The bullion boy

The bullion boy

Eight years ago the only accommodation Eamon Gaughan could afford was a flat with holes in the floor and rats in the kitchen. Now he’s so wealthy he could snap up most of Birmingham’s penthouse apartments.

Entrepreneur Eamon Gaughan is so successful that he only has a vague idea of how much he’s worth.

“People often ask me this question: is it more than a million? Certainly. Is it tens of millions? I honestly don’t know.”

The reason Eamon doesn’t know – although he does know how much he spends each month; in the region of £60,000 – is that his company, JEEG Global Group, owns or part-owns so many SMEs at any one time that it’s difficult to keep track of what constitutes his personal fortune. So let’s just say it’s a lot.

JEEG has grown from a one-man operation selling gold to the jewellery trade into a multinational investment group, comprising more than 30 companies, with footholds in Greece, China and Russia.

It’s a wonderfully-diverse portfolio: as well as one of Europe’s leading precious metal dealership, The Bullion Room, and recruitment, property and security SMEs, there’s a supercar dealership, The Torque Project, where Lamborghinis and Rolls Royce Phantoms sell for up to £150,000.

Predicted turnover for 2013 is more than £1bn. As CEO, 34-year-old Eamon is at the epicentre of this fast-growing conglomerate, based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

An ebullient Mancunian with a deep sense of family and a desire to help others (this year he raised a whopping £250,000 for charity simply by not going out for a month!), his business drive is matched only by his love of fast cars and partying.

He relishes his role as a Dragons’ Den-type entrepreneur who can help ailing or start-up companies by injecting cash and management expertise to turn their fortunes around or set them on the road to business success.

As someone who greatly benefited from the recession – gold becomes hot property during financial downturns – Eamon takes a lot of satisfaction from coming to the aid of companies that didn’t fare as well.

“One of the rules we have is that we don’t discard people who need only £1,000 of investment. I was once that person.”

Born in north Manchester, Eamon moved to London in his early 20s and worked in the tourism industry. After a spell in the US, he returned to the UK in 2003 – but without a job. So he moved back home.

“I started selling stuff around the house on eBay – it was the time when people were becoming eBay millionaires. But I ended up with just a few hundred pounds. So I thought I’d sell jewellery as my father, who had been involved in the wholesale jewellery business for 25 years, had the right contacts. He put me in touch with someone in Birmingham, who gave me credit on my father’s bank. So, in 2005, I started selling gold jewellery on eBay.”

All went well for three months – until gold prices started to go up. “Instead of making money, I was losing it,” recalls Eamon.

“But then I realised I could buy gold and precious metals at auction and sell it on to the trade and make a profit. So rather than buying from Ali at the Golden Purse jewellers in the Jewellery Quarter, I was buying from Stephen Whittaker at auction house Fellows and Sons and selling to the Golden Purse down the road.

“Then one day Ali said ‘why don’t you take a shop’? So I took one of his shops, in Spencer Street, but instead of making it a retail outlet, I just put a screen across the window with scrap metal prices I was prepared to pay.”

Eamon lived above the shop, but it was “pretty horrendous. There were holes in the floor and rats. I bought an old sofa and mattress and a £60 electric shower.”

He quickly became known in the trade for buying up scrap metals and within two months there were queues down the street of people clutching carrier bags full of old jewellery. Soon he moved to bigger premises, was paying out £1m a day in cash and employing eight security men.

“We then opened a foundry to process our own gold so that we could sell directly to the market – and it’s grown from there. We can now melt 750 kilos of gold at a time, which is about £10m worth, and we have people melting the gold 18 hours a day. The Bullion Room’s clients are independent jewellers and large pawnbroking chains, as well as investors and international institutions – we’ve pretty much got every large multi-national and plc company as our customer now.”

The gold trade rapidly made JEEG very rich indeed, but, just as rapidly, Eamon was looking around for new business opportunities.

“There’s only so far you can go in this trade in the UK, so we thought we’d diversify and become a private equity house. So we took on Richard Lees from Lloyds TSB, who was my bank manager at the time and who had lots of experience with SMEs.

“As we had cash sitting in the bank, we began buying equity in SMEs and offering management advice. Small companies are often cuffed by cash. What we do is remove those cuffs.

