How Did Alan Sugar Make His Money?

When it comes to UK rags to riches stories, few names are better known than that of Lord Alan Sugar. Apart from perhaps Dick Whittington.

But how did Lord Sugar make his money? And will he copy Whittington and bequeath it all to the city of London?

How Much is Alan Sugar Worth?

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As of 2020, 73-year-old Lord Alan Sugar’s estimated net worth stood at £1.4 billion. But life hasn’t always been so flush for the Hackney boy made good.

Lord Sugar’s early work experience included a stint at a local greengrocer, where he made a little extra cash while growing up. By the age of 16, he had had enough of school, so used £50 that he had saved up to buy a van, from which he sold electrical goods and car aerials.

At just 21, Lord Sugar founded Amstrad in order to further his entrepreneurial ambitions. Although the name is now synonymous with consumer electronics, the company started out as a wholesaler and an importer/exporter.

Amstrad began manufacturing products in 1970, using technology in insightful ways in order to achieve far lower production costs than the company’s competitors. A decade later, the company was listed on the London Stock Exchange. After producing a string of successful computers during the 1980s, the company reached a peak stock market value of £1.2 billion.

What Businesses Does Alan Sugar Own?

The difficulties of the 1990s, along with a string of devices that failed to capture the hearts (and wallets) of the general public, eventually saw Lord Sugar sell Amstrad to BSkyB in 2007, for around £125 million. He stepped down as chairman a year later.

Now into his 60s, Lord Sugar still had a string of other business interests on which to focus his attention. Early retirement, gardening and daytime TV clearly didn’t quite fit the bill for this entrepreneurial businessman.

Lord Sugar’s business interests over the years had been many and varied. He had teamed up with Terry Venables, for example, to buy Tottenham Hotspur in 1991. He served as chairman for nine years, before selling 27% of the club for £22 million in 2001. Lord Sugar sold his final 12% stake in 2007, for a further £25 million.

Some of this other companies included Amsair and Amsprop, both run by his son Daniel Patrick. Amsair’s focus was on business and executive aviation. Amsprop, meanwhile, holds the majority of Lord Sugar’s wealth. The company owns a number of office building freeholds in London, including several in Mayfair. The Monopoly players out there will appreciate the significant value that those can add to one’s wealth.

Lord Sugar’s interests also included IT services provider Viglen Ltd, which he sold to XMA in 2014, and digital signage company Amscreen, which remains in the family, with eldest son Simon Sugar running the show. Amscreen’s value stands at around £11.3 million, at the time of writing.

Alan Sugar’s TV Career

Of course, these days Lord Sugar is also known for his television career, having starred in reality show The Apprentice every year since 2005 (although he revealed in April 2020 that the show’s latest series has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

It has been through the show that the majority of those who now know Lord Sugar’s rags to riches tale have come to know his name.

Lord Sugar’s abrupt, no-nonsense manner made the show engaging to watch from the outset and has played a key role in its longevity. That’s not to say that Lord Sugar has always been happy with the way that the show has portrayed him. Dealing with a growing reputation for belligerence, he made it a condition of his involvement in the third season that he be presented in a less harsh light (as well as that the show be more business focused and include a higher calibre of candidates).

Over the years Lord Sugar has also been seen on screen in two seasons of Junior Apprentice, along with a number of cameo appearances in shows such as Doctor Who and EastEnders.

Alan Sugar’s Charitable Giving

Lord Sugar has not amassed his great wealth without giving something back. He is known for his sizeable charitable donations, with Jewish Care and Great Ormond Street Hospital both benefitting from his philanthropy. Like Dick Whittington, he has worked to support his fellow humans by sharing his wealth.

However, Lord Sugar doesn’t seem to share Whittington’s penchant for political office. It was rumoured in 2009, courtesy of the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan, that the Labour party wanted Lord Sugar as their candidate for Mayor of London in 2012. However, Lord Sugar ridiculed the claim and, as yet, seems to be content focusing on his business empire.

What can those looking to learn from all this? Several lessons, really:

  • Keep your interests varied, so that you have diverse incomes streams
  • Pursue business opportunities that relate to your interests when looking for ideas that will stand the test of time
  • Sell your business at the peak of its value, not several years later when its value has plummeted!

And that’s it – a potted history of how Lord Alan Sugar made his millions. It just goes to show how far you can get with the right combination of hard work, enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit!

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