How an aristocrat turned Goodwood into a R1.9bn empire
CHICHESTER, ENGLAND - Most of us imagine aristocrats lead a life of languid ease, but not the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, who is an entrepreneur with a Stakhanovite work ethic.
"He works at least 12 hours a day. More. He puts the rest of us to shame," says Monty the butler when he picks me up from a nearby railway station.
The 12 000-acre Goodwood estate near Chichester in West Sussex is where the Duke, otherwise known as Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, lives with his family and runs his portfolio of 29 businesses.
Does he ever hanker after a more sybaritic existence? "No - this is my life," he says.
Country estates are notorious money pits, but he has come up with a template for transforming his land and stately home into a stream of revenue.
Turnover is about £100 million (R1.9bn), but, as he says, "the upkeep is huge". He says: "It costs millions just to stand still and do nothing." The profits are £21.3m (R405m) due to investing in the business.
The Goodwood estate also plays host to Rolls-Royce motor cars, owned by BMW, which has its manufacturing facility and headquarters there, with more than 1700 jobs.
He says: "We employ 750 people. If you add in Rolls-Royce we are definitely the biggest employer in the area."
The Duke believes it is paramount that the family stays in the glorious Regency mansion in order to keep its spirit alive.
Rather surprisingly, though, he confesses that, given a free hand, he would like to live in a modern house.
"Ah, that would be heaven. We have wonderful views across the sea so to have a house set in the hills would be great."
Speed fest a runaway success
The estate is most famous for horse racing and Glorious Goodwood in particular, along with motorsport and the annual Festival of Speed. The Duke says: "When we had the first Festival of Speed in 1993 we only expected a couple of thousand people, but I opened my bathroom curtains at 6am and one of the main entrances had thousands of people queueing. It was brilliant chaos. It went to 200 000 people in three years - it is by far the biggest car event in the world."
Then there is the Goodwood Revival, where nostalgia buffs can wallow in three days of cars and motorcycles from 1948-1966 and dress up in vintage clothes.
But these flagship events are not enough. "We need a business that runs 365 days a year," he explains.
Parked outside the doors is Woody, a beautiful Rolls-Royce dating back to the 1930s, waiting for the Duke to leap behind the wheel and take me on a tour of the estate. How many cars does he own?
"Well, a lot by most people’s standards, but not as many as some I know."
As well as the race track and the classic motor circuit, which has been painstakingly restored to its original form, there are two golf courses and an organic farm.
There is a 94-bedroom hotel, plus The Kennels members’ club, which is infinitely grander than its name implies, and Hound Lodge, a plush 10-bedroom retreat. Both put a whole new slant on being in the doghouse.
The canine theme was chosen because Goodwood was the site of the world’s first major fox hunt.
Central heating, the Duke tells me, was installed in the kennels 100 years before it was put in the main house for humans. We rattle along in Woody to the aerodrome, which was a Battle of Britain airfield. Juggling all these businesses must be terrifically hard work.
He says: "Our challenge is how we generate enough cash to reinvest. We have a big plan for refurbing the hotel next year. That is a huge project, but if we don’t do it, then it goes into decline."
Goodwood has corporate members and also offers individual memberships based on different sports, so people can be golfing members, horse-racing members or motor-racing members.
Now 64, he took over at the age of 40 from his late father, the tenth Duke, who died aged 87 in 2017. Before taking the helm of the family business, he had worked in advertising as a commercial photographer. Immediately after leaving Eton aged 17, he worked with the film director Stanley Kubrick on the movie Barry Lyndon. "That period of my life turned out to be a defining factor in the events we have created here because what we do is very visual and the contact book has come in handy, which I would never have expected," he says.
"My father did a fantastic job in the Sixties and Seventies at creating a very good core organisation.
"All that matters in the end is how you handle succession. You could make a great go of it yourself, but if succession goes wrong it will all go down the tubes.
"I will find it hard when my time comes, very hard. If I can do it half as well as my father…" he tails off.
His own eldest son Charles, the Earl of March and Kinrara, is 24 so there is some time to go before that happens. Do they discuss the succession?
"Yes, we talk about it a lot. They have to be young enough to have an impact. If the old boy goes out feet first and the son comes in at 70, he can’t do anything and he has been frustrated all that time."
Is he afraid of a Jeremy Corbyn government and what it might mean for inherited wealth and places like Goodwood?
"It doesn’t feel good, does it? Property – it’s under threat. It is extremely concerning."
Brexit is another anxiety. "I am worried about it. A lot of our partners on events are big European or global companies."
And what about the green movement? Is it an issue that motor racing isn’t seen as environmentally friendly?
"We have a conference at the start of the Festival of Speed for the chief executives of the car companies and tech people, to bring them together to think about green tech, hydrogen, smart cities, autonomous driving.
"I am the old car guy. I love old cars and I love the internal combustion engine, it is a wonderful thing. But at the same time, technology is exciting. The world is changing and I embrace it."Daily Mail