Meet our Chairman, Barrie Wells, whose entrepreneurial spirit combined with his huge passion for sport has led him into a philanthropic adventure which aims to contribute to London 2012’s legacy for sport.
We step into the life of Barrie to find out more...
Tell us about your Grandfather, Ernest Latimer Stones.
My Grandfather, Ernest Latimer Stones, was born in 1865 and was one of the pioneers of pole vaulting. He was born in Ulverston in the Lake District which has been recognised as 'the cradle of pole vaulting'. He won 2 English AAA championships (1888 and 1889) and 3 Scottish championships (1887, 1888 and 1889) with his winning vault of 3.45m in 1889 standing as the Scottish record until 1930! He set a world record of 3.53m in 1888 but his highest vault was 3.57m in 1889 which was not ratified as it was an exhibition jump. 1889 was his best year and an American sponsor paid for my Grandfather to tour the United States and Canada where he won both countries' national championships having practiced his vaulting on the deck of the ship! In 1889 he also had 5 of the 9 highest vaults in the world and retired at the end of the year.
Interestingly, his performances were made with heavy wooden poles and landing on grass! Indeed, a magazine of the time commented that "the height over which Stones could vault would seem to be limited only by the distance he could fall without breaking his neck"! My grandfather retired from the sport before the very first Olympic Games in 1896 but, amazingly his best performance would have been worthy of the Olympic Gold medal!
What inspired you to set up this project?
Having made much of my wealth through entrepreneurial activities, I was in the lucky position to be able to give a lot of it away... and nobody should want to go to the grave a rich man, although my 2 children might argue that I am giving away part of their inheritance! I have a lifelong love of sport and when London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games it gave me great inspiration and motivation to contribute to its legacy.
On attending the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this motivated me to get the cogs in motion and I decided the best way was to offer funding to athletes. I am convinced that helping to get an athlete a place on the Olympic podium in 2012 is down to dozens of marginal contributions coming together and working successfully to make a real and lasting difference. Baroness Sue Campbell of UK Sport was instrumental in giving me the advice and encouragement to help me achieve my dream and the concept developed from that moment.
So what’s in it for you?
My staff get asked this question all the time, things like "but how does he make money from it?”. Perhaps it’s a sign of the world we live in but to me, the benefits are obvious. It’s the opportunity to be creative and have impact through something I love. I am in the office with my team on a regular basis and involved in all the nitty gritty because this is what I thrive on. I could have just given my money away to charity but, this way, I get to see exactly how it’s making a difference in a really personal way and, of course, it’s also amazing fun.
I really urge other high net individuals to do the same as me with their own interests. It could be anything... winter sports, ballet, theatre, music, etc, etc. It’s a really unique and gratifying experience for the person but is making a difference to others and contributing to the country’s legacy.
How would you suggest people go about creating something like this?
This whole thing has been a huge learning curve for me and I couldn’t give you the guide, it’s just about using your initiative with your own ideas and common sense. There have been ups and downs but the hard work and challenges are outweighed by the positives. In relation to things that have gone wrong, the great thing about creating something like this is that you have no-one to answer to and if something isn’t working, you can change it in a heartbeat.
This sort of philanthropy can work on many different levels, big and small. I chose to go big but it’s not one size fits all. I always say we are only limited by our imaginations.
How did you select the 18 sports people you support?
I approached the athletes after much research, including working with national governing bodies and only offered my support following an in-depth recruitment process to ensure the athletes met my own and the Wells Sports Foundation’s objectives. This included discussing their training schedules and competition objectives and how my money would make a difference. My expertise lies in athletics so when it came to selecting athletes I had a good idea who I wanted to support but also took advice from well respected people like Ricky Simms (Usain Bolt’s agent).
But it is not all about winning medals. It was also very important that the athletes are reliable role models so that they can go into schools and have a positive impact on young people. Some of the athletes I sponsor could undoubtedly have great sporting successes in 2012, 2016 and even 2020 but equally important is their natural ability to be a successful part of our Athletes 4 Schools scheme.
An underlying factor was also that I had to like them. If you are going to give up to £30,000 away to a person, of course you have to like them!
Why did you pick individuals from four sports only?
Sharing the athletes’ journeys with them naturally meant that I would wish to support individuals from my favourite sporting disciplines. Having a lifelong love of track and field meant it was most definitely going to be one of my top choices, but also I enjoy watching swimming and multi-events as well. I have really therefore simply chosen my favourite sports; track and field, swimming, triathlon and modern pentathlon, which I think is a good balance.
What gave you the idea to set up the Athletes 4 Schools Scheme?
