By Mike Southon
FT Columnist

The early days of a new business are characterised by the pressing need for sustainable revenue and careful cost management. Once a balance is achieved, the focus switches from money to time, as systems are put in place to build efficiency.

Eventually, the entrepreneur’s focus moves from managing the business diary to building a legacy: what they will leave behind after they are gone. Some choose to establish a charitable foundation bearing their own name, or to pursue a career in the media. For others, their legacy is in designing a sustainable business model that will benefit future generations.

Steve Hayes is in the latter group, having followed a robust but non-academic route to entrepreneurial success. Leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, he worked as a butcher and then a baker. There being little call for candlestick makers in Watford, he moved into selling second mortgages during the evenings, before founding finance brokerage with David Cowham during 1997.

Together, they grew the company to more than 500 staff before selling to MBNA in 2005. Hayes then followed his passion for sports by investing in his local football club, Wycombe Wanderers, which was then languishing in the nether regions of the English Football League. His challenge was to develop a viable business, so he bought a controlling interest in another leading sports brand, the Premier League rugby club London Wasps, which was already ground-sharing with Wycombe.

For small clubs, links with the local community are essential and Hayes realised that the limitations of his current site made it difficult both to scale the business and to provide a significant level of grass-roots support in the area.

Wycombe District Council suggested a 200-acre site at Booker Airfield, so Hayes – along with Mike Brooks and other former colleagues from – put plans together for a much more ambitious project that could deliver something better than just a new home for the clubs: a shared-value model delivering both to community and investors.

He enlisted the help of two key experts. Jim Clifford is a partner in a large corporate finance house and a visiting fellow at Cass Business School specialising in shared value in social entrepreneurship. Howard Kennedy is a former semi-professional footballer who became a headteacher before working in the public sector on educational reform and engagement strategies.

Together, they have put together an ambitious project: The Wycombe Sporting Village. This will include not only a new stadium, but also leisure facilities for local families, affordable housing for first-time buyers, workshops and retail space for small businesses and adult education facilities. They estimate the positive economic impact on the area to be more than £15m per year.

But the local authority is understandably nervous about building on greenbelt land and needs to be persuaded that this is more than a vanity project. Hayes hopes to show that his ambitions are far wider than just a new stadium and some new community facilities. His inspiration comes from The Laureus Foundation, which promotes the use of sport as a tool for social change. It bases its activities on the key principles of teamwork, fair play, endeavour and respect – which are also core values for successful entrepreneurship.

Wycombe Sporting Village is designed to be a prototype for other eco-friendly community sports projects and Hayes is already looking for commercial partners – not just here, but also around the world.

His legacy ambition is not represented by stadiums named after himself. Instead, his dream is to establish “the Wycombe model” as a repeatable and sustainable business formula for community sports and leisure.

Wycombe Sporting Village can be found at

Originally published in The Financial Times: Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker-

Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.

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