Entrepreneur biographies

For every entrepreneur the experience of moving on from the business they have built is unique. The choices they make leading up to exit and the career decisions they make post-exit vary greatly.

UBS has talked with a number of entrepreneurs from different businesses, with vastly different experiences of exit and post-exit life, in order to understand the highs and lows that can impact this life-changing experience.

Martin Leuw, former CEO, IRIS Software

Martin took over from where the founder of IRIS Software left off when the company received its first private equity investment in 2001. As Group CEO, Martin drove the growth of IRIS over 10 years, from a business with £9m in annual revenues to one generating more than £120m annually from its 60,000 business customers. This achievement made IRIS the largest privately owned software enterprise in the UK. The enterprise value grew from £30m to £500m under his leadership. Today, businesses of all sizes and 50% of the UK’s accountancy firms use IRIS accounting software, while 18% of businesses UK-wide rely on its payroll packages. Martin oversaw two management buy-outs before his personal exit in 2011.

Neal Ghandi, co-founder, Xplora, Attenda

Neal has been an entrepreneur since age 21, starting a business, Jungle.com, that was later sold to Argos. Neal’s own first big success came when he sold Xplora, the early e-commerce platform he co-founded in 1996, to a NASDAQ-listed company in 1998. While still at Xplora, he set up a further joint venture, Attenda, this time in the realm of IT infrastructure management. Neal relinquished his sizeable stake in the business (and a subsidiary) when Attenda sold in two parts over 2010 and 2011 for £72m in total. Attenda’s clients include Regus, Nisa, Travelodge, Cambridge University Press and UCAS.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, IT entrepreneur turned philanthropist

Having arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee in 1939, Dame Stephanie Shirley started what became Xansa plc (now part of the Sopra Group) on her dining room table with £6 in 1962. In 25 years as its Chief Executive she developed it into a leading business technology group, pioneering new work practices and changing the position of professional women (especially in hi-tech) along the way. She has served on corporate Boards such as Tandem Computers Inc. (1992-7), the John Lewis Partnership plc (1999-2001) and AEA Technology - previously the Atomic Energy Authority (1992-2000). Her philanthropy is based on her strong belief in giving back to society. She focuses on IT and autism (her autistic son Giles died age 35 in 1998).
Her charitable Shirley Foundation has made over £67m grants and initiated a number of projects that are pioneering by nature, strategic in impact and significant in money terms. Current activity is targeted at national strategies for autism.

Dinesh Dhamija, founder, Ebookers

Dinesh founded Ebookers plc, a European Internet travel agency that would grow to rival its American counterparts Expedia and Travelocity. Dinesh founded Flightbookers in 1983, the Internet arm of which would go on to become Ebookers in 1999. That same year, the new company’s initial public offering raised $70m. Dinesh began Ebookers with a $5m investment and only the support of his Finance Director; at the time he sold his business in 2005, for $471m, the company had 2,000 employees and handled 1.6m passengers annually.

Hugh Chappell, founder, TrustedReviews.com and Bit-Tech.net

Hugh had just two jobs in 24 years before striking out on his own to establish TrustedReviews.com in 2003. Having begun his career with Apple Computer Inc. in 1979 and then spent 18 years at Kaga Electronics, Hugh spotted a gap in the market for consumer technologies reviews written by trusted experts. Hot on the heels of his initial success in the field of online-only publishing, he founded Bit-Tech.net just two years later. Hugh sold TrustedReviews.com to IPC Media in 2007 for an undisclosed sum; he exited Bit-Tech.net exactly a year later, selling it to Dennis Publishing. Hugh is also a Board Director for E2Exchange: Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur Exchange.

Munir Samji, former owner, Blitz Communications

Munir, a qualified Chartered Accountant, had a 19-year career in advertising – ending up as Managing Director of Saatchi & Saatchi – before becoming involved in business turnarounds. Having already rescued seven businesses, Munir bought the eighth, Blitz Communications, and oversaw its rise to become one of the UK’s leading staging and audio-visual specialists. Blitz is the sole on-site supplier to the likes of ExCeL, Manchester Central and the NEC, and has supported such illustrious events as the Man Booker Prize ceremony, BBC Summer in the City and the Liverpool International Music Festival awards. Munir exited the business only late in 2014.

Lara Morgan, founder, Pacific Direct

Lara set up Pacific Direct in 1991, aged just 23. She built a global business manufacturing and supplying miniature toiletries and other necessities to the hospitality and tourism trade. London’s Dorchester Hotel provided the young entrepreneur with her first order for travel-sized sewing kits. The company has established a niche by putting licensed luxury brands like Elemis, Penhaligon’s and The White Company in hotel rooms worldwide. Lara exited Pacific Direct after 17 years at the helm, selling her 99% stake in the business for £20m. Lara is also a Board Director for E2Exchange: Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur Exchange.

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