I wanted to help build on the legacy aspect of London 2012 and thought it would be an amazing opportunity for state schools to gain access to some of 2012’s biggest hopefuls at no cost in order to engage young people in the magic of the Games and use this to inspire them in many different ways. I also felt that it was a great opportunity for athletes to give back to grassroots too. This scheme has had masses of success and has already reached over 35,000 young people.
What inspired you to come up with Box 4 Kids scheme?
I am a lifetime supporter and season ticket holder of LFC, who I have gone along to watch regularly for years. On the way back from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I had a chance meeting with Kenny Dalglish which gave me the opportunity to explain to him all about the Wells Sports Foundation
. A week or so later I received a telephone call from Kenny offering me a 10 seat box at Anfield. He gave me 24 hours to accept or decline.
Upon waking the following morning there was no doubt that I would take up Kenny's offer and already the concept was crystal clear in my mind. The box would be given completely to the Wells Sports Foundation
for the benefit of disabled, terminally ill and underprivileged children. This would mean strictly no invitations at all to be extended to business clients, family or friends ... simply deserving children who could go along to watch a Premiership match in the luxury and comfort of a corporate box and be VIPs for a few hours. It's been such a hugely rewarding experience and I've never looked back since.
What other interests do you have?
Eating, eating and eating! My favourite food is Japanese, I can't go to a Japanese restaurant without indulging in Wagyu beef but I also enjoy French, Italian, Chinese and Thai. Also, I love travelling and have been lucky enough to have been to many different countries all over the world, one of my favourite being Australia which I have visited around 20 times. I also worked in Singapore for 7 years which gave me a great opportunity to spend time in most Asian countries.
I love reading... mostly biographies or materials on current affairs such as The Economist. I find people fascinating. Perhaps one day I'll write my own book! I could probably write a whole book on just this chapter of my life. There have been so many experiences, funny anecdotes and truths I have picked up along the way that I think the public would find extremely intriguing. The phrase "save it for the book, Barrie” is a regularly used in the office!
I still have a very active interest in business matters too and review business proposals sent my way every week or so and every now and again come across a real gem which deserves serious consideration for investment. Along with the financial terms, my fundamentals are fully understanding the key performance indicators, believing there to be a durable competitive advantage, being able to add real shareholder value and seeing a clear exit strategy and, highly importantly, I am confident of the management's commitment, relevant expertise, commercialism and integrity.
Do you have any hidden talents?
Sadly I love numbers! I've had this unusual arithmetical ability since very young where I can work out lengthy calculations in my head in a matter of seconds ... such as the eighth root of 9 figure numbers! Very weird. But it also turned out to be a brilliant business tool as I can assess the key performance indicators of a business operating model very quickly.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I seem to have an obsession with collecting pens as I just can't resist keeping every pen put in my hand by restaurants, hotels, solicitors, accountants, etc, etc. Every few months my colleagues in the office persuade me to turn my briefcase upside down and often 20 or 30 pens can drop out!
Who were your sporting role models growing up?
There were 3...
Jim Thorpe, the amazing American Indian who was the 1912 Olympic decathlon and pentathlon gold medallist and was also probably the greatest American footballer of the 20th century, as well as being a brilliant baseball player.
Alf Tupper, the 'Tough of the Track'. Unfortunately, Alf's idiosyncrasies, such as having fish and chips every day, held him back from achieving his true potential and, in particular, possibly beating Sir Roger to run the first sub 4 minute mile. I've just Googled Alf and was pleased to read that he was also Brendan Foster's biggest sporting hero and I already knew that such luminaries as Dave Moorcroft and Peter Elliott rate Alf the tops!
William Wilson. But the amazing Wilson must be my top role model. Again, you need to Google him to appreciate all his achievements and versatility such as winning the Tour de France on an old postman's bike, beating the Ozzies in an Ashes Test literally single handed, climbing Everest without oxygen or protective clothing, winning the Olympic marathon and javelin on the same day with world record performances, breaking the world long jump record with a friend on his back, joins a race from the crowd and manages to record a 3 minute mile, etc, etc.
What is your favourite sporting moment?
There have been so many highlights over the years and especially so since embarking upon this journey with the sports men and women who I support. However, unquestionably, the highlight has to be Liverpool coming from 3-nil down at half time to win the European Champions League final in Istanbul in 2005 and being there with tens of thousands of my fellow Liverpudlians with which to share the experience.
However, the ultimate is going to be London 2012 and cheering on all of my sponsored athletes as they fight for podium positions. I am generally not an overly emotional person but I anticipate that I am likely to be brought to tears!
Lastly, is there life for this project after 2012?
In a word... DEFINITELY!