Profile interview: Andrew Thirkill

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Andrew Thirkill was 13 years old when he stood on Filey beach, tore up a pound note and threw it into the harbour.

“It doesn’t matter,” he told his horrified friends. “I’m going to have loads of money one day.”

Thirkill cringes at the memory. “I don’t know why I did it, I was showing off,” he says.

Bravado in front of his friends it may have been but underneath Thirkill had a steely determination to succeed. “I absolutely believed with a passion I’d be successful,” he says.

Fast forward 44 years and Thirkill, 57, is a serial entrepreneur - chairman of seven companies and a much sought-after confidant for business leaders.

His main business is Age Partnership, which was founded in Leeds in 2004 and releases equity for homeowners over 55.

Run by chief executive Tim Loy, former Ultralase finance director, the company’s turnover is expected to exceed £25m for the first time this year and show a profit of around £1m. It employs 275 staff. “This is a growing market,” Thirkill says. “The baby boomers want to enjoy themselves and see the world but it costs money.”

The company, which was the number one provider of annuities in the UK, had its fingers burnt when the Government changed the rules on pensions in 2015, wiping £4m off its profits. “It’s doing ok now but it was a stutter in the road for sure,” he says.

The focus now is to add more financial services to the business, such as life insurance and funeral plans, to create a medium-sized Saga-type company, and float it on the stock market.

To complement the business, he established mortgage lender Pure Retirement, which lent £100m last year and posted a profit of £3.1m.

His other company interests operate within a mix of sectors.

Thirkill is chairman of Liverpool-based EvoDental, a venture capital funded business which provides full jaw rehabilitation. He plans to also float the business on the stock market in the future.

He is also chairman of Infoserve, a plc which provides online digital services to SMEs, predominantly owned by entrepreneur David Hood. The plan is to exit and sell the business in three or four years.

In addition, he is chairman of tile importer Mosaic Tiles, which is 49 per cent owned by Travis Perkins. “I don’t know a lot about tiles but I do know about business and common sense,” he says.

He is also chairman of Kong Media, owned by his former golf caddy Ross Barrett, as well as ATP Advertising and Marketing, an advertising agency he started 35 years ago.

Our interview takes place at the Yorkshire Post offices on the day of the EU referendum ballot. Thirkill didn’t vote (“I’m really agnostic about it, I’ll let everyone else decide.”).

He is confident about the markets in which his businesses operate. “They are all really good. It’s always best to get into a good market and be average than be very good and get into a poor market,” he says.

Thirkill, who says he works every single day, is enthusiastic about the way he supports his businesses. “My job is to paint the big picture and make sure everyone is heading in the right direction,” he says. “I’m a good confidant. It’s better to encourage people rather than say ‘do this, do that’”.

Thirkill’s skills are clearly in demand. “At one point last year I had eight approaches for chairmanship,” he says.

Born in Meanwood, Leeds, Thirkill learned about selling from a young age from his salesman father.

He left school with no qualifications and had a number of jobs before his entrepreneurial streak came to the surface in 1981 when he set up ATP. He sold the business to Moss Trust in August 1988 in a £2.7m deal.

However, his millionaire status was shortlived as Moss Trust was in serious financial difficulty at the time ATP was purchased, rendering his shares effectively worthless.

“I was full of innocence when I sold the company, I thought everyone was as honest as I was. I went from swimming with the dolphins to swimming with the sharks. It knocked me hugely,” he says. “I’d spent eight years building up a business and had to start again.”

Thirkill took the company back and says he learned a huge amount from the experience.

Since then, investments have included Ultralase, Talking Ads, Leeds & District TV Express and Freedom Back Clinics, which he launched in 2009 with David Hood and sold to the management. The key things he looks for in a business are good management teams and scalable markets.

As well as the successes, there have been a few regrets. “I got involved in a stairlift company about four years ago,” he says. “It cost me a lot of money but I drew a line under it and accepted that I backed the wrong person.”

Thirkill lives with his partner of 28 years, Jill, in Harrogate. They have two grown up children, Stephanie, 26, and Jonathan, 23, who both work at Age Partnership.

He has a holiday home in Naples, Florida, but the golf enthusiast insists he is not an extravagant person. “I drive a two-year-old Audi A7. I don’t have a private number plate on my car or anything like that,” he says.

In his spare time he collects historical golf memorabilia, which is anonymously showcased at the British Golf Museum in St Andrews, Scotland. He owns around 50 pieces including golf balls from major championships, clubs, trophies and medals. “Part of the attraction is investment but also people have had these things in drawers and nobody has ever seen them so it’s nice to have them on public display,” he says.

Fact File

Title: Serial entrepreneur

Date of birth: January 15, 1959

Education: Central High School in Leeds; 4 O’Levels at Park Lane College.

First job: Apprentice bricklayer

Favourite song: Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy, by The Tams

Favourite holiday destination: Naples in Florida where we have a holiday home

Favourite film: Arthur

Last book read: The Story of the R&A, by J.B. Salmond

Car driven: Audi A7

Most proud of: My partner Jill and our two children Stephanie and Jonathan.