Dyson: The EU sucks

Says who? The bril­liant Bri­tish en­gi­neer who’s built an £8bn em­pire on vac­uum clean­ers – and, af­ter 25 years wran­gling with Euro­crats, just can’t wait for Brexit

Scottish Daily Mail - - TERROR ON THE TUBE - By Jane Fryer

SIR James Dyson is lithe, rangy, tanned, bead­ily alert and, de­spite never us­ing his own award-win­ning su­per­sonic dryer, boasts glo­ri­ously fluffy hair. ‘It blows my hair to smithereens and gives too much root up­lift,’ he says.

This week he was par­tic­u­larly busy, even by his ex­act­ingly high stan­dards as Bri­tain’s best-known in­ven­tor. on Wed­nes­day, fed up with try­ing to get politi­cians to do some­thing about the dire lack of en­gi­neers in this coun­try, he opened a univer­sity to train them; the Dyson In­sti­tute of en­gi­neer­ing and Tech­nol­ogy.

and, oh yes, he took on Jean-Claude Juncker. When the euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent threat­ened that Bri­tain would ‘re­gret Brexit’, Dyson hit back with the power of one of his fa­mous cord-free vac­u­ums.

With the ben­e­fit of decades of ex­pe­ri­ence wrestling with Brus­sels com­mit­tees, Dyson con­fi­dently pre­dicted that the UK would leave the EU with­out a deal. In­deed, he said such a ‘clean break’ would ‘hurt the euro­peans more than the Bri­tish’.

This is be­cause re­main­ing EU coun­tries have far more to lose than us. He also dis­missed the sin­gle mar­ket as some­thing that Bri­tish busi­nesses could do hap­pily with­out.

‘I’ve been deal­ing with the EU on com­mit­tees for 25 years. In all that time we have never been able to in­flu­ence one iota and have never been able to stop any­thing,’ he says.

He chose to speak out at a time when the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try, re­spon­si­ble for the Project Fear scare­mon­ger­ing dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, wants its mem­bers to sign up to a let­ter warn­ing of the po­ten­tially ter­ri­ble con­se­quences of Brexit.

But sir James Dyson is a man who be­lieves fer­vently in Bri­tain.

such faith has been re­warded over the years. His firm is a £7.8bil­lion suc­cess story.

Half­way through our chat in his shiny glass of­fice, sur­rounded by pur­ple and orange vac­uum clean­ers, I ask if he’s ever been tempted just to coast a bit; put his de­signer train­er­clad feet up and watch some telly in one of the many sit­ting rooms of the 60-room stately home he shares with his wife Deirdre.

or spend more time on his yacht (Bri­tain’s big­gest), in his pri­vate jet, at his French chateau or pot­ter­ing about in the largest port­fo­lio of land in the UK which, at 25,000 acres, is big­ger than the Queen’s.

‘Coast? Coast?’ replies a be­mused Dyson. ‘It sounds a won­der­ful thing to do, but I don’t know the mean­ing of it. and I never watch tele­vi­sion!’

In­stead, he works re­lent­lessly, ob­ses­sively and tire­lessly.

He has spent his 70th year in­vest­ing £2.5bil­lion into ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence re­search on a new 517-acre cam­pus in Wilt­shire, spend­ing £58mil­lion on a spe­cial­ist bat­tery com­pany (there are ru­mours he’s work­ing on an elec­tric Dyson car) and open­ing two flag­ship shops — one in London and the other, man­hat­tan.

He did pause briefly to cel­e­brate his birth­day and, as a cheer­leader for Brexit, to revel in the de­ci­sion to leave europe.

‘I was de­lighted. I still am! It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to get our sovereignty back and re-en­gage with the rest of the world,’ he says.

But then he was back at the coal­face — in­vent­ing, in­no­vat­ing and in­spir­ing.

HIs pride and joy is the Dyson In­sti­tute of en­gi­neer­ing and Tech­nol­ogy. even ig­nor­ing the Har­rier Jump Jet — a mar­vel of en­gi­neer­ing — on dis­play in the car park, the jet plane hang­ing in the cafe and miche­lin-starred chef in the kitchen, it is not like any other univer­sity.

For starters, there are just 33 un­der­grad­u­ates — whit­tled down from 950 ap­pli­cants (even ox­ford Univer­sity has only three ap­pli­cants per place). They are the bright­est of the bright 17 and 18-year-olds, with a* a-lev­els and de­sign awards.

many have turned down of­fers from ox­ford, Cam­bridge and London’s Im­pe­rial Col­lege.

The course is pre­dom­i­nantly prac­ti­cal. ‘I want them to take risks. I want them to make mis­takes. I be­lieve in tak­ing peo­ple on very young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced and giv­ing them great re­spon­si­bil­ity,’ says Dyson. ‘It’s a grown-up course — a tough op­tion.’

In­deed. While many of their peers will spend their sum­mers in­ter­rail­ing and loung­ing around Greek tav­er­nas, his stu­dents get just 27 days hol­i­day a year.

