New Europe profile – John Caudwell: The billionaire, philanthropist making sense of Brexit

By New Europe
The European political newspaper

It’s difficult to know what the British people really want. 18 months ago they voted to leave the European Union, and ever since few people in the UK, let alone those outside of it, seem able to articulate clearly what that actually means.

Whatever your position on the whole affair, clarity is hard to come by. Conservatives can’t agree on a hymn, let along sing from the same hymn sheet, and no one really knows what the Labour party thinks. No wonder the most insightful and straightforward commentary often comes from well beyond the realm of politics.

One such commentator is the entrepreneur and philanthropist John Caudwell. In some respects fairly apolitical (Caudwell has only offered financial support to a political candidate once in his life), his no-nonsense commentary has proven refreshing amidst the cacophony of mundane opinions that fill every paper, offering practical suggestions severely lacking elsewhere.

A businessman set on the “clear advantage” of being free to form trade deals without interference from Europe, Caudwell frequently criticises the “hysteria around Brexit” and reminds those in power of the mutual advantage for Britain and the EU to negotiate the best possible trade deal with each other. From his point of view, UK politicians need to capitalise on the opportunity and embrace being a country free to trade with every country in the world.

Caudwell is not someone who has struggled to see things clearly in his life. Clarity and focus are attributes that come in useful when building a mobile empire, which was sold for £1.5 billion in 2006. A classic ‘rags to riches’ story, he was aged 34 when he bought 26 mobile handsets for £1500 each, and by the time he had sold them nine months later was at the start of a 20-year journey which would create Phones4U, culminating in yearly turnover of £2.25 billion when the business was sold.

An innate entrepreneurial mindset was evident at a young age, growing worms in a box under his mother’s bed which he would then sell to fishermen. Not long later Caudwell was selling motorcycle clothing, a business that did so well the manufacturer had to block his supply after complaints from competitors.

Despite the days of Phones4U now being long behind him, Caudwell retains his entrepreneurial fire. Under the umbrella of Caudwell Collection, a significant chunk of London’s Mayfair is being transformed into the world’s most luxurious, prestigious, and desirable apartment complex. The timeless and elegant development has brought together the finest team of professional consultants, architects and interior designers to deliver Caudwell’s ambition, each at the very pinnacle of their profession. The early indicators are that the Audley Square development will exceed every expectation.

However, Caudwell’s main focus and real passion is for philanthropy. His attention to detail and unwavering drive, which have produced such success in business, are now directed towards his charities. It is hard to understate both his determination to improve the lives of those around him, and the impact his work has already had. Part of Caudwell’s philosophy, which explains this immense impact, is the notion of the multiplier effect for charitable giving: if you simply make a £10m donation, its potential impact is limited to the value of £10m, but if you effectively leverage that sum to encourage and inspire others, the potential impact is infinite.

This principle is evident in the way Caudwell has supported the cause of Lyme disease sufferers. Through the charity he has established, Caudwell LymeCo, he is by far and away the leading voice putting the issue of Lyme disease front and centre in the public psyche, applying huge pressure on the UK’s Department of Health to provide the necessary funding for research. The disease is vastly misunderstood, lacking even a reliable diagnostic tool, but, as demonstrated by the recent UCL EPPI Centre report, it is slowly attracting government attention and Caudwell is the engine behind this change.

He applies the same drive and skills to significantly helping those living with disabilities, through his charity Caudwell Children, which transforms the lives of children and families, acting as a safety net for those unable to gain the help they need. It was founded in the year 2000 and it became a national charity in 2004. To date, the charity has supported over 25,000 children and families, providing £39 million worth of services. This year the Caudwell International Children’s Centre will open, the UK’s first independent centre dedicated to autism diagnosis, therapy, and research. Caudwell may be one of his country’s greatest businessmen, but his legacy will surely be the transformation he has driven in the lives of those living with disabilities or Lyme disease.

If you had to identify a thread weaving through Caudwell’s life, combining the seemingly contradictory natures of a billionaire who flies EasyJet and a glamorous extrovert who’s turned his attention to children facing disabilities and Lyme disease, a constant clarity of purpose is perhaps what ties it all together. Caudwell knows what his goals are and what he stands for. It’s a clarity of purpose our political leaders would do well to imitate.


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