Peter Cruddas, the richest man in the City talks to us about Life

by David Teather, The Guardian

Peter Cruddas, founder of CMC Markets, shakes his arm and the large watch on his wrist seems to sparkle."This one cost me a quarter of a million euros," he says in a Guardian interview. "It's a limited edition, platinum Zenith. And it's number one in the edition. I like watches. I've got about 15 watches."

Cruddas, the son of a Smithfield meat market porter who drank too much, was named the City's richest man in a Sunday Times ranking, worth an estimated £860m. He still owns 95 per cent of the online trading business he set up without any outside backing in 1989. There was an abortive plan to float the business last year - scuppered by volatile markets. And the process was so exhausting Cruddas will not be trying it again until 2008 at the earliest.

Still, for Cruddas, aside from the watches, there are two Bentleys, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the private jet, the homes in Monaco, Antibes and Hertfordshire. "I sometimes have to pinch myself to see how far I've come. I mean we're talking about a 15 year-old Hackney boy that really has started a company that's worth about £1bn with no investment from anybody."

He sinks into a beaten-up brown leather armchair, tucks a leg under himself, all the while keeping his single breasted suit buttoned up, and begins to tell his remarkable story.

Raised on a Hackney council estate, Cruddas left his Shoreditch comprehensive at 15. His father was a porter at London's Smithfield meat market and drank too much. There was little money to go around. His mother, who was an office cleaner, was the backbone of the family. She survived the Blitz, spending days sheltering in Bank tube station. He peppers his conversation with stories about his mum.

His two brothers, including his twin, did what might have been expected and ended up as London cabbies. But somehow Cruddas, who is now 53, defied the odds. He also said that membership of the Scout movement helped him escape a violent home situation. Today Cruddas runs his own online trading business, CMC Markets, and is estimated to be worth £860m. He was named the richest man in the City in a Sunday Times ranking, beating Lord Rothschild into second place. So how does that feel? "Fantastic," he says with a smile. "Fantastic, fantastic."

I ask what he spends the money on and he becomes a kid at Christmas. He shakes his arm and the large watch on his wrist seems to sparkle. "This one cost me a quarter of a million euros," he says. "It's a limited edition, platinum Zenith. And it's number one in the edition. I like watches. I've got about 15 watches."

Then there are the two Bentleys, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, the private jet; the homes in Monaco, Antibes and Hertfordshire. "I sometimes have to pinch myself to see how far I've come. I mean we're talking about a 15-year-old Hackney boy that really has started a company that's worth about £1bn with no investment from anybody."

Dapper

He was named Entrepreneur of the Year this month by Management Today. "I'm thrilled with any recognition. Sometimes this country doesn't recognise people that have achieved a lot."

Cruddas pronounces each word deliberately but still with a clear London accent, the odd "fings" instead of "things". He admits to a weakness for nice clothes. He is wearing a sharp tailor-made blue suit from Hong Kong - although he generally prefers Armani - black brogues and a slightly rakish silk handkerchief poking out of his jacket pocket. His brother used to call him Brett Sinclair, the dapper character Sir Roger Moore played in The Persuaders.

CMC is based in what looks like a salmon-coloured castle, rising up next to an abandoned and overgrown lot. The business is in Aldgate, where the City melts away into neighbouring Tower Hamlets and where blond wood bars sit next to dingy pubs with an England flag in their windows. It is not far from where Cruddas was brought up but he rarely makes the short trip back to Hackney. The last time he did some years ago he was surprised to find parts of it getting trendy when all he had wanted to do was escape.

Cruddas launched CMC with just £10,000 in 1989 and has built the business into one of the world's leading online trading firms with partnerships in more than 30 countries. CMC enables investors to trade just about anything, including shares, commodities, oil, currencies, derivatives and Treasury securities. It also offers "contract for difference" products and financial spread betting; allowing ordinary investors access to areas that were once the preserve of big institutions. According to the company's website, it deals with more than 26 million trades each year. It has an estimated worth of £1.25 billion. [2012].

The company was set to float on the London Stock Exchange but pulled back at the last minute owing to volatile market conditions. The process was exhausting, Cruddas says, and he won't be revisiting the idea for sometime. Until then he is continuing to expand around the world. He still owns 95% of the business.

Cruddas headed to the City after leaving school and landed a job as a telex operator, tying up deals for traders. He worked a bank of 10 telex machines and the firm pulled up the carpet so he could rapidly wheel himself from one to the other on his office chair. He got his break and began trading commodities and foreign exchange. "I liked the instant success of getting something right." He worked for firms including Marine Midland and Bank of Iran. At 35 he decided to set up on his own.

