Pulling into the car park at Hargreaves Lansdown, a young Adam Norris carefully guided his seven-year-old Citroen Zantia around a couple of pristine Porsches, nestling it among a glistening line-up of supercars.
Curiously, the battered and scratched vehicle represented good business for the 28-year-old pensions executive. Before getting his hands on the Citroen for £1,000, he’d been driving around in a three-year-old Golf estate that was worth ten grand.
Spotting an opportunity, he sold the VW, picked up the Zantia, and lived on the £9,000 change for a few months.
It was, perhaps some early signs of understanding good business and making money.
As the go-getters and suits full of ambition filed into the imposing domain of Hargreaves Lansdown carrying their smart briefcases, there was something noticeably different about Norris’ baggage.
It certainly wasn’t slim and shiny, but it did a grand job of carrying his sleeping bag, camping mat, clothing and personal items.
Adam was secretly sleeping at the office.
Not because he needed a roof over his head, but because he needed to get ahead. There was a shower cubicle in the building. It meant he could work late and be at his desk before most people had even thought about breakfast.
“I had to try harder than everyone else. I wasn’t that good when I started, and I needed to work much more to get up to their level,” he recalls.
“I enjoyed my time there. I started in business very early and struggled to get anyone to believe my idea of selling pensions. Within three or four years though, Hargreaves Lansdown became the UK’s biggest pension company.”
There was a good reason why Adam felt a few yards off the pace at work. It had been the same at school and university. He was dogged by severe dyslexia.
“Yeah, dyslexia,” he sighs.
“People thought I was stupid at school, because I was bottom of the year. I also struggled with people’s names. To this day I’m still no good at recalling people’s names – I forget 99 per cent.
“I got tested for it at primary school, but knowing what was wrong didn’t help – it just felt like dyslexia was another word for stupid.
“I hated school. Genuinely hated it. I didn’t have a great time and, in a way, going to university wasn’t any better. And going to work wasn’t right either.”
He had a laser-focused work ethic, though. Adam possessed a serious drive and desire to achieve, and that carried him through those ‘commission-only’ years.
It was a spirit he attributes to his parents.
“We weren’t wealthy – my dad was a farmer and my mum was a teacher,” he smiles.
“My dad gave me that work ethic, and my mum gave me values.”
It clearly paid off. Spectacularly.
All those hours, commitment and sheer determination saw his ideas and vision of selling pensions adopted as he rose through the ranks. By the age of 33, he was the MD of Pensions Direct.
It made him a handsome fortune – one that he spent more than a decade growing as an angel investor.
Three years ago, however, he decided to invest in himself.
He founded Pure Electric Ltd – a company with a mission to make a meaningful difference to the environment by changing the way we think about mobility.
And that way of thinking, he believes, all points to electric scooters.
“I’m good at spotting emerging trends,” he explains.
“I had to pick something where the tech was proven but was early. Global warming’s a problem and there’s going to be a lot of effort made to force the public to use low carbon devices.”
It had taken a whole year of research and studying as he looked at what he could invest in.
“I wanted it to have meaning to this planet and be positive, and it had to be new,” he says, betraying a hint of boyish excitement.
“During that year I saw electric scooters with lithium batteries. They were becoming popular, and roads are getting better and better.
“All around the world people are putting in cycle lanes and making it harder to use cars. The convenience and safety factor is lending itself to small vehicles.”
The Pure Electric ‘Advance’ and ‘Advance Flex’ scooters launched in Paris last week The business is based in Adam’s hometown of Bristol, but it wouldn’t be right to be launching his creation in the UK – legislation doesn’t yet allow the use of such vehicles.
On the continent, though, they’re catching on. Hence the unveiling in France.
If the sleek yet edgy design has a familiar feel to it, it’ll be down to Adam’s recruitment. He’s basically raided Dyson’s burgeoning talent pool and turned their focus to a vehicle of the future.
“I took on the head of research at Dyson – Sam Bernard. Even the person responsible for the paint – Dyson. The lights – Dyson. It really is an amazing team. We should be able to build another Dyson.”
He talks about Dyson a lot. Not quite to the point of obsession, but certainly beyond that of admiration.
“I wanted to build another multi-million pound business,” he confesses.
“I wanted to be at the forefront of a new technology, but one that was already emerging.
“Dyson are genius at recognising products and making them better and desirable – there is a benchmark there.”
He’s not wrong. Sir James Dyson – inventor of so many iconic household appliances – tore up the rule book. “Form follows function!” was the message hurled across most design classes by teachers to their wide-eyed students. If both Dyson and Norris were in that lecture room, there would be a harmonious echo of “to hell with that!”.
In both their eyes, form and function are bedfellows of equal importance. Hence the look of Pure’s scooters.
“All electric scooters are designed like a kid’s kick-a-long scooter with a battery on it,” he explains.
“This, however, is designed so your feet are side-by-side – not one in front of the other. It’s about safety and control. We’ve lowered the centre of gravity and patented a steering system that makes the steering sharper.
“We went through a massive research phase, learning phase and now we’re heading to execution phase.
“Our dream is to build this throughout the globe. We’ve got people asking for our products in the US where we’re in the process of getting certification.”
Creating the Dyson of scooters hasn’t been his only life-changing investment. He’s also been investing his time, money and enthusiasm into his son.
Adam Norris is the father, and also manager, of Formula 1 racing sensation Lando Norris – a 22-year-old with a gift for the Grand Prix and a future as bright as any young sporting idol.
The McLaren star is currently preparing to head for Austin, Texas, ahead of the US Grand Prix. At the weekend, he watched Max Verstappen clinch his second world title in Japan after an action-packed race in which Lando Norris claimed tenth spot and an extra point for his driver rankings. He currently sits seventh in the FIA Formula 1 Standings.
Despite the fact Lando was, from the age of seven, competing on the kart track before progressing further and further up the racing pyramid ahead of being handed an F1 start at the Australian Grand Prix in 2019, proud dad Adam admits he still finds it all a little hard to believe.
“We still pinch ourselves,” he gasps with a gentle shake of the head.
“I think he has an unimaginable life. But he works hard at it, and it’s fascinating to watch how much he loves it.”
Seeing his son take the wheel of a racing car at 200mph is, he admits, quite thrilling. But being a father means his heart is often in his mouth.
“It frightens the life out me – the first few laps. There are shunts, but most of these things happen early in the race so you can relax a little. Well, maybe not relax, but you know what I mean,” he says.
“He’s got a great team of people around him – many who have been together for 10 years, and we’ve all said ‘who thought we’d ever be here?’.
“In fact, a friend rang me and said ‘you remember you told me when he was born and you said he’d be a Formula 1 driver’.
“I think that was more of a reflection of my own passion for F1, and how I wanted to empower my passion and love for it in him.”
The wistful pride over his son is clearly unmatched by anything else in Adam Norris’ life, but there is room for some gratifying satisfaction in business with Pure Electric.
“I’m proud of what we’re doing for society,” he concludes.
“I would be really proud to have a business bigger than Dyson, and helping the globe break the cycle of its reliance on cars.”