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Betfred and Peninsula: Peter Done

Being forced to pay out over an employment dispute proved a blessing in disguise for the Peninsula founder

Law was never an industry I planned to go into. My brother Fred and I were happily running Betfred, a nationwide bookmakers, when in the early 1980s we were suddenly faced with an employment tribunal.

We followed lawyers' advice, but in the end had to settle. That, coupled with the lawyers' fees, came to about £8,000, leaving a large sting in our side.

Considering we had done everything by the book, I was definitely upset at the outcome. I was also convinced there was a better way of handling employment law. It wasn't my field, but it was obvious even to me that there was a gaping hole in the market for reliable legal advice for employers. When we were approached by a small legal practice, the idea arose to invest in the company and produce a better service. In 1983, the firm was re-established as Peninsula.

At first, I didn't take an active role in the business, not knowing much about law myself, but maintained my focus on Betfred. At Peninsula, we employed a salesperson, a health and safety expert and a back-up team, which took our staff numbers to 10. It was small at this stage, but we saw the potential to grow. After three years of trading, we had 12 employees and a portfolio of 50 clients. However, it soon became apparent that, in order to reach its full potential, Peninsula needed a strong business mind in the driving seat. In 1987, I decided to roll up my sleeves and took over as managing director, leaving Fred in charge of the betting enterprise.

Today, we have around 25,000 clients and 900 staff, taking 12,000 advice calls a week from clients. It's thanks to our great management team that we've seen such enormous growth. We have a niche service, because small businesses have the same issues as larger firms, but they lack the in-house management and services to deal with them. We can give these firms the same, if not better, expertise. Our sales and marketing team has been pivotal to our development, but above all, it's the overwhelming enthusiasm that has driven us to get out there and sell our services.

Fred and I have remained integrated business partners, despite being poles apart in our industries. We speak every day on the phone, and he's got offices down the road from Peninsula, so we meet up two or three times a week. Our upbringing in Ordsall in Manchester has probably given us an advantage in business, because when you come from having nothing, it's easy to find motivation. We have tried to keep our brotherhood at the heart of what we do.

I honestly feel I've not worked a day in the last 20 years. I know that sounds unlikely, coming from the head of a law firm, but I've just loved every minute.

Peter Done founded bookmaking chain Betfred with his brother Fred. While Fred now manages Betfred, Peter set up personnel and employment law consultancy Peninsula Business Services in 1983. The firm now has a turnover of £75m and more than 25,000 clients.

Peter Done was speaking to Carys Matthews.



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