Shaper: Stephen Fear

Show aired on 27th September 2014

Transcript of the show

Elliot Moss
That was Etta James and I Would Rather Go Blind. Good morning, it’s me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM’s Jazz Shapers. The place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a business shaper. My business shaper this morning is Dr Stephen Fear. A doctor in business administration, an entrepreneur in residence or rather the entrepreneur in residence at the British Library as well as a noted entrepreneur famous for the red telephone box which we will be talking about later. Lots coming up from Stephen. In addition to be hearing from him, you will also be hearing from our programme partners some words of advice for your business from Mischon De Reya and on top of all of that some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including Madeleine Peyroux, Neil Cowley and this from the new album from Dr John.

That was When You Are Smiling from Dr John from the album Ske-Dat-De-Dat, the spirit of Satch which of course a tribute to Louis Armstrong that’s his middle name for those of you that didn’t know and for those of you that did, well done. I am with Stephen Fear this morning here on Jazz Shapers and as I said earlier, he is the guy who is now what is called the entrepreneur in residence at the British Library, has been in the world of entrepreneurism for probably more than forty years give or take and very luckily is with me this morning. Thank you very much for joining me Stephen.

Stephen Fear
Morning Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Tell me, you started working at the age of fifteen.

Stephen Fear
Well younger than that actually. My first sort of move into creating a business was younger than that. I really ended in a situation my childhood was quite disenfranchised. Not because – my mother and father were divorced and they were difficult times. I lived between my mother’s place which was a small caravan, touring caravan in a place in Wiltshire called Malmesbury and my father’s one-bed Council flat in Bristol and so I had never lived in one place very long and they never spoke for thirty years after their divorce so as a child the negotiation about where I would live, where I would go, what I would do was me negotiating between the both of them. So because of that I managed to not go to school to often so I started to create businesses to do something, you know, as a drive. So my first business was really – the first business I ever had was a café when I was twelve or thirteen when I took over a shop that was derelict and in those days Malmesbury was a fairly isolated town in rural Wiltshire; the motorway didn’t reach there so all the lorries would drive on the A roads and they would stop at Malmesbury in the Cross Hayes; which is a big parking area and there was a derelict shop which we sort of purloined and turned into a café and used to make coffees and sandwiches and all sorts of stuff and flog them to the lorry drivers.

Elliot Moss
Now we are going to go back, back to that point and then move onwards as well. But just to clarify for everyone. You are now as I said the entrepreneur in residence at the British Library and you also are in charge of, along your son, the Fear Group which is a kind of a property business and a multi-faceted business empire in fact as it is called, as I have been reliably informed. You are into green technology, hotels, residential care, manufacturing. What brings all these things together for you in a nutshell? What is it that you’ve – is it just simply that right back from when you did your first business you’ve kind of had an eye for what might make a bit of money?

Stephen Fear
Yeah I think the common denominator originally Elliot was me. The common denominators now are myself and Leon my son. Leon will sometimes say to me ‘do me a favour Dad, can you not go out for a few days because we are still trying to digest the stuff we are already doing’. I have always had this sort of – things come up, you know, ideas come up. You may be in a café someone mentions something to you, I might be just having a chat about it and think ‘that might be a good idea if we put that together with that, it might make a business’ and then we start looking at how that might develop. We look – thirty odd years ago I created an office which is actually based in South Wales which analyses trends so we look at what’s happening around the world, hot spots and try to work out where the next hot spot is.

Elliot Moss
Sounds absolutely perfect for any budding entrepreneur. Find out lots more from my business shaper, Stephen Fear. Time for some music and aptly this is Sparkling from the Neil Cowley Trio.

That was the Neil Cowley Trio. Stephen Fear, entrepreneur at large is my business shaper today – entrepreneur in residence at the British Library, serial entrepreneur from the age of twelve through to fifteen and on and on to your age now – we’re not going to mention that specifically.

Stephen Fear
Young.

Elliot Moss
Young. He looks very young to me. You were talking just before the music about what it was that you kind of do now which is there’s trends around and you tap into stuff and ideas you know percolate up and down and left and right and it sounds like your son is trying to keep you under control and quite rightly. Was that – what do you think defined for you being an entrepreneur before probably you were called an entrepreneur when you were in your teens? What were the characteristics of Stephen Fear back then?

Stephen Fear
I think the characteristics was interest – I’ve always been interested in people, things, events, you know, what’s happening in the world, general knowledge. I used to, because I – I could never have a paper round as other people would have because I didn’t live in one place long enough. I lived partly in Bristol with my dad, partly in Malmesbury with my mum and so I was always moving from one place to the other which is why I missed out on a lot of schooling and I was hyperactive so I had a – seriously hyperactive – so I had a sort of a desire to always be on the move doing different things and the only time that I was ever really calm would be if I was reading. So as soon as I get a book it changes and it has always been like that. I’ll read a matchbox if I have to. It has got to be something; it is just one of these things.

