Having begun his career as an engineer for Michelin, John Caudwell was soon running a corner shop and clothing mail order business on the side, which led into a successful sideline in selling cars.

In 1986, he noticed the large margins available in the nascent mobile phone market, and soon set up Midlands Mobile Phones to wholesale them to tradesmen.

After a slow start – the company lost money in its first two years – business picked up, with a high street arm, Phones 4U, opening in 1996. After rapid growth, capitalising on the explosion on mobile phone sales, the company was acquired by a private equity fund for £1.47bn.

Key achievements

  • Achieving great success in no fewer than four industries – simultaneously – before moving into the industry where he would make his real fortune.
  • Running the fastest growing company in the UK in both 1996 and 1997. By 2003, he employed 8,000 staff and sold 26 phones a minute.
  • Creating an employee benefit scheme to incentivise staff – with great success.
  • Founding the charity Caudwell Children in 2000, which has raised over £27m.

Lessons for your store

  1. Look for new trends – Caudwell got in on mobile phones early, spotting the fortune to be made.
  2. Give something back – Caudwell has pledged to give away half his wealth before he dies.
  3. Perseverance – it took Caudwell eight months to sell his first 26 phones.


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