New age: Hambro says he likes bringing a bit of grey hair to the tech world
Rupert Hambro, now halfway through his 70s, is the fifth generation of one of the most distinguished City dynasties.
But far from fading into fusty retirement, he and his much younger business partner Dominic Perks, 40, are backing a wave of start-ups, including a dry cleaning app for busy people and a dating agency for Muslims.
He sees it as fusing the traditional Square Mile with the brave new world of tech.
‘I like bringing a bit of grey hair to young people setting up as entrepreneurs,’ he says, in his glass-walled modern office near London’s Victoria Station, itself a blend of the modern and the traditional.
Young, casually dressed members of staff mill about and sit in earnest huddles, overlooked by a magisterial gilt-framed portrait of Rupert’s grandfather Olaf, whose own grandfather, Carl-Joachim, was a Danish merchant who founded the Hambro financial empire.
Rupert, who is part of a family worth around £150 million according to the Rich Lists, could afford to take it easy. But deal-making is in his veins, so instead he is on his ‘third career’ as a start-up investor after merchant banking and asset management.
Which is all very well – but Britain has fallen well behind in creating the tech titans that have come out of the US. So does Hambro really think we can build businesses in the UK to rival the likes of Facebook and Amazon?
‘Yes, if we are not short-termist and we don’t sell out too soon. Businesses like Facebook are not built in five years. There is a terrible ailment in this country. I call it Rectory Syndrome, where everyone’s aspiration is to buy a nice house in a village and that is as far as their ambitions go. It is an English disease.’
‘Isn’t it sad that ambition, wealth and business have become dirty words?’
It’s certainly not an ailment that afflicts him. ‘I’ve worked all my life and I’m not ready for the rectory.’
Hambro’s fateful meeting with Dominic Perks came when the latter arrived in his office in 2012 looking for financial backing – with a pitch that didn’t go down too well.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF RUPERT HAMBRO
Name: Rupert Hambro
Family: Wife Robin, children Jonathan and Flora, grandchildren Oliver, Archie and Willem.
Lives: Pimlico/Belgravia border.
Car: BMW 5 series.
Day in the life: Wake up at 6am, take the dogs for a walk in Battersea Park, have breakfast then get to the office by 8.30am for meetings with shareholders and on potential investments. Have lunch in our family restaurant, Wiltons on Jermyn Street, which was bought by my grandfather Olaf, then meetings and correspondence before heading home for 6.30 or 7pm.
Favourite book: The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat.
Favourite film: A Man And A Woman by Claude Lelouch.
The best advice you have ever received: Think every time you use the word ‘I’.
Your best tip for the top: Listen, although my wife might disagree.
Hambro’s favourite book, The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat
‘I didn’t like his investment proposal at all, but I was impressed with him personally – there was something very special about him. He is 40, I am 75, but we get on incredibly well.’
Perks agrees: ‘Rupert and I just clicked when we met, we share similar views and values. We have an incredibly harmonious relationship, we never row. Perhaps the age difference helps. There is very little ageism in the tech sector, which is inherently quite liberal. Our portfolio has amazing diversity – that isn’t a policy, it is just a reality.’
Life now, for Rupert as an elder statesman surrounded by much younger people, is almost the exact opposite of the early 1960s when he joined the family bank in the City when it was still a clubby place infested with affable gents who liked their long lunches.
‘I couldn’t understand how people could drink sherry, wine and port and not fall asleep in the afternoon,’ he says. After a boardroom shuffle in 1983, Rupert found himself, aged just 39, running the business, in charge of much older men, some of whom rather resented it.
Realising the margins in merchant banking were being squeezed, in 1986, in the middle of the Big Bang revolution that smashed the old City institutions, he struck out on his own with JO Hambro, a private client investment management business.
‘We started out on the top floor of the old futures exchange. There was nothing – just a load of telephones on the floor. So I rang my friend Jennifer D’Abo. She was famous then for having turned around Rymans in the 1980s, when there weren’t that many prominent businesswomen.
‘She said, “Don’t worry darling, I’ll be around.” She arrived at lunchtime in a van from Rymans and kitted us out.
‘We were in business, with one secretary and one office manager. It has given me empathy with the start-ups we back now, I know what it’s like.’
He acquired the taste for start-ups in the mid-1990s. It turned out he had an eye for profitable ideas cooked up by a younger generation of entrepreneurs, including the children of friends.
New ventures: Hambro and his much younger business partner Dominic Perks, 40, (pictured) are backing a wave of start-ups, including a dry cleaning app for busy people and a dating agency for Muslims
One early business he backed was The Long Shot, co-founded by Jennifer D’Abo’s son Joel Cadbury. It bought the legendary Groucho club in Soho, the Goat in Boots pub on the Fulham Road, and Vingt-Quatre, London’s first 24-hour restaurant.
‘We had the Bank of Scotland, who didn’t seem to mind how much they lent us. I think we were one of the few people to pay them back,’ he says, referring to the bank’s reckless pre-crisis lending spree.
But the gamble paid off, with every £1 invested growing to £45.
Another early investment was in posh drinks business Sipsmith, set up by two young men, one of whom was also the son of a friend. The craft gin maker was sold to Suntory of Japan for more than £50 million.
‘We have now done 40 start-ups. Four of them we have generated ourselves,’ he says.
History: Wiltons restaurant, which is located on Jermyn Street in London, was bought by Hambro’s grandfather Olaf
‘We formed a business called Laundrapp because Dominic was very angry about his dry cleaning. He could never get it done because they were never open when he wasn’t at work. We will pick up your dry cleaning from 6am and will drop it off until 11pm.’
The technology, he says, has been sold on to firms in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Brazil and Russia.
Hambro Perks is offering a tax-efficient Enterprise Investment Scheme fund that allows private investors to co-invest alongside the firm, with a minimum stake of £25,000.
Other businesses they are backing include a private care business, Vida, and Muzmatch, set up by a former investment banker to help single Muslims find their perfect marriage partner.
It’s a varied bunch of ventures, so how does he decide who to support? ‘The important thing is the people. Who are they, what are they like, how committed are they? We turn down most – since the start of September we have had 900 opportunities and have only done five.’