No thanks, I won’t be buy­ing a he­li­copter – or a foot­ball club

Fash­ion boss who scooped £200mil­lion in cash still drives a seven-year-old car (but it IS a Rolls-Royce)

The Mail on Sunday - - Financial - By NEIL CRAVEN

WHEN Mah­mud Ka­mani floated his fam­ily fash­ion firm Boohoo.com for £700 mil­lion in March, his phone started ring­ing. ‘Some­one rang to ask if I wanted to buy a jet. Some­one even asked if I wanted to buy a foot­ball club. I said to him: “Are you on drugs?’”

But so far Ka­mani, de­spite be­ing as wealthy as Si­mon Cow­ell, has es­chewed the trap­pings of his dot­com mil­lion­aire sta­tus.

‘Noth­ing has changed. Since I floated I have not bought a he­li­copter, no new cars, no new house. I’m not a lot­tery win­ner, I can’t just take the money and walk away,’ he says. ‘This is my life and I have to re­mem­ber I’ve got a big job here. I’ve got people bet­ting on me to suc­ceed.’

So far those people who bet on Ka­mani may be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed. As with many dot­com firms, such as ri­val fash­ion group Asos, shares have plum­meted in the past two months, by 40 per cent for Boohoo.

Ka­mani cashed in a healthy chunk

I’m not a lot­tery win­ner. I can’t just take the money. People are bet­ting on me to suc­ceed

of his share of the firm at the float, rak­ing in more than £200mil­lion in cash. But un­like some other flota­tions, where own­ers have sold most of their stakes, he still owns 24 per cent and rel­a­tives’ hold­ings boost the fam­ily stake to over 40 per cent.

A re­cent sur­vey es­ti­mated the to­tal fam­ily wealth to be £300 mil­lion. Ka­mani shakes his head at the com­par­i­son with Si­mon Cow­ell, but only as a ges­ture of ex­as­per­a­tion at people’s in­ter­est in per­sonal for­tune.

Be­fore the Boohoo float, Ka­mani was a name recog­nised by few out­side the rag trade. Now he is one of fash­ion’s ris­ing stars. But Ka­mani, whose lan­guage can be as colourful as the dresses he sells, in­sists his feet are still firmly on the ground.

He puts the re­cent boom and slump in dot­com stock down to stock mar­ket traders ‘play­ing the video game’ at their screens.

‘This is not a bub­ble. This com­pany is not just an idea or a piece of paper. It is real. We have 1,000 people work­ing hard,’ he says. Ka­mani is also util­i­tar­ian in his dress. He wears a sharp jacket over a black Hugo Boss T-shirt and has made an ef­fort not to get dis­tracted de­cid­ing what to wear each day. ‘I have 50 piled up in my bed­room,’ he says of the T-shirts.

‘Some people like golf, oth­ers like foot­ball. I like work. People need a sense of self worth and work pro­vides that. Work is good for your soul,’ says Ka­mani, who is mar­ried and turns 50 this year.

The firm’s sales were £109mil­lion last year and it is set­ting up in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing a big­ger ware­house, to en­able it to hit £1bil­lion.

Ka­mani walks over to a map of the world which cov­ers an en­tire wall of his Manch­ester of­fice. He draws an imag­i­nary cir­cle around the UK.

‘At the mo­ment that is our busi­ness. But look at the op­por­tu­nity,’ he says in­di­cat­ing swathes of Europe, the East and the US where the com­pany is mak­ing head­way. Last year over­seas shop­pers ac­counted for a third of sales. French and Span­ish lan­guage web­sites have been launched this year and more are planned. Aus­tralia is al­ready a key mar­ket and the US base is grow­ing.

Boohoo is now some­thing of an in­sti­tu­tion among Bri­tain’s youth. With free de­liv­ery and price tags of maxi dresses at £15 it is not hard to see why it might ap­peal to cash­strapped teens, stu­dents and re­ces­sion-struck twen­tysome­things.

‘Who wants to get the car or bus to the shop­ping cen­tre when you can buy from us and spend the day do­ing some­thing else?’ asks Ka­mani.

His fam­ily be­gan their jour­ney in Gu­jarat, In­dia, where his grand­fa­ther went to school with Ma­hatma Gandhi. They moved to Kenya, but in 1968 his fa­ther Ab­dul­lah left the wartorn coun­try with his wife, four chil- dren and just a few hun­dred pounds, and set up in Manch­ester, sell­ing clothes to lo­cals. By the early 2000s the firm was sell­ing nearly £50mil­lion of cloth­ing a year to shops all over Europe in­clud­ing Se­lect, Pi­lot, Mark One and Bay Trad­ing.

That suc­cess brought trap­pings of wealth, and while he has not bought any new cars with his new­found for­tune he does drive a black and sil­ver Rolls-Royce Phan­tom con­vert­ible, which he bought in 2007. But the world has changed from the early days of the fam­ily fash­ion em­pire and Ka­mani says he was one of the few to spot the com­ing revo­lu­tion.

‘Pri­mark was tak­ing over and no one would recog­nise that. I could see it was a threat, but most re­tail- ers had this os­trich at­ti­tude and one by one they be­gan to dis­ap­pear,’ he says. Some years be­fore, Ka­mani’s brother Nurez had bought the name Boohoo.com for £10,000 and thought it might be worth some­thing.

Ka­mani was dis­mis­sive at first. But in 2006 he re­vived the idea of set­ting up on­line and cut­ting out the high street all to­gether. Boohoo man­ages its own man­u­fac­tur­ing and de­sign, sourc­ing clothes from fac­to­ries from Le­ices­ter to Hong Kong.

To­day there are 450 staff at the head of­fice in Dale Street, Manch­ester, dou­ble the num­ber of just a year ago. There are 550 more in the ware­house in Burn­ley, Lan­cashire.

Joint chief ex­ec­u­tive Carol Kane, re­garded as the one with a fin­ger on the UK’s fash­ion pulse, is also based at the Manch­ester HQ, as are trad­ing di­rec­tor Jalal and two of Ka­mani’s three sons. Boohoo re­cently se­cured a 50,000 sq ft of­fice in the next street to cope with ex­pan­sion.

‘I want this busi­ness to stay in Manch­ester,’ says Ka­mani. ‘I didn’t want us to move to a ster­ile in­dus­trial park in the mid­dle of nowhere.’

As for open­ing a bricks and mor­tar shop he shakes his head again. This time it is a def­i­nite no.

‘I can’t imag­ine hav­ing 50 shops. If you look at what is hap­pen­ing out there it would drive you nuts,’ he says. ‘I’d rather sit in the back­streets of Manch­ester and have a shop in ev­ery­body’s home on their com­puter screen.’

MOD­EST: Mahmud Ka­mani at his Manch­ester HQ

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