Elliot Moss
Do you think, just on that point about being hyperactive as many of the people I interview talk about, they may not use that word but they say ‘I’ve got a very small attention span but I’ve got lots of energy’; is that something you grow out of or is it simply something you know how to manage better as you get older?

Stephen Fear
I think you learn to manage it. I was fortunate in as much as my mother was an avid reader but she read paperback fiction. She didn’t read anything really serious but she taught me to speed read when I was – I never remember not reading from a very young child and she taught me to speed read so I was able to read relatively fast so I would get through things and take them on board and then I would apply them to a business position. I mean because I couldn’t have a paper round in one place what I would do is I would go to a paper shop in the morning wherever I was, especially a wet morning if it was November, January and I would go and see the person putting the papers up and say you know ‘have any of the paper boys not turned up this morning?’ and the guy would invariably say ‘oh three’ you know and I would say ‘well do you want somebody to do the round for you?’ and they would say ‘yes’ and I would say ‘that’s fine, its three times the amount, what do you normally pay?’ and they would say ‘X’ and I would say ‘well it’s three times the amount’ and the guy would say ‘no, no, no – we only have this going rate’ and I would say ‘no, no, no – but your paper boy isn’t here, I am’.

Elliot Moss
It’s not going to happen.

Stephen Fear
‘It isn’t going to happen; you’ve got me or nothing. Do you want the paper round done?’ And I can tell you many times Elliot they would chase me down the road, me having walked away from the deal and them chasing me down the road in the rain saying ‘no come back, come back, I’ll give you twice’ and I would say ‘no it’s got to be three times’ and we would agree a rate and then they always say ‘okay, here’s the papers, put them up’ you know, ‘this is where you have got to go, the route’ and I would say ‘money’ and they would say ‘no no we pay you at the end of the…’. ‘No, no, no, you’ve got to pay it up front, I am not going to go and do the paper round in the lashing rain, freezing cold, come back and then at the end of the week you say you can only give me the standard rate’.

Elliot Moss
You see and this is why Stephen Fear is a successful entrepreneur. Stay with me for lots more brilliant negotiation tactics as well as a lot of other things we are going to hear that are going to amaze you about this man and his famous red telephone box. More of which you will also hear about. Latest travel in the meantime and before that, some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM every Saturday morning 9.00am – book your ticket early so you can get in and hear some brilliant business shapers talking to me. If you miss any you can go to iTunes; if you happen to be on a British Airways flight, lucky you you can listen to one of those as well or Cityam.com or even FT.com. Lots of places for you to catch some brilliant people and insight as well. Stephen Fear is my business shaper today, he is a doctor, he is an entrepreneur in residence and he is also a very successful entrepreneur as you’ve been hopefully hearing. You apparently sold your first business Stephen for a hundred thousand quid and apparently you did it from this red telephone box. Just tell me; let’s get this thing out the way. What is it about this telephone box on this estate in Bristol? Is it true?

Stephen Fear
It is true, it is absolutely.

Elliot Moss
Com on then, tell us the story?

Stephen Fear
Basically we didn’t have a phone. None of my family had a phone and many other things that many people have thought they should have so the only way, thing I knew about a phone was there was one at the end of the road where my dad lived on a Council estate. So I went up to the phone box and the people were in the States so it ended up with me getting through to the States, getting the rights for the fluid. It took two or three months to get it, it was a bit protracted.

Elliot Moss
Did they know you were fourteen?

Stephen Fear
No. They had no idea.

Elliot Moss
They thought you were this adult, this proper guy in the UK doing – finding a gap in the market. Okay.

Stephen Fear
Yeah. They didn’t know I was fourteen until I was twenty four. Because I knew them for a long time. But basically I grew the business. I built the business from nothing. It worked. It did what it said on the tin and that’s an important thing I think for entrepreneurs to remember. It did actually work and then when I was nineteen I managed to sell the business for a hundred thousand. Which was quite a lot of money then and I went on to invest those proceeds in other businesses and in property and started to build a property business from that.

Elliot Moss
Just before we go to some music. You mention there the product was important, it had to work. What were the other couple of things that you learnt from your first proper foray into building a company up and selling it even though you were 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 years old. What would the other big characteristics of that deal as it were?

Stephen Fear
Being prepared to pick the phone up. Having the self-confidence to do it because I suppose I had nothing to lose so why not and consistency. I think it is very very important for entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs and I say this at the British Library – to be consistent. You have to be consistent with delivery. People want to know that if you are going to give advice or if you are going to deliver a product or service that it is actually going to be delivered. You do what you say on the tin.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant, that’s fantastic. Much more coming up from Stephen my business shaper today. Time for some music, this is Madeleine Peyroux and it is You’re Going To Make Me Lonesome When You Go.

