How to be a billionaire: Business lessons from Hargreaves Lansdown founder Peter Hargreaves

Emma Haslett
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"I feel sorry for [big spenders] like Elton John," Hargreaves has said (Source: Getty)
Yesterday, Hargreaves Lansdown’s Peter Hargreaves announced plans to step down from the board after 34 years steering the company he co-founded.
According to the Sunday Times Rich List, Hargreaves is worth £2.4bn. How did a plain-speaking accountant become the UK's 39th-richest person? Here are six of Hargreaves' rules for life.

1. Billionaires don't borrow

Hargreaves’ business runs along the same lines as his personal life: he says he followed in the footsteps of his father, a local baker in his home town of Clitheroe, Lancashire, by never borrowing - even when HL launched its flotation.
“They offered us gearing… saying if we look on £100m, the business would be worth only £80m less, so we could take out £20m as a special dividend,” he told The Guardian. “[But] why would I would to be saddled with debt of £100m?”

2. Material assets just complicate things

Despite his wealth, Hargreaves only owns one house, preferring to holiday in hotels. He doesn’t even invest in individual shares, preferring to tie his cash up in collective investments such as unit trusts, the investments he built his business on.
“The older you get and the wealthier you get, the more complicated life becomes,” he said, in an interview with Management Today magazine. “That’s why I have as few material assets as possible. Every material thing is more hassle.”

3. Avoid public displays of wealth

Hargreaves notoriously avoids putting his wealth on show, preferring to invest his cash than flaunt it. In the same interview, he said he pitied celebrities.
"I feel sorry for people like Elton John or footballers, who seem to think they have to spend everything. I want to sit them down and tell them, you don't have to spend it, you know."

4. "Stepping down" is a gradual process

When you've built up a business from a one-man operation in the 1980s to a £5.7bn FTSE 100 finance giant, stepping down is never going to be straightforward. Hargreaves resigned as chief executive in 2010 - and while he announced plans to resign as a director yesterday, he will "continue to work in the business", which suggests he hasn't quite let go.

5. ... but know when to walk away

When Hargreaves installed Ian Gorham - who, in his late thirties, was one of the youngest chief executives on the FTSE 100 - after he stepped down as chief executive in 2010, he suggested he would step down from the board "when my co-directors ask me to".
"At some stage I may become a bit of a rascal," he told The Guardian. "Men like me who have built up a business start interfering for the wrong reasons."

6. Share your success

Since its founding, Hargreaves Lansdown has created at least 30 millionaires, Hargreaves has said - suggesting rewarding hard work doesn’t have to mean you lose out.

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