Meet the £40m founder of Charles Tyrwhitt

On Thursday 27 January Nick Wheeler, the man who founded Charles Tyrwhitt 24 years ago from his room in halls, will be coming to Royal Holloway to give the inaugural Thomas Holloway Entrepreneurship Lecture. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of Royal Holloway by the beloved Victorian entrepreneur after whom the College is named. In anticipation of this visit, The Founder has an exclusive interview with the man behind one of Britain’s best known high street retailers.

Jack Lenox (JL): What was your first ever business idea? How did it go? How did you end up getting into the shirt business?

Nick Charles Tyrwhitt Wheeler (NW): A photographic business – standing on Chiswick Bridge taking photos of rowing crews going under the bridge and then sending proofs to every rowing club from them to order prints. From there I had a load of little businesses before I woke up one day and thought of shirts. No research. Nothing. Just shirts!

JL: You started Charles Tyrwhitt as a student during a recession – what were the challenges that you faced? Would you recommend it to students today who are in a similar position?

NW: My main challenge was having no money. It was a passion. I did it from my room at university. Everything was on a shoestring. I would sit up late at night tapping names and addresses into my Amstrad computer. Some thought I was mad. Others thought it was just boring. I loved it. If you love something enough then I would recommend students do the same thing today.

JL: What is the craziest idea or proposal that you’ve pursued in your business life?

NW: A Christmas tree business. It went well in December, but the orders dried up in January!

JL: What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

NW: You are in total control of your destiny. You decide what you are going to do and when you are going to do it. You do something well you get the credit and you benefit. Do it badly and you fall on your own sword.

JL: And the worst?

NW: The low points. Life as an entrepreneur is full of highs and low. You fly high and you crash. When you crash it hurts. For me it was going into receivership in 1994.

JL: What do you feel sets your business apart from your competitors?

NW: I care passionately. It is my name above the door. Our competitors were all established 100 years ago and they are all dead! They don’t care like we care. About customers. About suppliers. About our colleagues working in the business.

JL: What is the key inspiration that has kept you going over the years?

NW: That I am creating something new. That I am putting two million shirts every year on people’s backs and they have my name in those shirts. And they love them!

JL: What do you like to do in your downtime?

NW: My business is my first and oldest child. It is 24 years old now and it is growing up. I have four other children who are even more amazing than my first. They take a lot of time.

JL: Your wife founded the White Company. Do you find yourselves ever competing with each other? Do you often seek each other’s advice?

NW: I am and always have been horribly competitive. I could never complete a game of Monopoly without throwing the whole game all over the floor. But the funny thing is that I don’t compete with my wife. I love her business and am incredibly proud that she has built a £100m business from an initial investment of £20k with no overdraft and no outside investment. It is a kind of magic that is better not competed with.

Nick Wheeler will be giving his speech in the Windsor Auditorium at 6pm on Thursday 27 January. For more information, see the Royal Holloway Entrepreneurs website.

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