Magazine article Management Today

Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2007: Dedicated Follower of Fortune

Magazine article Management Today

Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs 2007: Dedicated Follower of Fortune

Article excerpt

Philip Beresford has made it his business to build and keep a record of Britain's wealthiest citizens and their assets. Andrew Davidson visits the money-maestro in his garret.

The person credited with amassing more knowledge of the wealthy than anyone else in Britain has an interesting quirk on his CV. He cut his teeth in the information business by analysing the Irish Republican Army.

'It was my PhD thesis,' says Philip Beresford, originator of the Sunday Times Rich List and the MT Britain's Top 100 Entrepreneurs. He smiles as he hands me two door-stopping volumes from his bookcase. 'The Official IRA and Republican Clubs in Northern Ireland 1968-1974 and their Relations with Other Political and Paramilitary Groups. It took me five years and taught me many things - mainly that I'm a good collator of information.'

Meaning? 'You need discipline, a passion for the subject, a brain that does not fall asleep at critical moments and an ability to put it all into context.' And, you would think, a very thick skin, especially when you consider that Beresford's father was a major in the British Army.

Yet Beresford - born in Egypt (where his father was serving) and brought up in Britain - spent much of the 1970s, at the height of the Troubles, happily investigating Republican and Loyalist groups for his politics doctorate. 'Yes, there was quite a bit of suspicion from all sides about just what I was up to, and who for,' he smiles. 'But I am not thick-skinned really. I'm just careful.'

In recent decades that care, and a nose for opportunity, has been visible in his assiduous collating of information about the wealth accumulated in Britain. His Rich List, produced under contract for the Sunday Times and published every April, has become one of the media events of the business year, and Beresford himself an expert at winkling out even the most secretive of Britain's millionaires. It does not necessarily make you popular with everyone.

'My counterpart in Russia who compiled Forbes' first Russian Rich List was shot outside a Moscow restaurant in 2004,' he says, suddenly serious. Treading with care goes beyond just avoiding libel.

Yet standing in his bookstrewn office above his home in west London, the ever-affable Beresford seems comfortable with what he has created. Dressed in sweatshirt and baggy trousers, nursing an arthritic hip and sporting a thick grey beard, he looks like an off-duty tugboat captain with a sideline in computer studies. Screens surround his poop-deck desk, books run in low shelves beneath the garret skylights. There's even a pile of Age of Mythology computer games at a separate workstation. 'Ah, those are my younger son's,' he grins.

Beresford, 57, now runs his research operation from home - 'costs are the key' - using the mountain of accumulated data that he's amassed over the years, plus a network of subcontracted specialists and some very expensive software that allows him to break out data from Companies House and elsewhere. 'Here we go,' he mutters, tapping at a keyboard, 'company directors with income of more than pounds 1m last year ...'

Beresford also relies on tip-offs from others and the contacts he made during the decade he spent on Fleet Street after leaving academia in the late 1970s. Back then, he worked on the business sections of the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times, where he indulged his passion for trains and engineering and his love of statistics. …

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