Sir Alan Sugar grew up in a council flat in Hackney with his parents and three siblings. During his teenage years, he earned some cash by doing some work at a greengrocer’s shop, and after leaving school when he was 16, went straight into a job in the civil service. He did not go to university and gain any formal qualifications, but it wasn’t long before he was attempting to run his own business. His first venture involved a £50 van he had saved up to purchase and some car antennas and other gadgets. He made a bit of extra money on the side by selling these items from the back of his van.
When he was 21 years old, he founded the business that was going to help make him very rich. Beginning as a general wholesaler, the business soon began to focus on electronics which he was able to sell off at cheaper prices than his competitors. His business was called Amstrad, a combination of his own initials (Alan Michael Sugar) and the word ‘Trading’. Due to its popularity, Sugar was able to expand the business and sell tuners, amplifiers and other technological devices.
In 1980, his business was listed on the London Stock Exchange, which brought in lots of investment. Every year throughout the next decade, Amstrad doubled in value and made twice as much profit than the previous year. Since the 80s marked the era in which more people were becoming interested in computers, Sir Alan Sugar was able to corner the market and provide his customers with products they could actually afford. This helped Amstrad to grow until its total value was £1.2 billion.
However, its success wasn’t meant to last forever, and in the early 1990s, a company called Seagate supplied faulty hard disks to Amstrad, causing long-lasting damage to the business. Although Seagate was initially told to pay Amstrad $153 million in damages, the whole case was settled out-of-court which meant they only paid $22 million in the end. The 90s was a difficult time for Amstrad, since there were many other electronics companies being set up around the world, and lots of international companies had more to offer customers in terms of gaming and features. The Amstrad Mega PC offered customers what they wanted, but it was priced too highly for the market and wasn’t a success. Sugar, however, kept the business going through this 90s and the first half of the 2000s, before selling it in 2007 for £125 million. He didn’t want to stay involved in the business either, and stepped down as the chairman the following year. Sugar stated that he wanted to concentrate on some of his other business interests instead.
In 1991, when Amstrad was going downhill, Sir Alan Sugar decided to invest in Tottenham Hotspur, so he and Terry Venables purchased it. However, Sugar had very limited knowledge of football, which meant he had no sporting expertise to bring to the table. His monetary investment greatly helped the club, but fans did not warm to him when he began treating the club as just another one of his business ventures. Tottenham Hotspur therefore performed rather poorly in the football world while Sugar was chairman, and the club only won one trophy in nine years. Jurgen Klinsmann said that Lord Sugar was only concerned with money and had no real passion or interest in the actual subject of football itself. He did not believe that Sugar’s heart was in the football club, and thought that he was merely out to make himself some money in the long term. Sugar sold all his shares in the club for a total of £47 million by 2007, and has spoken out about how he felt his time there was a waste.
Staying with the idea of using his initials for business names, Sir Alan Sugar is also involved in Amsair, which was set up in 1993 and is now run by Sugar’s son Daniel. Likewise, Amsprop, a large property company, is also run by Daniel Patrick Sugar. Amscreen, a company which sells advertising screens and using advanced technology to identify the age of sex of viewers, is managed by Simon Sugar, Lord Sugar’s eldest son.
The Apprentice in the UK began in 2005, and Lord Sugar was the main star. In the show, candidates would compete to win the title and receive an investment of £250,000 from Sugar himself in order to build their own business. Each week, one competitor would be fired by Sugar, until he had to choose a final winner. The winner would be given a job in his company, and from 2011, they won a partnership with Sugar as well as the monetary investment. After just two series, Lord Sugar had well and truly gotten himself a reputation as a harsh figure, and wasn’t happy with the way he was being portrayed merely for entertainment purposes. He refused to feature in the third series of the show unless the producers of The Apprentice showed him in a better light and focused more on the business aspects of the show. They agreed to his terms and Sugar continued to feature in the show.
Sir Alan Sugar was given his knighthood in 2000, as a result of contributing a great deal to electronics and the computer industry over the years. Although he did not attend university, he now holds two honorary doctorates – one from City University and the other from Brunel University. He has donated money to charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital, and has also given generously to the Labour Party. This resulted in Sir Alan Sugar being offered a life peerage from Gordon Brown in 2009, which made him Baron Sugar. In 2015, he made it into the list of top 5 British entrepreneurs.