The catalyst for CMC's growth was the internet - Cruddas launched the firm's online foreign exchange trading platform in 1996. "As soon as I saw the internet I couldn't believe how good it would be for the business. I saw it instantly." The net allowed real-time pricing and dramatically cut costs, widening the potential investor base and allowing CMC to steal market share from banks, which were slow to catch on.

Cruddas is not bashful about his achievements but neither is there a hint of arrogance. His brothers, he says, do not begrudge him a penny of his success, partly because it meant his parents would never have to worry about money in their retirement. "They are proud. They are very good really. You would think they would be jealous but they're not. Are we close? Not really. But then we're not distant. They are hard workers. They don't want anything from me."

Most of the time he lives in Monaco but insists he does pay tax for the time he is in Britain. He says he doesn't mix with the growing number of British businessmen based there. "I don't really know anybody. I'm not really a networker. I don't go down the pub. My life is about family and business."

Aware

He has donated millions to the Prince's Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards to give other young kids from underprivileged backgrounds a leg up. "What I like about the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards scheme is that I can honestly say that if I hadn't been in the Boy Scouts I wouldn't have been as successful as I am now. Getting out of the inner city made me realise that there is a lot more to life than coming home to arguments and rows and an alcoholic father and no money."

His daughter Annabel was the first in the family to go to university. He is twice married and has four children. "Yes, they have had a completely different upbringing to me. What I try to do is teach them the value of money. I'm the one who goes around turning the lights off. If you started with nothing, you are very aware of it and you want your children to be aware of it. Maybe my children's children will be nightmares, but my children are certainly very well grounded and work very hard in school.

"I don't think like a billionaire because I am still working very hard. I'm not lying on a beach in Spain. I don't have a chauffeur. I travel by private jet because I work so hard I need the convenience. I don't have a cook or a butler. I took down the Christmas decorations last weekend and I took 10 boxes down to the cellar - I didn't have someone to do that for me. I'm a worker. It is nice to have comforts; when I travel long haul I go first class. But I don't have a gaggle of servants waiting on me. And I think that's key. It keeps my feet on the ground."

He knows his life makes a good story, pulling out themes with the skill of a literature student studying a text. The company is like an extended family, he says. "With business I found I probably got the adulation and the rewards and recognition that I didn't get growing up in a difficult home, and I like that. The other reason I like having my own company is that probably deep down I am a very insecure person because I like to be able to control my own destiny and future, because then I don't have to deal with adversity and disappointment."

He says he has turned down three offers for the business: the first at £2m, the second at £7m and the third six years ago for £50m. "There are very few people in this country that can turn down £50m but I believed that I could make the company worth a lot more," he says. "I've got what I want in life, to be honest. My motivation now in the next 10 to 20 years is to build CMC up into an even bigger and better company." His wife, quite naturally, had questioned his sanity when he turned the last offer down. Other than that she has always been very supportive. "Put that in if you could," he says and he gives a little wink.

The CV


Born

September 1953, Hackney, London

Education

Shoreditch comprehensive (despite academic ability, he left school aged 15 because he needed to earn money).

Career

1970-1982 Telex operator at Western Union, then trader at banks including Bank of Iran and Marine Midland

1982-1989 Chief dealer with SCF Equity Services

1989 Set up CMC Markets It is now worth around £1.25bn.

1996 Launched online foreign exchange trading platform

Family

Married to Fiona, four children, including two from a previous marriage

Wealth

Mr Cruddas, is ranked 90th in the Sunday Times Rich List having amassed wealth of about £850 million. In 2006, he was described as the richest man in the City. In the United Kingdom he has in the past enjoyed "non-domiciled" status, meaning he avoided paying full income tax. Cruddas owns a £10m apartment in Monaco, top, a £5m house in Hertfordshire, an apartment in central London and a home in Antibes. A private jet and a yacht help him travel between destinations. His watch collection alone is said to be worth £3.5m.

Politics

Recent figures [2012] put him down as the largest donor to the Conservative Party. From January to March of 2012, he donated the Tories £215,244.

Charity

Cruddas was involved in several charities, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, The Prince’s Trust and Great Ormond Street Hospital. He also established The Peter Cruddas Foundation, which helps disadvantaged young people.

Hobbies

Golf


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