SALFORD bookmaker Fred Done likened his battle to take over the Tote to class war after winning the top prize in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards for the North of England.
The Betfred founder and chief executive started out with a single betting shop in 1967 and grew the business into a £4bn-turnover group with 1,350 shops and 11,000 employees.
Mr Done told the audience at Salford’s Lowry Hotel that his bid to win control of the state-owned bookmaker “was billed as the flat caps versus the top hats and the flat caps won”.
He added: “It took us nine months to get it. The establishment was against us. Racing was against us. We did not know whether we could get the money.”
In the end, Betfred won the auction to buy the Tote in a deal worth £265m last July.
Mr Done said he had been a risk taker all his life. His company is now the world’s biggest independent bookmaker.
He told the audience that despite “probably the worst economy ever seen out there”, he believes the greatest opportunities are still to be had.
“It’s a tough climate,” he added. “If you’re going through it, just keep working hard and keep your confidence. You need to be optimistic. If you don’t, you won’t survive.”
Ernst & Young shortlisted 17 entrepreneurs from Yorkshire in the awards, who competed against 38 others from the North.
Simon Spinks, of bed and mattress maker Harrison Spinks, won an award for technology commercialisation, while John Walsh, of Abraham Moon & Sons, won an award for leading the turnaround of the wool firm.
Richard Naylor, of Leeds-based Harrison Spinks, told the audience: “We are very proud of our technology and innovation.”