But there are no tu­ition fees. In­stead, he pays them £16,000 a year, with no obli­ga­tion to stay on when they grad­u­ate.

It all started when Dyson — an ed­u­ca­tion evan­ge­list who has al­ready spent tens of mil­lions en­cour­ag­ing the study of en­gi­neer­ing — met uni­ver­si­ties and science min­is­ter Jo John­son and grum­bled to him about the lack of Bri­tish en­gi­neers.

‘I was very dis­ap­pointed to find his lava­tory didn’t have a Dyson dryer, so I com­plained about that, too.’

WHILe the min­is­ter made no prom­ises about the dryer, John­son told him: ‘Fine, go and start your own univer­sity.’ Dyson says he thought for ‘half a sec­ond’ be­fore say­ing yes.

That was 18 months ago. He didn’t pause to won­der if it was pos­si­ble. He and his team are used to solv­ing prob­lems, mak­ing things work with bloody-minded bril­liance.

‘I don’t like things that don’t work. never have. They bother me — I want to fix them,’ he says.

mak­ing things work prop­erly has been Dyson’s ob­ses­sive mo­ti­va­tion ever since he was a young boy in charge of the house­hold vac­u­um­ing and was hor­ri­fied by the shoddy suc­tion and smell of stale dust and dog the ma­chine pro­duced.

The so­lu­tion — his world-fa­mous, cy­clonic, bag­less vac­uum cleaner — took 15 years, 5,126 pro­to­types and his life sav­ings to get on to the mar­ket, but it shook up the en­tire vac­uum in­dus­try.

He sus­pects his drive came from losing his par­ents so young.

His fa­ther — a mas­ter at Gre­sham’s In­de­pen­dent school in nor­folk, where Dyson was a pupil — died of can­cer when he was nine. His mother also died of can­cer in her early 50s.

‘It has a huge im­pact. eighty per cent of prime min­is­ters — from Walpole to ma­jor — had lost a par­ent by the age of ten,’ he says.

‘Life’s short. any­thing could hap­pen. you feel dis­ad­van­taged in some way and want to fight back.’ so he did. as well as vac­uum clean­ers and the £299 su­per­sonic hair dryer, he’s made wheel­bar­rows, fans and ro­bot­ics, and in the process helped put Bri­tain firmly back on the en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing world map.

He em­ploys more than 8,000 staff (many at man­u­fac­tur­ing plants in asia since 2002) with plans to ex­pand four-fold over the next five years. There are 3,000 on the malmes­bury cam­pus, plus the 33 un­der­grad­u­ates.

on a tour with one of his perky staff, we pop into a class­room. The les­son might be in Rus­sian for all I un­der­stand be­cause it is so com­pli­cated, but they are so en­grossed they barely look up. ‘They have fun, though!’ in­sists my guide.

all are very proud to be part of the Dyson team — work­ing with the best en­gi­neers in the world and tak­ing part in an­nual staff chal­lenges, which in­clude the Christ­mas party out­fit com­pe­ti­tion (last year’s en­tries in­cluded an 8ft su­per­sonic), an an­nual Dyson Bake off and a pump­kin-carv­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

next year’s in­take will live in sleep

pods that will be as­sem­bled in Scot­land and lifted in by crane.

Dyson has al­ways been fussy about fur­ni­ture. Back in the bad old days — when he, his wife and their three chil­dren were liv­ing on next to noth­ing, the house had been mort­gaged ‘over and over’ and he was rarely out of his work­shop — their home was al­most empty.

‘I don’t like nasty fur­ni­ture and I’d rather have noth­ing than some­thing I don’t like,’ he says.

He’s fussy about lots of things. And an ob­ses­sive ge­nius.

The Su­per­sonic cost £71mil­lion to make, took 60 pro­to­types, a team of 103 en­gi­neers and four years of tests on 1,010 miles of seven dif­fer­ent types of hair.

The firm bought so much hair that there was a global short­age, for good­ness’ sake.

To­day, of course, he is charm­ing and twinkly and in­sists he ‘never, ever’ loses his tem­per. He still does the vac­u­um­ing at home and keeps 40 of his ma­chines to choose from.

‘I en­joy it — though we have some­one who cleans as well.’

But he sounded a night­mare in the early days. He agrees: ‘I was not a de­light to live with.’

He and his wife met as fel­low stu­dents at London’s Royal Col­lege of Art. ‘I knew very quickly,’ he says. ‘I’m a very de­ci­sive sort of per­son. But she was a real Six­ties chick — she’s an artist and did graphic de­sign so we had a lot in com­mon.

‘It’ll be 50 years next year — we’ve had a won­der­ful life and three won­der­ful chil­dren. She’s funny and lively and very, very pa­tient.’

She must be. She stood by him through poverty, ob­ses­sion and po­ten­tially ru­inous law-suits over his ‘mad, to­tally mad’ de­ci­sion to try to rev­o­lu­tionise the vac­uum in­dus­try with a ma­chine that didn’t lose suc­tion.

