In a special issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs magazine, Team GBEA sat down with Hugh Chappell to look back at his entrepreneurial career so far.
Hugh was one of 14 people inducted into the Great British Entrepreneurs Champions Hall of Fame in association with NatWest and JD&Co, a brand new initiative led by the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
Hugh Chappell is one of the UK’s most revered entrepreneurs, investors and mentors with a long and distinguished career in the technology space. With over 20 years in the corporate world, several years as an entrepreneur and over a decade supporting the next generation, Hugh is someone whose knowledge and experience is valued and admired across the country
Long before his entrepreneurial journey began, Hugh was part of the team to establish Apple in the UK in 1979. He joined the man who brought Apple across the pond, Michael Brewer, who he says “realised that the personal computer would change the computer industry and seized on this opportunity by approaching Steve Jobs”. Michael initially secured sole distribution rights for Apple in the UK before selling the company to Apple Computer Inc. in 1981.
“I learnt a great deal from Mike, and was very grateful that he mentored and trusted me in a senior managerial role when I was very young,” Hugh explains.
His experience at Apple and working with Mike Brewer gave him the first real insights into entrepreneurship.
Hugh says: “By working in this disruptive environment, I worked with and met many truly inspiring entrepreneurs. It was a cauldron of passion, hard work, innovation and excitement. It fuelled my entrepreneurial ambitions.”
It seems Hugh was destined for a successful career from a young age, whether that was as an employee or going it alone. As a child, Hugh saw his own father carve out a path as a successful businessman, albeit in the corporate world at a senior level rather than entrepreneurship.
“He worked very hard which I admired,” Hugh says. “My parents separated and divorced when I was 17. It’s clearly not something you wish for, but at a young and pivotal age, it triggered maturity, responsibility, independence and a desire to succeed.”
From 1985, Hugh would spend the next 18 years expanding his horizons and continuing his development as a highly skilled businessperson with one of Japan’s leading electronics companies. He established their computer display business in Europe under the TAXAN brand name from nothing to more than £50 million in revenue per annum. And it was here that Hugh really began to consider launching his own business.
“Building a very successful and very profitable business without ownership fuelled my desire to do it again, but owning the business myself. So it was a very gradual but continual realisation that entrepreneurship was an option for me,” Hugh explains.
“The epiphany moment came on a flight to Japan to agree budgets for the upcoming year. Despite wanting to start my own business I’d never had the courage. I’d always loved the few jobs I’d had and I was always treated and rewarded well. I couldn’t sleep during the 12 hour flight. I kept thinking about my future and that was the defining moment. I stepped off the plane having made the decision to finally pluck up the courage to quit my job and start my own business.”
That plunge came in 2003, with 24 years experience running businesses behind him, when he launched TrustedReviews.com. Hugh likened going from his comfortable life of employment to entrepreneurship as a huge shock.
“Migrating from the security of employment, which included a big salary, bonuses, pension, car, fuel, expenses and multiple benefits like golf club memberships, to nothing was like jumping into a bath full of ice-cold water.”
He adds: “I recall the initial pressure, having invested my own money, earning nothing for the first time in my working career and writing cheques to fund the business. I remember thinking to myself ‘what have I done?!’.
“I believe in hard work – the harder you work the luckier you are. I worked seven days a week, but by going doing so I got more done. It was particularly challenging on my personal wellbeing and my family. Fortunately, I had the support of my wife, and the support of my co-founder, Riyad Emeran.”
TrustedReviews.com took the concept of a computer magazine, which contained reviews, news and features, and moved it online. “We quickly became the market leader. Our audience was huge and importantly we were very profitable.
By 2007, TrustedReview.com had more than 2 million unique users every month and nearly 15 million monthly page views. That level of success attracted interest from larger companies, and Hugh soon sold it to Time Warner/IPC Media.
Having amassed nearly 30 years of experience, Hugh turned his attention to helping the next generation of entrepreneurs. Through investments, mentoring and board positions, Hugh has established himself as one of the biggest champions of entrepreneurship since selling TrustedReviews.com.
Chief among these is Hugh’s role as a non-executive director and shareholder at the LADBible Group. Hugh has utilised his experience and knowledge to help the LADBible Group develop into a growing digital publishing house consisting of LADbible, UNILAD, SPORTbible, Pretty52 and ODDSbible. Hugh is also a board director at E2Exchange, a non-profit organisation that believes entrepreneurs learn most from fellow entrepreneurs.
Hugh says: “I’ve been very lucky to work with many successful companies, including my own. I enjoy working with competent, passionate and hard-working people. It is my intention to continue doing so by investing my time and money as appropriate.”
But what about setting up more businesses in the future? “I miss being in the cockpit,” Hugh admits. “I do miss owning my own business, and I have thought of getting back on the pitch and playing again.
“Never say never!”
Originally posted on the Great British Entrepreneur Awards website.