AO.com founder John Roberts: The man who started his business over a £1 bet

 
Gabriella Griffith
Chief executive John Roberts says he doesn’t know why shares have fallen since February
AO.com founder John Roberts is the kind of bloke you want to go for a pint with. He may well have presided over a £1.2bn float earlier this year and reportedly trousered half a billion in the process, but he’s down to earth, thinks being called Kitchen King is conceited and he’s wary of the pitfalls of money. He certainly won’t be leaving big trust funds for his kids.

“That kind of thing can ruin people’s lives, it’s very dangerous,” he told us earlier this year, intending to leave his fortune to charity rather than his progeny.

It was over a pint in 2000, that AO.com was born. Roberts was having a drink on Christmas Eve and his friend (later co-founder) Alan Latchford bet him £1 he wouldn’t start the business. Luckily for him, Roberts is clearly a man who stands by his bets.

Fast forward to 2014 and it was a pint of Guinness Roberts celebrated his post-IPO fortune with, with no Krug in sight. “Everyone seems to think it [AO.com’s success] happened overnight, but it has been 14 years of work and the business has been kind to us for some time,” Roberts told us back in March.

The float of AO.com certainly attracted a lot of attention. Valued at £1.2bn, following a more demure £8.7m pre-tax profit the previous year, the phrase tech bubble was used liberally. But despite having seen its share price slowly decline from 378p shortly after IPO, to roughly 217p today, Roberts remains pragmatic – insisting everything he promised AO.com would deliver, has been delivered.

The share price may not have remained the same but AO.com’s corporate culture is unmoved. There is a spa at the Bolton HQ, a nail bar, numerous ping pong tables, including one on the warehouse floor.

“John encourages his employees to not only work hard but also enjoy themselves, in return he gets 110 per cent,” a spokesperson told us.

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