‘We did have the odd “dis­cus­sion”,’ he says, but in­sists that when he had the wobbles and was ready to chuck it all in, she gee-d him up, say­ing: ‘You’ve got to win, you’ve got to beat them.’

He’s cer­tainly not afraid to take any­one on — par­tic­u­larly not Jean-Claude Juncker — and has spent a huge amount of time in and out of court to keep con­trol of his de­signs. He must feel vic­to­ri­ous now, mas­ter of all he sur­veys. He cer­tainly looks far younger than his years.

But he works at it — play­ing ten­nis, sleep­ing seven hours a night, run­ning up and down hills for 40 min­utes every day on hol­i­day. ‘I feel like a boy still — a young stu­dent’, he says.

He also seems the least stressed bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man imag­in­able. Yet he’s in­ca­pable of ly­ing in.

‘I wake every morn­ing at six,’ he says. With his giant brain whirring? ‘Yes. But it’s not a big brain,’ he says firmly. ‘It’s a lit­tle brain, so it has to whirr ex­tra fast.’

Pre­sum­ably his fa­mously ad­min­free work style — he once said he re­ceives only six emails a day — helps him keep calm. To­day, he says he re­ceived just three emails; one from his wife, to which he did re­ply; another from a friend who was thank­ing him for a birth­day present, to which he didn’t re­ply; and a third, which he doesn’t wish to dis­cuss but was pre­sum­ably not from Mr Juncker. In any case, that didn’t get a re­ply, ei­ther.

He de­tests so­cial me­dia (‘eu­rgh’) and loathes the phone. ‘I hate speak­ing on the phone. I find it a funny way to com­mu­ni­cate. It takes a lot of time and it gets very hot. They fry you, don’t they?’

So his very dated-look­ing of­fice lan­d­line usu­ally sits on the floor gath­er­ing dust (‘I never use that thing’), he strug­gles to re­mem­ber the last time he used his mo­bile and can’t re­mem­ber ever call­ing his wife. Though he en­joys ex­chang­ing silly texts and emo­jis with his six grand­chil­dren.

It sounds like he is a bet­ter grand­fa­ther than fa­ther.

‘I prob­a­bly wasn’t great,’ he says. ‘But I didn’t force them to come out and work in the work­shop, though they all did.’

Maybe they just wanted to see him. What­ever, they were clearly in­flu­enced. All have gone into cre­ative fields and all are ex­tremely grounded and hard-work­ing.

‘I didn’t make any money un­til they left home, so they’ve all seen poverty,’ he says.

BuT it isn’t true of his six grand­chil­dren. How­ever, he in­sists they know what work is, which is a good thing be­cause mean­while, the com­pany is grow­ing by 25 to 30 per cent. Last year, prof­its jumped 41 per cent to £631 mil­lion.

When you’re as rich as that al­ready, I won­der — and have an enor­mous Glouces­ter­shire pile com­plete with Corinthian pil­lars, Grade-I listed Orangery, gar­dens by Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown and your own-de­signed fans whirring by the pool­side — does an ex­tra £100 mil­lion or so ac­tu­ally feel any dif­fer­ent?

‘It en­ables you to do things you couldn’t be­fore,’ he says.

And he’s talk­ing about work, not buy­ing Caribbean party is­lands.

He’s re­cently hired ex­perts from As­ton Martin and elec­tric car firm Tesla, fu­elling ru­mours that he’s work­ing on a car. How ex­cit­ing! Is it true? ‘We don’t talk about what we’re work­ing on, but good try!’ he says. ‘We some­times talk about tech­nolo­gies — such as bat­ter­ies or elec­tric mo­tors or ro­bot­ics — but not prod­ucts.’

For now, though, with his univer­sity train­ing Bri­tain’s fu­ture en­gi­neers, he is fo­cus­ing on Brexit — and keen to tell any­one who will lis­ten what a great op­por­tu­nity it is for his beloved Bri­tain.

‘I am not anti-Europe. I am just anti Bri­tain hav­ing no sovereignty,’ he says. ‘Our trade im­bal­ance [in Bri­tain’s favour] with Europe is £9 bil­lion a month and ris­ing. That could be £100 bil­lion a year!

‘They’re treat­ing us as if we need them, when the re­verse is true. They need us. Surely we want free trade — or we should walk away!’

And surely, what­ever your po­lit­i­cal stance, this is a voice worth lis­ten­ing to.

Be­cause, af­ter all, while he might be ob­ses­sive, ec­cen­tric and weirdly fussy about fur­ni­ture, Sir James Dyson does seem to have been right about pretty much ev­ery­thing else over the years.

Pic­tures: REX FEA­TURES/THE SUN

Faith in Bri­tain: Sir James Dyson with one of his fa­mous vac­uum clean­ers and (left) his huge Geor­gian manor in Glouces­ter­shire

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