Millionaires in the making

20th July 2007 at 01:00
What do Sir Alex Ferguson, Gordon Ramsay, Billy Connolly and Stewart Milne have in common? Apart from being Scottish, and on the UK rich list, they all served apprenticeships before going on to achieve fame and fortune.

Neil Munro reports

jim mccoll hit the headlines in May when he bought the company where he started his apprenticeship. With an estimated wealth of pound;435 million, he tops the "vocational rich list" of successful entrepreneurs in Scotland and comes sixth in the UK's top 25.

Mr McColl began as an engineering apprentice with Glasgow-based Weir Pumps and took over the business via his Clyde Blowers group, for which he paid pound;1 million in 1992 to take a 30 per cent stake. Worldwide sales last year topped pound;600 million.

One of its specialisms is clean coal technology which experts believe has the potential to bring Mr McColl's company even greater riches as the fight against global warming hots up.

The vocational rich list, published by City and Guilds, the leading awarding body for work-based qualifications, is intended to boost the image of vocational learning. "We're working to change the perception that work-related education is the 'poor alternative' to the traditional academic route," says Chris Humphries, director general of City and Guilds.

The second name on the Scottish list and seventh in the UK's top 25 is Stewart Milne, the leading housebuilder and owner of Aberdeen Football Club, who started out as an electrician and is now worth an estimated pound;294 million.

Other Scottish luminaries include Willie Haughey (engineer), the Glasgow businessman who founded his own refrigeration business and is believed to be worth pound;50 million; Gordon Ramsay (chef, pound;50 million); Billy Connolly (welder, pound;20 million); and Sir Alex Ferguson (welder, pound;20 million).

Almost a quarter of the names on the UK list have a Scottish heritage, according to City and Guilds, the highest proportion since the index was first published five years ago. In 2003, only five Scottish-born entrepreneurs had a self-made fortune of more than pound;10 million; by 2007, 14 people had assed that milestone, with a collective worth of pound;1.26 billion.

The vocational rich list is topped, as it has been for four out of the last five years, by Sir John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U, who began as an engineering apprentice with Michelin Tyres and now has an estimated fortune of pound;1.6 billion.

Engineering holds out promises of the greatest riches for aspiring self-made people, accumulating pound;4,067 million for those with a qualification in that field well ahead of the fashion industry in second place at pound;1,585 million.

Mr Humphries says one of the characteristics of vocational millionaires is that they tend to set up locally, pouring their wealth into their home towns and cities.

"The list shows that we need to wake up to the idea of work- related training and the economic benefits it brings, not only to students but also to regional areas," adds Mr Humphries.

Meanwhile, a survey of small business bosses throughout the UK has revealed that less than half (46 per cent) have a degree and only 11 per cent believe that having a good education is crucial to being a success in business.

The survey, by Barclays Local Business Banking, suggests that, with students graduating thousands of pounds in debt, "it's perhaps no surprise that some young people in the UK are choosing to shun higher education in favour of more immediate financial returns".

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