We welcome Stephen Fear, Chairman of Fear Group to our regular series of interviews with leading figures in the South West business community.
Hello Stephen, tell us about Fear Group and your role as Chairman
Fear Group is a generic umbrella name for the many businesses I have created over the years. My first business was an industrial cleaning company I started at the age of 16 and later sold. I would describe the group as a confederation of independent states working in partnership rather than a ‘top down’ corporate body. The businesses are very varied, but the definitive factor is that they are owned by me and my son Leon, who has been my joint partner for the last 12 years.
The group has 3 major aspects: First is the ‘entrepreneur’ section, where we identify trends and market opportunities to develop start-ups and SMEs. Second is property investment and development, third is Mergers & Acquisitions.
I have gathered a large network of contacts from travelling across the world and ‘being around’. I get approached by people who want to work with me, or I think up business ideas of my own. Leon sometimes tells me not to go out as I will probably come back with a new business! I spend a lot of my time examining trends and trying to figure out whether there is a business opportunity available. For example, what is the current implication of fracking in the USA? I also concentrate on making connections, either by myself or connecting mutual contacts together. It’s these connections that make business happen.
How has the current economic climate impacted your activities?
Since the crash in 2008 we haven’t sold any property at all, we have concentrated on buying property during the price slump. Business at its core is quite simple: sell something for more than you bought it. Businesses can often lose sight of this and overcomplicate things. We have survived very well during this period and have in fact had some of our best ever years. We have an international approach, so follow what is happening in Brazil, China and The USA as much as we do Bristol
Do you think that the government is doing enough to support your business or sector?
I have been speaking with the government and opposition recently about the housing crisis in the UK. The solution is simple: we need to create more housing stock. You can create a lot of artificial measures to manage house prices, but this is only putting a sticking plaster on the wound and it is not a long-term solution. This new building work needs to take a balanced approach. I live in a rural village in the Cotswolds, so I understand not wanting an enormous housing estate in your back yard. If we built 10 or 15 homes in every village in the country and placed them near railway transport links, this would go a long way to solving the problem. The current large housing development in Portishead is going to put too much strain on the infrastructure, getting from Portishead to Bristol is going to be a nightmare. Building houses in proximity to a railway station and public transport hubs is equally, if not more important, than proximity to a motorway.
Could you tell us more about the work you are doing with the British Library and the Fear Foundation?
We don’t just look at world events in order for business opportunities, we are also interested in projects that can benefit wider society. At the British Library, I am an ambassador and Entrepreneur in Residence and I have held this position for a few years. Dame Anita Roddick was the previous Entrepreneur in Residence, but died before she could take up the post officially, making me the first official Entrepreneur in Residence in history. I perform book reviews every two months on business topics; I like books that are about developing the right mind-set to succeed in business. I’m also involved in the British Library’s Business and IP Centres: these are hubs to support entrepreneurs to develop their ideas into a business. The original BIPC was created in London under the LDA when one of the Library’s rooms was converted, now centres have been created in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham. We aim to have a BIPC in every major UK city.
The Fear Foundation aims to support disadvantaged and disabled people into the business world. This is not just financial support, we give out advice and also make introductions, connecting the disadvantaged to the people that can best help them.
Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?
It’s important that you and your business ‘does what it says on the tin’. If you say you are going to do something, make sure that you do it or have a very good explanation for why you can’t. By keeping your word you will develop a good reputation, build lasting relationships and others will want to work with you. Of course you will need a good product or service too, but how you treat people is most important.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy watching rugby and football when I can; I’m a season ticket holder for both Manchester United and Bath Rugby Club. My mother was from the North West near Manchester, so I have family there I visit often. When I first started watching Manchester United play, they were in the second division! I used to play tennis but don’t play as much nowadays.
Most of my other interests stem from my work and I like to educate myself about any subject we are involved in, such as our recent work with an AIDS research group. I think it’s important to bear in mind how business can be a force for good and improve the progress of mankind. Even if the primary motivation of doing business is money, the benefits for the wider world are great: consider the development of the light bulb or telephone. It's essential that the powerful wild horses of capitalism are joined to the carriage of humanity which follows behind.
Who is your hero/personal inspiration?
I have two heroes: one is fictional, the other non-fictional! When I was 10 I read Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. A noble knight who helped the downtrodden and speared the bullies harassing them was a great inspiration and I knew I wanted to do something similar when I grew up. My childhood was difficult and Ivanhoe was a good model for me. My second inspiration is Terry Waite, not a business person as you might expect. When I met Terry I knew that I was in the presence of a true human being. He has endless humility and compassion despite spending 5 years in captivity and is a great ambassador for humanity.
What is your perception of Moon Consulting?
I know Moon Consulting’s Principal Consultant Peaches Golding OBE, who I have always considered to be a highly intelligent, measured, and well regarded member of society, and have only ever heard good things about Moon Consulting.