It’s fair to say that the shipbuilding town of Greenock in west Scotland is not renowned for being a fertile stomping ground for the world’s wealthiest elite.
Monaco it is not. Yet, Greenock is the place where school dropouts turned business powerhouses Sandy and James Easdale were raised, and they’ve got quite a tale to tell, and if you’ve never heard of them, you soon will.
‘When other kids were at school we were crushing cars in a scrapyard,’ says James Easdale, 49.
Wealthy: James Easdale, pictured with Sandy, have amassed an impressive business empire
James says his education on the scrapyard toughened him and his brother up and was ‘more valuable than anything we could have received in a classroom.’
Fast forward to the here and now and the brothers have amassed a property and transport empire valued at over £750million.
For some, being called a ‘jack of all trades’ would be an insult, but in the world of the Easdale brothers, having a toe dipped in a wide range of sectors has enabled them to outsmart their rivals and protect themselves against the vagaries of fortune.
‘Many giants are very powerful but just in their own one field’, says elder brother Sandy, 52. ‘That makes even the strongest ones inherently vulnerable. Every industry has a life span.’
James adds: ‘Have a diversity of businesses because that separates impacts and mitigates losses.
Discipline: The Easdale brothers’ work on the scrapyard in their youth helped them sharpen their business acumen
‘We have always been open to all industries, the secret is to surround yourself with good people. Our motto is that not everything is a success, we pick ourselves up quickly and move on.’
Strict discipline was ironed into the siblings from a young age, making for some colourful recollections of everyday childhood experiences.
James once was overjoyed that he’d been picked for his school rugby team and was convinced that being in the team would make him more popular.
His father was less sure. ‘I told my dad the good news and that I had a game on Saturday. He said no, you don’t, you’ll be working in the scrapyard at the weekend. My smart dad knew that I’d be more popular with money than with a ball’, James says.
Quick to turn their burgeoning business instinct into cash, the brothers snapped up their first pub fresh out of their teens, and went on to amass a collection of other hospitality hotspots over the years.
Before they knew it, they then set their sights on, as you do, buying a local bus company.
‘We never knew anything about buses,’ James says.
‘Suddenly we had 33 of them!’
From that point on the brothers made swift progress in the transport industry, and in 2012 purchased Arriva Scotland West for £10million. The brothers also secured the giant’s Dundee bus operations.
‘Adding the National Express purchase to our McGill’s brand makes us the biggest independent bus operator in the UK,’ says Sandy.
The duo also became directors of Scottish football giant Rangers in 2013 and Sandy’s son, Alexander, 20, is now a professional footballer.
On a mission: The Easdale brothers recently purchased the Watt Brothers department store in Glasgow and want to reinvigorate Britain’s high-streets
They have also amassed an impressive and ever-expanding property empire. The pair’s latest property development, part of a £400million haul of newly-announced bricks-and-mortar deals, is a stone’s throw from where they were born.
Sandy says: ‘One of our key new developments is right in one of the most deprived areas in Scotland.
‘But that isn’t a problem for us, we love it, it means that the boost we are now going to inject there will be more impactful and appreciated. Hard-fought victories are the most enjoyable.’
A new round of property development deals from the brothers is due to be announced imminently.
The pair also have a hand in a string of motoring, leisure and retail ventures and recently snapped up the much-loved Watt Brothers department store in Glasgow.
Sandy says: ‘Local people loved that deal, they always stopped to speak to us about it in the street, telling us how their mum or granny missed the shop.’
The brothers are on a mission to use their business prowess to help give Britain’s ailing high-streets a much-needed boost over the next few years.
Buying Bentleys but can’t resist a skip
The pair are proud of their working class roots, and having amassed a fortune now feel as at home in the glitzier parts of London as they do back in their hometown in Scotland.
But, they have never been able to shake off their eye for an opportunity, even in the most curious of circumstances.
James explains: ‘We were in the Bentley showroom in Mayfair recently, making a few nice purchases.
Show me the skip: The Easdale brothers couldn’t resist a boiler in a skip outside when buying a string of Bentleys
‘The staff were showing us around and then they lost us. They discovered Sandy and I with our heads in their skip.
‘We spotted a copper boiler tossed in the rubbish, both of us could instantly tell it might fetch £30, what a waste!
‘The staff were utterly perplexed when we scooped it out and tried loading it in the boot.’
While the economy flounders and uncertainty looms large over everyone, the Easdale brothers remain confident about their prospects.
‘You have to remember we have built everything in the hardest areas of Scotland,’ says Sandy.
He adds: ‘Recession was a constant, a norm, not a shadow on the horizon or on TV. It was reality. We have had the steepest incline to work against. Adversity feels natural for us, it has been around us everyday.
‘By the time we even got to step foot in London we had already built a huge business, we were millionaires with great success.
‘So the capital was like landing in Las Vegas, I think the locals thought we were like two Crocodile Dundees!’
The brothers, who are on track to join the billionaire club imminently, are convinced their straight-talking approach carved from their early business dealings is now revered by top companies all over the world.
‘There are brilliant opportunities, and now we have the money and maturity to fully exploit them’, Sandy says.
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