In this article we catch up with Leon Fear of Fear Group. Leon started his first business while he was still at school; buying and selling mountain bike parts by mail order. After leaving school and deciding not to go to university, Leon joined the family business alongside his father, Stephen Fear.
*Q - Can you tell us a bit about your background? *
As a kid I was always out and about with my Dad looking at land and property, which I still love doing to this day. We had a spaniel called Freeway who used to go everywhere with us in the Range Rover out looking at land - well we couldn't call him motorway! I used to spot sites and Dad would give me a couple of quid for every one I spotted. That was my pocket money I guess, I earned it looking for land from about aged 7.
I started with my first small scale business whilst at school buying and selling mountain bikes and bike parts. This was really before the Internet took off fully and although we did sell through EBay in the early days of it, most of it was through contacts and mail order with ads in mountain bike magazines. I bought a Ford Escort estate which everyone thought was odd at 17 but I needed it to move my stock about.
I then went on to work on site in construction laying flooring, decorating and fitting kitchens before a short period in estate agency and then moving full time in to property management and development.
*Q - Can you tell us about your current activities at Fear Group? *
Our current activities are centered on property although we have interests in various things including a new brand of bespoke hand made soap but our main interests are in commercial and residential property investment. We currently have projects either in planning stages or underway of around £550M.
*Q - When you were growing up, was going into business something that you always wanted to do? *
I always wanted to go in to business and in fact I don't think I ever really saw anything else as being for me as I like the mix of doing deals, meeting people and traveling, all of which are part of everyday business life. I once thought about becoming a police officer but realised that I probably couldn't afford a new Range Rover if I did that so decided against it!
*Q - Do you think that not going to university had any impact on you getting involved in business? *
I think for me not going to University has been a blessing because it meant I could crack on much earlier and get a head start. Some of my friends only left Uni three or four years ago and are only just getting going, usually with a load of debt to be going on with. It is great for some people and not for others. I don't feel I've missed out at all.
*Q - What do you think are the most important skills or attributes required to be successful in business? *
I feel the most important attributes required to be successful in business are being straightforward and reliable. Whether you are selling a product or service, your customers need to know that you will do what you've promised.
*Q - Do you have any mentors or role models who have helped you in business, and if so, have they played an important role? *
I've been fortunate because my role model has been my Dad so I've always had someone to bounce ideas off and talk to. A lot of entrepreneurs don't have the ability to do that with someone they know they can trust 100% so I consider myself very lucky in that respect. I see John Lewis as an inspirational business, involving everyone as partners which is how we operate, and also Richard Branson for his anti corporate approach to business which I can identify with. You don't need to wear a tie to be a serious business person but dressing appropriately, particularly for interviews is important.
*Q - What tips or words of advice would you give to an entrepreneur starting up their first business? *
My tips for entrepreneurs starting out would be first off to not take on unnecessary debt. Some things you have to go for though and take that leap of faith, which might mean borrowing a few quid, but make sure it's for the benefit of the business not just yourself!
Always communicate with your customers and suppliers, if you promise something will be delivered on Wednesday, but your supplier says it's delayed and you can't therefore deliver to your customer until Monday make sure you let your customer know! Just because you know what's going on doesn't mean they do and ultimately if you don't communicate with your customers your competitors will.
Be careful what you do and say on social media as a drunken night out could affect your prospects in business later on.
Don't be afraid to have a go and fail. Most successful people weren't successful straight away! It takes practice so believe in yourself and above all never give up.