DX Communications, Reality Group and Gadget Shop: Chris Gorman
The serial entrepreneur and investor on High Court battles and £1m cheques
Nothing compares to the first million, according to Chris Gorman. The serial entrepreneur and investor has closed deals topping eight figures several times over the course of his career, but the £1m cheque he received at the age of 29 remains his biggest life-changing moment. “Everything since then is just money coming in and going out,” he says.
The cheque was the result of a 25% sale of DX Communications, the mobile phone retailer he'd invested £25,000 in back in the mid 1990s, much to the disapproval of friends – he was £30k in debt at the time as a result of the housing slump. Chris and his business partner grew the company from one unit to 170 stores in five years and eventually sold the rest of the company for £42m.
While the exits have been impressive and the accolades notable – Chris was awarded an OBE in 2005 – the headlines haven't always lived up to what he had in mind as an aspiring teenage entrepreneur. His High Court battle with fellow Gadget Shop shareholders, which he and partner Sir Tom Hunter eventually won, filled countless column inches. The vitriolic airing of a lot of dirty laundry – most memorably the tale of Chris breaking down in tears during a board meeting – was a ‘very bitter time', but it was the resulting damage to the company, rather than any injury to his reputation, that he has the most regrets about.
“That was a horrible period in my life. We were trying to run the company with a shareholder dispute going on, which meant every decision was impossible and it ended up driving the business into liquidation.”
Chris is convinced that if the company had continued the growth they were achieving at the time, it would have been worth in excess of £50m. “Tom and I never had any doubt we would win the case but there was no feeling of victory at the end. I just thought it had been such a waste of time, money and effort.”
Judging by the success of DX Communications and his subsequent business, the Reality Group which sold for £35m just 15 months after being started, it's easy to understand why he had such high hopes for the ill-fated Gadget Shop.
But what's the secret behind achieving that level of success so many times over? It's not rocket science, according to Chris. “It's about being in the right market at the right time. I chose markets that were going through tremendous growth. You also need to find the right USP, then surround yourself with the right people. But there are no real shortcuts.”
Chris has a non-executive and shareholding hand in about 10 different pies at any given time these days. But not being in the driving seat is a double-edged sword. “I do get frustrated thinking about opportunities that are missed. I don't enjoy the growth that I used to but in some ways it's more fun working across a number of different companies.”
Not bad for a man that credits a chance reading of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People as the major catalyst for his entrepreneurial ambitions. “The only reason I read it was because my bedsit TV ran on a meter and I'd run out of money.”
Just as well there wasn't any spare change lying around.