The secret of my success: Simon Woodroffe

Where did you put the money from selling your remaining Yo! Sushi stake?

I split it between three deposit accounts. I’ve always banked with NatWest for my personal account (since I was 16); my business account has always been with Barclays and I have a deposit account with a firm of financial advisers called Sterling Assurance, which I set up when I wanted to transfer money out of stocks and shares.

Are you very active as a stock market investor?

When I sold a stake in Yo! Sushi in 2003 I wanted to invest around £1m and I looked around to find an adviser. I’ve got a good accountant but I didn’t have anyone to invest wisely for me. Eventually I put it into mutual funds with Sterling Assurance but then, when everything started to dive this year, I realised that wasn’t working. I now see my dream of an ideal adviser doesn’t exist – you have to take responsibility for your own decisions.

In early September last year I decided to take my money out of funds and into a deposit account with Sterling. I was very late doing it and I lost about £200,000 on the value of my portfolio last year, but at least I got it out before the really big crash so I congratulated myself on not losing another 20pc. I think now the only way for me to make money in stocks is if I find out more about it. In the past I have always felt out of my depth.

Why are you going to try again?

Because I think it makes sense to spread my money across asset classes and the stock market must rise again. And, with interest rates coming down, the money I have on deposit won’t keep pace with inflation. But, when I do it, I’ll do it with enthusiasm, taking an interest and assuming responsibility.
I live to this motto – follow your fear to find your destiny. One of my fears is I don’t understand the stock market properly, so I will face up to that and find out more about it. In my experience when you do that you find things are simpler than they appear.

Can you give me an example of when you have done it before?

I used to be very afraid of the law because I was busted for drugs when I was 17 and spent a few months in jail. When I divorced my ex-wife 20 years ago I realised I was very scared of the law, so I handled the divorce myself rather than go through lawyers. It took two years and it meant I had to read every letter myself and do all the filing, but I realised the courts are fundamentally fair. I effectively won the case and did really well and since then I’ve been through various legal battles and I don’t get scared anymore.

How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?

My father was a fairly senior army officer (he reached the rank of brigadier), but we never had as much money as the rest of our extended family. I think my parents felt like poorer relations – the rest of my family lived in vast country houses, whereas we lived in a five-bedroom detached farmhouse in Essex. My father felt insecure about this and would always be terribly worried. I remember being told not to mention we only buy gin one bottle at a time, for example.

All this made a deep impact on me – from a very young age I wanted to join the wealthy club. When I was 16 I used to tell everybody I was going to be a millionaire by the time I was 20 but when I reached the 1970s I was having such a good time I decided to put it off until I was 30. Then when I got to the end of my 30s I started pulling my hair out because I’d completely forgotten to be a millionaire.

Has having money made you happier?

I think it’s made me a nicer person. That probably sounds like a strange thing to say but I used to be anxious, driven and insecure. I left school with just two O-levels, no real qualifications to fall back on. Achieving success has always been an important part of my self-esteem. At some level I was always quite angry. I was angry with my childhood, with my father not having what he wanted and with myself for being angry. My success has made me more comfortable with myself and a lot more relaxed.

I have read you enjoy a 1pc royalty from Yo! Sushi sales…

Yes, I have kept an interest in that business in perpetuity – 1pc of gross sales come like a royalty on a book or a record. When I read that Colonel Sanders sold his stake in Kentucky Fried Chicken at an early stage and made hardly any money from it I thought a royalty would be the best solution because I had seen it in the entertainment industry.
I’ll admit it’s always been a bone of contention. Anyone who has ever bought a large stake in the business has scrutinised the contract to see if it is attackable. Fortunately, my lawyer, John Pratt, had tidied it up nicely. It means my grandchildren will always benefit from what I have achieved.

What about pensions?

I’ve got a SIPP and I have been putting money into that over the last seven years. I’m at the maximum fund size of £1.6m, but I am holding most of that in cash at the moment.
What’s been your best buy?
I bought a few hundred thousand dollars when they were $2 to the pound, pretty close to the top of the market. I thought that was shrewd of me given the dollar is now so low. The exchange rate hit $2 last year and again in spring this year and having spent most of my life with it at $1.5 I thought it can’t go much further up. I’ve always followed the dollar because I use it when I travel to America.

And your worst buy?

Every time somebody has tipped me off about a stock. I can’t remember them because I put them out of my mind. If somebody gives me a tip now I’m going to ignore it.

How do you prefer to pay – cash, card or cheque?

I have a NatWest Black card but I prefer to use my Maestro because I know the money is in my account and I am an anti-snob – I rather like it when I’m in a smart restaurant and people expect me to pull out an exclusive card but I just get the Maestro out instead.

I like to have a couple of hundred quid in my pocket for tipping.

Do you always tip large?

Quite often but, if the service hasn’t been good, I can look a waiter straight in the eye and withhold it without being rude. I find the best way is to engage in conversation – I might say I would love to tip when I come back but not this time. I would explain what went wrong without irritation and add that it might not be their fault (it could have been the kitchen). I’d then promise that if they correct it for next time they can count on a good tip from me. The trick is to be nice.

What’s been your greatest extravagance?

My Bentley Continental, which I bought five months ago for £147,000. I’ve never really been a car lover but I love my Bentley. It’s a green with a brown stitched convertible roof.

Is the current economic downturn affecting you?

My Yotel business is constructing buildings at the moment and in some instances we’ve been delaying contracts because we think we will get better prices next year. We haven’t suffered ourselves yet – hotel sales are up because we are a low-cost product.

I spoke to Yo! Sushi today (I was thinking of my royalty) and they’ve had some big successes in Liverpool and Bristol. London has been flat for years, but sushi is not a luxury item so I’m confident those outlets will survive.

What’s been your favourite holiday?

I don’t take many holidays, but there’s one I will always remember. In my early 30s I was designing rock stages for concerts. I flew down to Australia to win a contract for a Fleetwood Mac tour an
d on my way back I took a light aircraft to Western Samoa. On the flight I met a girl who lived on the island. She took me to her village to meet her family. Her father was village chief and I remember going back to my hotel afterwards thinking: “I could be the head of the village 20 years from now”. I was there for two weeks, swam in the South Pacific, dived off waterfalls and returned completely chilled.

Simon Woodroffe was supporting Global Entrepreneurship Week – He talked to Mark Anstead.