“We look for the right investment – a company that has a great product but not necessarily the management skills or marketing know-how. We can provide day-to-day support: our centralised operations mean SMEs don’t need payroll people or accountants, because we have them. So it streamlines their cost base and structures deals that are profitable.”

Once companies are up and running or back on their feet, JEEG exits with a profit. The group’s investments are now international: it has rolled out the bullion side of the business across the globe.

“We now own the biggest chain of precious metal dealers in Greece, with 24 offices, and we’re going to roll it out across the whole of Europe, which will create about 1,000 jobs. We’ve also got licences to go into Russia and China.”

It sounds almost too good to be true: there must have been some failures, surely?

“There really haven’t been,” says Eamon with an almost sheepish smile. “That does sound like I’m making it up, but I’m not. There have been companies that have gone to the brink, but we’ve worked hard and invested more time in them, or we’ve been able to exit profitably. There hasn’t actually been anything we have had to draw a line under.”

Now that he’s so successful and so wealthy, what keeps him motivated? “Originally it was money – and purely money,” he admits.

“But now it’s the team I have around me. They’re a great group of people, and it’s them who drive me forward. They are incredibly hungry for success and I have to be a role model.

“If everyone wants to follow in your footsteps, that’s what drives you to get out of bed every day rather than go and sit on a beach somewhere.”

Although Eamon is candid about his desire for money and his opulent lifestyle, he concedes that being rich doesn’t make you happy.

“Money allows you to buy more things, but it doesn’t necessarily make you happier.

“It allows you to eat in better restaurants and makes life more comfortable. I have a niece I think the world of – she’s eight – and it’s great to look at her and think ‘it doesn’t matter how well you do at school, because you’re not going to have to worry about money’. Family is the most important thing to me, so it gives me a great deal of comfort to know that I can provide for them.”

It was the illness of a close family member – his uncle Paul – that spurred Eamon to embark on a major charity venture, his £1m Famine Month Fundraiser, that saw him vow to restrict his expenditure to £800 for a month (he went over-budget by £110) to raise money for The Christie charity, which funds projects outside the scope of the NHS and carries out cancer research.

It raised £131,000 in sponsorship, to which he added the difference between £800 and his usual monthly expenditure, and it was topped up with donations, which are still coming in. So far the amount raised stands at more than £250,000. Sadly, his uncle died from cancer that same month.

“There are a few charities we support – we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of pounds – but I get accused of doing the easy bit by writing the cheque. So the big challenge was to stop spending money.”

And that, for man-about-town Eamon, was a pretty big deal. For example, if he and his mates decide to go out for an evening with £50 in their pockets, Eamon will still manage to chalk up a £1,200 bill. “I’d normally spend £50,000 to £60,000 in a month,” he admits.

“If I’m going out for the evening, dinner can be £1,500 for two. “Two things I really like in life are food and good Champagne and wine. I don’t look at the prices; I look at the wine and if I like it, I buy it.”

Driving gas-guzzling supercars – his current one is a Ferrari 458 Spider – can cost him £100 a day, as he regularly travels between Birmingham, Manchester and London, and employing a chauffeur to wait outside a club for him – all night if necessary – doesn’t come cheap. “And then, when I book into a hotel, I don’t order a room, I have a suite.”

So, for one month only, Eamon slashed his spending to £910. "All I had to do, really, was stay in. And, to be honest, I felt brilliant at the end of it because I’d had a month of relaxing instead of partying. But don’t get me wrong – I’m quite aware that what I did was nothing, really – I just lived the way most of the country does all the time; and it’s the way I used to live, too, before the success of JEEG.

“But it was something I really wanted to do: when they walk you round The Christie charity and you see the difference the money will make, it really means a lot. “If what I raised helps one person go into remission for cancer, it will be worth it.”

So, with so much under his belt and still only 34, what comes next for Eamon? A wife and children, perhaps? “I don’t have a significant ‘other’ at the moment – my private life’s quite boring! But I’ve got a great group of friends and my family mean everything to me.

“My parents have stood by me in every way – my father helped me to set up JEEG – and I’m very close to my sister and niece. I can’t see children fitting into my lifestyle, but we’ll see what happens in future.

“The JEEG Group is going to keep expanding. But as far as I’m concerned, I feel I’ve got five years left as CEO.

“By the time I’m 40 I’d like to have my toes in the sand somewhere.” One suspects it won’t hold him fast for long.