The billionaire who was born in an English "favela" and made his fortune based on bets - Start Up Gazzete
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The billionaire who was born in an English “favela” and made his fortune based on bets


There is one childhood memory that lingers in Peter Done’s memory: that of a pillow pushed against his face.

The culprit was Fred, his brother four years older. They shared the same bed until she was 15 in a house with two rooms upstairs and two downstairs in Ordsall, known as “the Salford favela” in the UK. Two other sisters also slept in the same room.

“To this day the pillow makes me claustrophobic,” the youngest Done laughs. “Maybe I was a bit cheeky and he was bigger than me.”

But it was the good relationship with his brother that would later be the key to success in his life. The brothers found an escape from poverty by building a betting empire , amassing a multimillion-dollar family fortune that regularly keeps them on the Sunday Times Rich List.

school photo
school photo
Peter Done (far right) at school. He only knew one person who went to college.

Both Done brothers left school at age 15 without graduating.

However, they found employment at a chain of betting sites in Manchester. Like pubs, these businesses thrived in poor areas . They had only been declared legal in the UK in 1961. There were reservations about their social impact and also about the morality of gambling.

Done ran a betting shop at the age of 17, even though he was not legally allowed to enter it.

The owner valued his aptitude in mathematics. He did the accounting, mentally calculating the bets, wins, and losses.

Betting house
In the UK, bookmakers only became legal in the early 1960s.

In the late 1960s, these were intimidating places to work, more so for a teenager. They were dominated by men and the setting often resembled that of a prison. The thing could turn violent , especially on Saturdays after 3:00 pm, when people left pubs, remember Done.

“You couldn’t show weakness,” he says, “because these tough guys would recognize that you were easy to shake.”

Both Done and his brother showed a knack for running these places and by the time Peter turned 21 in 1967, they both had their own place. They bought it from a retired bookie for £4,000 at the time (about US$100,000 today)—1,000 of which Peter Done had saved as a down payment on a house with his new wife.

He was happy to take that risk because he already had six years of experience in this type of business , and he always thought that he could run a place much better than his bosses, if given the opportunity.

Betting house
The betting shops in the 60s and 70s had a very sparse decoration.

At 21, he learned lessons that he still values.

The key will always be customer service , explains Done, because that’s what brings people back.

“We addressed our clients as ‘Sir’ and in those days that did not happen.”

“If a punter won big, the bookmaker used to throw the money at him and say, ‘don’t come back,’ while we’d say, ‘here’s your money, enjoy it!'”

“They were stumped. But we knew they would come back and eventually the bookie always wins.”

The brothers also disliked the fact that gambling establishments were seen as “dives”.

“We improve quality.”

The formula was successful and the brothers bought more stores little by little, the first being managed by their sisters, consolidating the family business. By the mid-1980s, there were more than 70 Betfred locations .

betfred shop
A Betfred bookmaker in central Manchester


But it was an incident during this continued expansion that caused Peter Done to leave the world of gambling behind. The brothers had to settle out of court with an employee at one of the new premises they were acquiring.

This motivated them to invest in a new type of business that outsourced human resource management and covered legal expenses based on a subscription paid by the client.

This is how Peninsula was created and Peter Done has been its CEO for 35 years . Its new headquarters is housed in a gleaming glass tower that dominates the Manchester skyline.

From Done’s office you can see Ordsall, where he grew up. Peninsula has grown steadily over the years and now has over 3,000 employees, serving over 100,000 companies worldwide, 40,000 of them in the UK.

The Peninsula group built its own office tower, in the north of the city.

The company’s customer base recently grew more than 12% during the pandemic, as companies around the world scramble to update their human resources and security policies, whether it’s working from home, social distancing or vaccination rules. Over time, the bet on his career seems to have been successful.

However, in the mid-1980s, although the future of the business seemed promising, the chances of success were not so clear, and the brothers had to make a decision. Who would run the company?

The way they decided who would leave Betfred was done in true gambling style , according to Peter Done.

“Fred said let’s flip a coin, and I won, and he said ‘you go’ before I could say anything,” she recalls with a laugh.

So Peter Done left the management of Betfred in the hands of his older brother, although he still has the majority of the shares.

Fred Done and Sir Alex Ferguson
Fred, Peter Done’s older brother, with legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

After all, the company name literally bore Fred’s name, but did Peter bet himself when he stepped out of his older brother’s shadow?

“First of all, from those days when he put the pillow over my head, that’s where dominance ended, I could hold my own,” Done expresses quickly.

So was he trying to leave behind the stigma of gambling , which blights so many communities, and especially, as studies show, in the deprived areas in which he grew up?

Done says that was not the case. “Gambling has a bad name, but most people who go to a bookmaker do it for fun and according to their pocket.”

Done’s explanation for turning his back on bookies is that he simply preferred the odds of winning in the world of human resources and reveled in the challenge of building a new business.

However, he still puts into practice the lessons learned as a teenager in the gambling halls, even though his field of work could not be more different, he says.

Peninsula’s multi-story offices are typical of a customer service center, with throngs of people talking on headsets. Everything is light and bright and the walls are covered with motivational slogans.

“It’s a matter of renewals and recurring revenue,” explains Done when it comes to the odds of success for a business. Customers who join Peninsula are no different from gamblers in 1960s gambling houses in that regard. ” The quality of the service determines if someone returns . And it is cheaper to renew the agreement with a client than to put together a new one.”

One business tip that Donde has learned in recent years, however, is that you can only achieve such great service on a large scale if you treat your employees well and give them incentives , so aim for high staff retention and maintain a policy of retention. visibly reward those who have provided good service.

Peninsula Office
The Peninsula Activity Room – a world apart from the bookies where Done learned the nitty-gritty of his business skills.

One of the rewards that his business success has brought him is being able to associate with the people of the Manchester United football club, a team he has supported since he was a child. Along with his brother, he is a regular fan at Old Trafford, mingling with high-ranking figures from the club, past and present.

A close friend is legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave him some memorable advice when they shared a drink over a holiday a few years ago. He told him: “Stay in control and make decisions, even if you are wrong. The worst thing is not making decisions.”

Peter Done feels that in his entrepreneurial years he has followed those principles, not only because his family has maintained ownership – thus control – of all the companies he has created. And when it comes to decision-making, he sticks to the one that defined his career, even if it was made by his brother tossing a coin.

Author avatar
Joshua Smith

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