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Mo Chaudry shares the secrets of his success with ME AND MY MONEY

Entrepreneur Mo Chaudry would tax online companies and reduce the bill for high street retailers if he were made Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

Chaudry, 60, who is estimated to be worth around £150million, spoke to DONNA FERGUSON about what it is like to grow up poor and end up rich beyond your wildest dreams. 

Benevolent: Entrepreneur Mo Chaudry set up a school for poor children in Pakistan

What did your parents teach you about money?

That you can be the poorest of the poor, but you can still maintain a sense of honour and integrity. 

My parents were first-generation immigrants from Pakistan. We moved here in 1969 when I was eight. My father, who had been in the military in Pakistan, came with no money, thinking the streets were paved with gold. He worked as a factory labourer in Bedford. Then he sold ice cream. My mother didn’t get any schooling so she looked after the house. 

Eventually, my father saved enough money to buy his own grocery shop, but it was doomed to fail. He didn’t understand VAT or tax and he wasn’t organised. Two years later, when I was 13, he lost the business and the shirt off his back and owed money to all his friends. He took work in factories again, doing horrible and dirty industrial jobs that involved a lot of heavy physical labour, to pay it all back. To him, it was a debt of honour. It took him seven years. 

We didn’t go on social outings or buy new clothes during that time. We lived in a two-up, two-down terrace house with an outdoor toilet. There were six of us – I have three siblings – and it was tough. 

By the time I was 14, I was fending for myself because there was no other option. As a result, I learned the value of work at a young age. I also learned to be prudent with money and only spend what I could afford.

Have you ever been paid silly money? 

I wouldn’t say I’ve been paid silly money for my time, but there have been occasions when I have made silly amounts of money. 

One such example was in the late 1980s when I was starting out in business. I made a quick decision to buy a commercial building worth several hundred thousand pounds with a £50,000 deposit. 

A year later, the company that leased the property decided to relocate. They paid me just under £800,000 to release them from the lease which paid off all the debt that I owed on the property. So, within 12 months, I ended up with a mortgage-free property that was by then worth £1million, which I had only paid £50,000 for. 

What was the best year of your financial life? 

It was 2019. I made millions of pounds that year, but that wasn’t the reason it was my best year. To me, 2019 was significant because that was the year after I bought a privately owned global leisure business called Pulse which has been my most profitable venture to date. 

We manufacture British-designed gym equipment and sell it worldwide. Before the pandemic, we were doing well and had more than 650 employees. I analyse my financial success according to how many people my businesses employ and the economic benefits they generate. 

What is the most expensive thing you have bought for fun? 

A black Bentley Continental GT. I used to train in the gym with John Caudwell, the Phones4U billionaire. One day, he told me it was about time I changed my car which I’d had for ages. I said I couldn’t be bothered. He said: ‘Here, drive a Bentley, I’m looking for a change.’ He then just threw the keys to his Bentley at me. He said: ‘I’ll see you on Monday, let me know what you think.’ 

I drove it and thought: ‘Wow, it’s nice.’ So I bought it off John for a lot of money: £130,000 I think. 

What is your biggest money mistake? 

I made a speculative investment in an indoor cricket business in 1987. The guy who was running it was a famous England cricketer, so I thought it was a good investment. 

But in a short space of time it went bust and I lost £200,000. That was a lesson for me – not to follow somebody into business just because they are famous. 

The best money decision you have made? 

Buying Waterworld 22 years ago, the biggest indoor waterpark in this country. I got it for £3million and made it profitable. Within a few years, it was worth about £50million – and it certainly isn’t worth less than that today. 

Do you save into a pension? 

I used to. I started in my late 20s because of the tax breaks available. I contributed irregularly until I was in my early-30s. Then I stopped because I realised that, in truth, the best pension was myself – investing in me and my businesses would enable me to achieve financial independence. 

But I had put enough in by then to ensure my pension pot is worth more than £1million today. 

Do you invest directly in the stock market? 

Yes. I have millions of pounds invested. Over the past few years, I’ve been redirecting my investments from property into equities and plan to carry on doing that in the future. 

I dabble a little bit myself, just play-money really, but the rest is taken care of by professional investment managers. When I buy stocks myself, I tend to go for big tech companies and pharmaceuticals. 

Do you own any property? 

Yes, a six-bedroom house in north Staffordshire. I bought it 30 years ago – it was built in the 1930s as part of an estate and has six acres of land. I paid £365,000 for it in 1990 and have spent a fortune on it since then. I should think it’s worth £2million or £3million now. I also own 20 commercial properties. 

What is the one luxury you treat yourself to?

I like a hand-rolled cigar from Cuba or Mexico once a month. I’ll spend up to £50. 

If you were Chancellor what would you do? 

I’d reform the business rates regime to make it fairer. Online companies have had a major advantage during the pandemic while we’ve faced the near demise of the high street. So I would lower the tax burden on businesses which have a physical presence on the high street and introduce a small sales tax for online companies which don’t. I think that would level the playing field. 

Do you donate money to charity? 

Yes, I donate to all sorts of good causes and I’ve created my own charity – and set up a school for poor children in Pakistan, close to where I was born. It educates 450 children in English to a very good standard. The first female Pakistani Air Force pilots graduated from that school and it has produced numerous doctors. It’s probably the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my life. 

What is your number one financial priority? 

To make my businesses prosper, because when you’re an employer you are responsible for a lot of families. My personal priorities are gone. I’m successful enough to live out the rest of my life without any money worries. It’s no longer about myself and my immediate family. It’s about my employees. 

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