Rise and Fall of a Serial Entrepreneur; Now a Bankrupt, Kevin Leech's Empire Once Stretched from John o'Groat's to Land's End, Via Snowdon and Liverpool. Louise Davies Reports

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Byline: Louise Davies

KEVIN LEECH has been declared bankrupt, marking a remarkable transformation for a man once ranked the 17th richest in Britain.

The rise and fall of Mr Leech is a tale of a working class boy made good as a successful entrepreneur, who built a pounds 1.2bn fortune on the sale of his familyowned funeral parlour in Manchester.

But his entrepreneurial energy was evident long before he turned round his father's business. One of his first jobs saw him working as a debt collector. He would patrol the back alleys of inner city Manchester befriending the children of debtors so as to get into their homes through the back door. He would earn a 10pc cut of any money he recovered. He would also tour local pubs selling tubs of sea food to regulars.

Last week he was brought down by a debt to HSBC of just pounds 22m.

After building up his father's funeral parlour into a chain of 38 undertakers, Leech sold the business to the Co-op for pounds 2.3m in 1982.

He then retired to Jersey, still in his 30s, to enjoy the tranquillity and low tax lifestyle of the island.

In 1983 Leech backed an Irish chemist on the island called Jeremiah Milner with pounds 50,000 to finance an idea for treating kidney failure.

The resultant company, ML Laboratories, was successfully floated on the stock market in the early 90s and moved to Merseyside where it has made its name as a bio-technology firm producing dialysis solutions and asthma inhalers.

As the brains behind Warringtonbased ML Laboratories, which also has a base on the Wavertree Technology Park in Liverpool, he quickly established himself on the path to becoming one of Britain's richest men.

Leech embarked on a spending spree which saw him acquire a host of other interests, including the Snowdon Mountain Railway, Land's End and John o'Groats, a trio of attractions run by Liverpool-based Heritage Great Britain. The company was set up in West Derby because of the entrepreneur's links with the Liverpool office of accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Roger Bradshaw, a former partner in the Liverpool office of PwC became chief executive of the heritage arm.

Leech also invested in other leisure interests, including the Deep Pan Pizza chain and more memorably the 1996 buyout of Reliant, the manufacturer of three-wheeler cars. Three years ago, Leech built a group of internet ventures largely contained in a holding company named Ci4net.com, which was quoted on the tech-heavy US Nasdaq. They were heady and optimistic times.

The flotation of his dot.com business on the New York stock exchange at the end of 1999 helped push Leech up the league table of Britain's rich, virtually overnight.

In 2000, after embarking on a dot.com career at one time worth pounds 2bn with TownPages, an online tourist guide, Topjobs.net, a recruitment website and Ci4net.com, a technology incubator, Leech was named as Britain's 17th richest person in The Sunday Times rich list with a paper wealth of pounds 1. …