THE YORKSHIREMAN who was crowned North of England EY Entrepreneur of the Year has urged business leaders to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to start up their own companies.
Peter Roberts, executive chairman of Pure Gym, said successful entrepreneurs have a duty to help the next generation follow in their footsteps.
He made the comments after winning the coveted title at a glittering ceremony in Manchester late last night.
Mr Roberts, who is 69 and the veteran of eight business ventures, said he has been “absolutely amazed by the diversity and ingenuity and thrusting and striving we have in this country from entrepreneurs… who actually make this country tick.”
He told the audience: “I have seen lots of people, all sorts of walks of life who have gone out there, got stuck in and have done fantastically successful jobs.
“I only hope Government and the people who are around them recognise and continue to recognise how important this is, not only to the success of business in this country but all the people we employ and get involved in.
“I just think it is something we need to shout about. We all of us have a duty... to make sure we can help other people follow in our footsteps.
“It is a real duty and a real pleasure to be able to see younger people, perhaps people who are less privileged and lucky than we have been, and help them get on that springboard and let them become entrepreneurs.
“If it’s one thing I would like to do now it would be to get more involved in helping those people.”
He praised the work of the Prince’s Trust in picking people out from unfortunate circumstances and getting them onto enteprise programmes.
He added: “I would recommend to you all that if there’s one thing that you do is spread the word and try and help on that.”
Mr Roberts was born in the Yorkshire Dales and started his business career as a chartered surveyor earning £500 a year.
His first venture as an entrepreneur was the acquisition of a caravan park in Cumbria, which was followed by a series of ventures in the hospitality and leisure industry including top roles at Luminar Leisure, Dragons Health Clubs and Golden Tulip UK.
Mr Roberts said his drive to start businesses is “endemic in the blood”. Asked what makes a good entrepreneur, he told The Yorkshire Post: “A variety of things. Guts, being brave, not getting depressed too easily, an ability to have the courage of your convictions and then behind that some resourcefulness and obviously a good business sense.
“You have to mix the risk taking with all the other normal bits.”
He launched Leeds-based Pure Gym in the depths of the downturn in 2009. It is now the country’s largest gym chain with more than 52,000 members. Private equity firm CCMP Capital Advisors bought a majority stake in the firm in 2013.
Judges at the North of England EY Entrepreneur awards praised Mr Roberts for taking a traditional model and “turning it upside down”.
He said: “We have just bought 43 gyms from LA Fitness and we have got another 30 gyms being developed at the moment so there’s a big challenge to turn all these into new Pure Gyms.
“So that’s going to take us six to eight months which will give us very good national coverage because we were short in the South and Eouth East and there are 25 LAs inside the M25 so we will have a proper national business.”
Mr Roberts was accompanied at the ceremony by his Caroline. They have seven children between them and live near Ripon.
She said: “I’m really proud. He is quite an exceptional person. He is the most enthusiastic person in life for absolutely everything.
“He goes at everything 100 per cent and leaves the rest of us trailing behind him on his coat tails!”
Northern Powerhouse is a nightclub in Newcastle
Event host Steph McGovern, the BBC business journalist, told guests about a discussion she had with the Chancellor George Osborne about the Northern Powerhouse.
Ms McGovern, who comes from Middlesbrough, told the audience: “I said to him, ‘George, do you know that the Northern Powerhouse is actually a nightclub in Newcastle?’
“He said, ‘Oh, I will have to go sometime’. I said, ‘it’s a gay nightclub in Newcastle’. You could see him suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable.”
Ms McGovern added: “It’s great to be hearing about the Government focusing on growing the North, which we definitely need.”
She said northern business people are modest and humble, unlike southern counterparts who are “quite arrogant”.