Essex-born Mark Dixon, 58, had considerable more success setting up Regus
Mark Dixon’s first business was called Dial-A-Snack, which saw him deliver sandwiches to offices around Chelmsford on a butcher’s bike.
The precocious 16-year-old was armed with youthful confidence and a Tiggerish energy, but crucially lacking any real business know-how.
He was far too generous with his portions and, before he knew it, the firm was leaking money and the aspiring Del Boy had to pull the plug after just six months.
The experience must have been humbling. His father, a mechanic at Ford, had been dismayed at his academically gifted son’s decision to quit school before A-levels, as had his teachers. Still, young Dixon learned a valuable lesson about profit margins.
Since that early disaster, Essex-born Dixon, 58, has had considerably more success setting up Regus – now known as IWG – the serviced office company which has 3,000 centres in more than 900 cities.
His fortune is put at £900million, which is down from previous years thanks to Regus’s lagging share price, but a still considerable wedge, which affords him a comfortable home in sunny (not to mention tax-friendly) Monaco.
Not that you’d guess Dixon is a near billionaire to look at him. Understated and unassuming with a preference for sober suits, he’s almost as nondescript as the office space his £3billion firm provides.
His journey to becoming one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs has, to put it mildly, been eventful. Once the sandwich-making venture folded, he decided to hit the road.
He worked as a barman in Saint-Tropez, serving drinks to gap-toothed sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, before heading to Australia, where he made ends meet by flogging encyclopaedias and working as a logger.
Regus – now known as IWG – is a serviced office company which has 3,000 centres in more than 900 cities
On his return to the UK, Dixon invested £600 in a burger van, which he parked on London’s North Circular and did brisk trade flogging hot dogs to late-night revellers. He bought a further six vans, whereupon he had his first big light-bulb moment.
Realising how difficult it was to get the right type of hot dog bun, he set up his own bakery to supply his own business, as well as his competitors. In 1988, he sold The Bread Roll Company for £800,000.
With that handy bit of capital in his pocket, he moved to Brussels to begin an apartment-renting business. It was there he noticed how travelling businessmen would hold meetings hunched around small tables in coffee shops. Cue light-bulb moment number two.
He set up Regus in 1989, providing office space that was maintained, staffed and could be used on a flexible basis. Within five years, it had spread as far as Latin America. By the time it floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2000, it was worth £1.5billion.
Dixon set up Regus in 1989 and by the time it floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2000, it was worth £1.5billion
The dotcom crash provoked a nasty wobble. The US division was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and Dixon had to sell his majority stake of the UK operation. But by 2006 he was able to buy it back. All of this by the age of 45.
His private life has been almost as much of a rollercoaster. When he founded Regus, he already had three children from various relationships.
He had another two with ex-wife Trudi, a former sub-editor on the Luton News who he had met during his burger van days.
When they divorced after 17 years in 2005, Dixon was forced to hand her a mammoth £28million payout. He admits he could have got the work/life balance thing a bit better during his marriage.
Today, with a 25 per cent stake in IWG, he’s still globe-trotting at least two weeks of every month. San Francisco one day. Washington the next.
This week he was in Cannes, speaking at the annual property jamboree, Mipim. Dixon, you suspect, is not a man who’s very good at sitting still.
Nor can he afford to. Regus faces stiff competition from We Work, a funky, New York-based start-up whose offices come with more millennial-focused perks such as beer taps and pool tables.
But despite nearing 60, Dixon insists he’s not ready to retire. As well as fending off Regus’s rivals, he says he still has big plans for his vineyards in Provence and Sussex, which produce award- winning wines. He’s certainly come a long way from those early days of stuffing sandwiches.