John Caudwell was born on 7 October 1952 in Birmingham, England. Originally from the Midlands, his family moved and settled in Stoke-on-Trent in north Staffordshire, an area which has always battled with economic and social challenges.
John was aware of his entrepreneurial and creative streak even as a child, engaging in schemes as varied as growing worms in a box under his mother’s bed which he would then sell to fishermen, collecting gift coupons from cigarette packets and selling the goods he bought with them, and selling motorcycle clothing – a business so successful that the manufacturer eventually blocked his supply after complaints from competitors.
John abandoned his A-levels in favour of something more practical, and began an engineering apprenticeship at the Michelin Tyre factory in Stoke-on-Trent.
But it was in the mid-1980s, when operating a successful car dealership in Stoke, that he turned a business problem into a business opportunity.
Ever proactive, John would search for cars for customers if they asked for something he didn’t have in stock. One of the sources of these cars was auctions – John would see a car about to come through, and then phone a prospective customer to see if they were interested. But there was a challenge: one payphone and lots of car dealers resulted in many missed sales.
John had heard about mobile phones, but knew little about them. He researched and approached one manufacturer to buy one. The price for a single unit was £1,600. He asked if they would do a deal on two, which was agreed but only on the basis that John would start a dealership. In turn, it resulted in an agreement between the two parties which entailed buying 26 handsets.
It took nine months to sell these 26 phones to local plumbers, taxi drivers and television repairmen at a price of £2,000 each. The company made a loss every month for the first two years of operations.
However, John’s entrepreneurial spirit and foresight transformed the business from a small dealership to a wholesale distributor, with turnover reaching £13 million in 1991, making it the UK’s largest independent distributor of mobile phones.
Turnover increased from £13 million in 1991 to over £1 billion in 2000. In 1996 and 1997, the Caudwell Group was named the UK’s fastest-growing company for two years in succession.
John could see the end of the growth days looming. By the time he sold Caudwell Group, including renowned high street retailer Phones 4U, in 2006, the business was selling 26 phones a minute. It employed 10,000 people in the UK and abroad – though primarily in the UK, with its headquarters in John’s hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. It was turning over £2.25 billion when John sold the business for £1.5 billion in 2006.
Since 2006, while John remains involved in business – aviation, property, and wealth management – John’s primary focus has been charitable and philanthropic work.
John gives significantly to and raises the profiles of causes which struggle to receive the attention, funding and assistance they so desperately deserve.
Through his charities Caudwell Children and Caudwell LymeCo, John’s present focus is on improving the evidence, research and ultimately, therapies available to those with disabilities and Lyme disease.
Caudwell Children specifically has supported over 20,000 children and families since its inception in 2000, has provided over £45 million worth of services and supported children with over 650 different medical conditions.
As a signatory to the Giving Pledge, John is committed to giving at least 70 percent of his wealth to charitable causes during and after his lifetime. By signing up to the Pledge, John sits alongside Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and over 200 of the world’s wealthiest individuals who are using their personal wealth to solve humanitarian problems.
John is clear that he wants to be remembered for his charity work rather than his business success. He received the Noble Gift Philantropreneur Award in 2012 for his dedication to charity work, and continues to commit his time and money raising money for vitally important causes.