That was You’re Going To Make Me Lonesome When You Go from Madeleine Peyroux. Stephen Fear is my business shaper and Stephen we have been talking about your first deal and the famous red telephone box which was true and the fact that you were, you didn’t have your own phone and you used it and you said – I asked you the messages, the big things that came out, the self-confidence to do it, pick up the phone, consistency, the products got to work – you have now been in the game of building companies and making money and building more companies and making money and you are now in a position where you actually helping educate a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. Beyond those messages, what else is important to the community of budding entrepreneurs that you remind them off every time you get a chance to?

Stephen Fear
Well one of the – the thing that I preach more than anything, I hate the word preach but I suppose that is what it is. I go on about it – is keeping your overhead low. I think one of the mistakes that entrepreneur’s generally and young entrepreneurs particularly make is to take on too much overhead, particularly fixed overhead but even flexible overhead – too soon. There is often no need, you know, these days we live in the age of mobile communication, I wrote an article just recently for about IPad and that’s just one thing but it could be tablet or laptop or anything, you know, not necessarily any brand, mobile communications are key so I always say much cheaper to work from Starbucks on your laptop than rent an office on a fixed overhead that you don’t need. So it is important to not overstep that. Go out – better things, you know, more expensive things can wait until you are more stable. So work from home for as long as you can. I even say to people, if they are working in a job and they are developing a business of their own alongside the job, I don’t think it is fair on the business if it is competing, I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think they should do that but if it is a business that isn’t competing then I would always say to people that are starting with limited capital, keep your day job as long as you can or you lose your cash flow. Build your cash flow up on your business before you disengage from something that is going to support your family. So you have to remember those things. So I think that is important, those things are important lessons.

Elliot Moss
Very good. We will have our final chat with Stephen plus play a track from Brendan Reilly; that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Sabor A Mi from Brendan Reilly. Just for a few more precious minutes Stephen Fear is my business shaper and you have been hearing all sorts of things from Stephen, way back when he was filling in for other people’s paper rounds on account of him being very peripertetic at that time; self-education, selling a business via a telephone box on a Council estate in Bristol and some really sage advice around cash flow and keeping costs down. You strike me as someone who has kind of seen the worst of life in a way from a young age but also has really risen like any great people and smart people and hardworking people do, you’ve really risen to the top as it were and now you are imparting. Have there been some super dark moments along the way?

Stephen Fear
Oh sure. I mean I think…

Elliot Moss
And how have you dealt with them?

Stephen Fear
Well I think dealing with them is maintaining a positive attitude.

Elliot Moss
And how do you do that because people say that but I always am interested in you know it’s easy to say?

Stephen Fear
It is easy to say, it isn’t as easy to do when you are in the pit because I say this with homeless people, you know, when someone is sitting under a cash point it isn’t a lifestyle choice. No matter what anyone thinks? If it is lashing down with rain in November and it’s 2.00 o’clock in the morning, it isn’t a lifestyle choice, they are there for a reason. Something went wrong in their life and they didn’t deal with it effectively for some reason and they’ve ended up as a casualty. So I think maintaining a positive attitude and I often say to young people, you know, young people often lack self-esteem and I think when you go into a room you should always remember if there are ten people in there, that you are probably around about the middle in some way. You are probably possibly not the best looking person in the room, but you’re probably not the worst. You are probably not the fattest but you’re not the skinniest and if you actually look at it like that and think well I’m alright you know, then it gives you self-esteem and I think confidence and self-esteem is so important particularly for young people that often lack it. So I think getting over difficult times in your life when things go wrong, you have to be philosophical about it.

Elliot Moss
And just thinking about slightly wider, the Governments role in encouraging entrepreneurism and that has changed massively…

Stephen Fear
Sure.

Elliot Moss
…over the last sort of couple of decades. You are obviously in a position of some kind of you know, lot of authority in a way, people will listen to you. What are you telling Government if anything to do about encouraging, creating the right environment for entrepreneurism?

Stephen Fear
Well I think what I – my message to Government is, is basically that we need to develop a proper entrepreneurial culture and I think we need to do that from a young age. I’d like to see modules brought into the education system younger, not necessarily waiting until people go to college and uni but younger, getting it so that it is part of the fabric and DNA of the country. If I can just say, I mean my own idea is that for me it is all about a joined up situation. What I would like to say to Government is that I look upon it as you’ve got to link the powerful horses of free enterprise with all their energy and power. You’ve got to link them to the carriage that follows behind which is society and humanity and if you don’t then the horses go off somewhere on their own and they don’t take the carriage with them. So it isn’t about, for me, it isn’t about making the rich poorer, it’s about making the poor richer, raising the bar and the way we do that is to create the money in society that we can spend after on all the essential services that we all need.

