In the driving seat: Ocado boss Tim Steiner
Tim Steiner was a very wealthy man last weekend. By Wednesday, he was rolling in it.
The Ocado boss made his debut in The Sunday Times Rich List, with a fortune put at £130m.
Three days later he’d signed a deal with US food giant Kroger which sent the value of his stake in the online grocery firm he founded in 1999 to just over £200m.
After pulling off such a coup, Steiner could have taken to social media and crowed louder than the wildly mediocre footballers picked for Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad. But he didn’t. For Tim, 48, isn’t one to brag or bluster, and he sure as heck doesn’t strut.
‘Sensitive’ is the word most commonly ascribed to him. He dislikes stock analysts who’ve been deriding his company’s prospects for years. Journalists even more so.
Should there be any doubt about his froideur towards the media, he named his dog Rupert after one particularly irksome hack.
His loathing for the limelight is understandable. Two years ago he launched divorce proceedings against his wife of 17 years, Belinda.
The ensuing High Court battle over his fortune, where it was revealed Steiner had since shacked up with Polish lingerie model Patrycja Pyka, 29, made Brangelina’s marathon divorce look like a cakewalk. Steiner had to use £68m of Ocado shares as collateral to cover the spiralling court costs.
Not that he’s ever known penury. Born in leafy Highgate, north London, he was sent to the smart Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School. His father ran Steiner Leisure, a Nasdaq-listed beauty spa company set up by Tim’s great-grandfather. After taking an accountancy degree at Manchester University, he joined Goldman Sachs in 1992 as a bond trader but, after seven years waiting to make partner, he grew restless.
While colleagues peeled off into hedge funds and private equity, Steiner began plotting to exploit the dotcom boom. He knew nothing about the grocery market but saw the emerging internet as a chance to return to the old days of having groceries delivered at home.
He approached Goldman colleagues Jason Gissing and Jonathan Faiman (an old friend from nursery school), and they went on holiday to the Bahamas to discuss the idea. Steiner spent most of the trip in bed with flu, but did enough to persuade the pair to quit their well-paid City jobs and join his venture.
Having secured a distribution deal with Waitrose, Ocado began making its first deliveries in 2001.
Soon, its distinctive vans became as much of a fixture in affluent neighbourhoods as branches of Cath Kidston and artisan coffee shops. By 2006, it was delivering 50,000 orders a week.
By the time Ocado floated in 2010, Steiner was living the high life. He and Belinda, a former beauty PR whom he met while at Goldman and married at a Hampstead synagogue in 1999, lived in a £15m mansion in north London with a skiing chalet in Courchevel. While redecorating their London home, the family were relocated to suites in Claridge’s, complete with housekeepers.
But Steiner’s regular 12-hour days, which come with starting up a business, began to take their toll. In 2012 the couple separated. Steiner and Patrycja later moved with his children to a property around the corner from the family home.
Life was tough on the professional front, too. Steiner was left last man standing after Gissing and Faiman both dropped out along the way, and Ocado struggled to make a profit until 2014.
Meanwhile, Steiner came under increasing pressure from investors, which included Tetra Pak billionaire Jorn Rausing and former US vice-president Al Gore, to find an international partner.
While he kept promising a deal was imminent, the hedge fund industry smelled blood. Last year Ocado was the most shorted company on the London Stock Exchange. Which makes this week’s transformative deal with Kroger especially sweet.
It’s been a while coming, but the man in charge of Middle England’s weekly shop has finally delivered.