman, at the age of 36, of Crystal Palace, including the club’s elevation to the Premiership, followed the next season by its relegation to Division One.
We also hear about the succession of managers he went through as well as the court case against one of them, Iain Dowie, which Jordan won.
This book is a truly no-holds-barred account of his fortunes, including his honest and often brutal opinions of those he met and worked with. He probably reserves a special loathing for Ron Noades, a previous Palace owner and still owner of the stadium during Jordan’s tenure.
Neither are profanities spared, either at people who annoyed him or got in his way or the situations he found himself in.
Jordan comes across as egotistical but it’s hard not feel sympathy for the plight of this once multimillionaire.