Elliot Moss
Yeah.

Stephen Fear
But we need the money first.

Elliot Moss
We need the money and that is why people should listen to Dr Stephen Fear. Now just before l let you go Stephen and thank you so much for being my guest today, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Stephen Fear
Well my song choice is Louis Armstrong and it is Wonderful World and because I think that is what it is. No matter where you come from in life, it doesn’t matter where you come from. The way I look at it it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you are going. So wherever you are now it is a wonderful world.

Elliot Moss
Well you have come a hell of a long way since Bristol and Malmesbury. Stephen thank you very much – this is your song choice, this is Louis Armstrong and What A Wonderful World.

That was Wonderful World from Louis Armstrong, the song choice of my business shaper today, Stephen Fear. A very humble man from a very humble background. A self-educated one, someone who left school very early on but has veraciously read to ensure that he is super super smart and educated and indeed now is an educator and someone who imparting his knowledge about the world of business to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Do join me again, same time, same place for another edition of Jazz Shapers at 9.00am next Saturday morning. In the meantime stay with us here on Jazz FM because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Stephen Fear DBA is an English entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist and author with over 40 years international business experience.  Today Fear has an established property empire and interests in a number of industries, including green technology, hotels, residential care and manufacturing.

Often referred to as ‘The Phonebox Millionaire’, Fear is also notable for being Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Library; a position formerly held by the late Dame Anita Roddick.

In July 2013, Fear was awarded an honorary degree from UWE Bristol for his continued service to Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship.

Bristol-born Fear first went into business at the age 15 after reading an article in the Financial Times that would affect the way industrial ovens were cleaned.  He used a red phone-box on the council estate where he grew up and persuaded an American firm to send him its product for him to sell in the UK.

Before he knew it, he was trading with a number or large industrial companies under the brand ‘Easy Clean’.  Four years later, Fear sold his first business for £100,000 and invested the money in property.

Now at the age of 59, he is Chairman and Founder of Fear Group, an international organisation he runs with his Son, Leon Fear. Fear Group has interests in multiple markets and sectors ranging from green technology, hotels, residential care and manufacturing, spanning the UK, Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.

Fear combines a successful business career with his philanthropic interests. He is currently Patron of Heropreneurs, which supports and advises Armed Services personnel and their spouses who want to set up their own businesses after leaving the armed forces.

In addition, Fear is a recognised author and regular contributor to a number of UK and international media including Business Matters, The Huffington Post, Urban Times, is4profit and London Loves Business.  Fear is regularly featured by the national media including the Financial Times, The Independent, The Daily Express, Sunday Times and Daily Mail commenting on a range of business, social and political issues.

In June 2013, Fear was asked to be a judge at the prestigious London Loves Excellence Awards along with Tim Campbell, Karren Brady and Chief Executive of International Airlines Group, Willie Walsh. Following this event, Fear will also be a judge at the London Loves Talent Awards in November 2013.

Fear frequently speaks at a number of corporate events and dinners and in the past has given talks at the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum. In November 2012, Fear spoke at an inaugural talk for Heropreneurs in central London with General Sir David Richards head of the Combined British Armed Forces. In 2013, Fear also took part in a panel debate as part of Prime’s Enterprise for Over 50s with Esther Rantzen.

On 24th July 2013, during a ceremony at Bristol Cathedral, Fear was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Business Administration DBA from the University of the West of England for his continued services to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship over the past 40 years.

In early 2013, Fear announced he would be presenting a quarterly book review video series. As part of this series, Fear selects a number of business related publications on a specific subject that he sees as insightful and beneficial to business people. In addition to this, Fear launched an influential blog titled Fear on Food.  Written by Stephen and Leon Fear the blog provides insightful advice and tips for international business lunches including tailored advice for the business traveller such as mobile phone signal strength, WIFI usage and the ability to charge portable devices.

Follow Stephen Fear on Twitter @FearStephen

The first business I ever had was a Café when I was 12 or 13. I took over a derelict shop which I purloined into a café to make coffees and sandwiches.

I was a serial entrepreneur from the age of 12 through to 15.

The only time I was ever really calm was if I was reading. I’ll read a matchbox if I have to!

I sold my first business for £100,000 from a red telephone box.

I built the business from nothing. It worked. It did what it said on the tin, and that’s an important thing for entrepreneurs to remember.

My advice to young entrepreneurs, is to keep your overheads low, one mistake entrepreneurs generally make is to take on too many overheads. It’s cheaper to work from Starbucks on your laptop.

Confidence and self-esteem are so important, particularly for young people.

We need to develop a proper entrepreneurial culture and I think we need to do that from a young age, so that it’s part of the fabric and DNA of the country.

The way I look at it, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you are going.

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