Life & Culture

Interview: Vincent Tchenguiz


Vincent Tchenguiz is rarely out of the headlines - and recent weeks have been no exception.

Having established a £4 billion property portfolio with his brother Robert, Mr Tchenguiz now runs his own company, Consensus, managing over £500 million worth of properties. Now the Iranian-born entrepreneur is turning his attention to "green" technologies in his "biggest business project" yet.

In a rare interview, the 50-year-old tells JC Business that Consensus is planning to build a £1 billion-plus venture through early-stage investments in environmental-technology firms.

"Over the next 10 years, this business is going to be huge," Mr Tchenguiz predicts. "The environmental market is seriously ramping up."

In the past 18 months, he has invested or committed more than £100 million to eco-based projects. He intends aggressively to increase activities in this sector. "No one else is doing what we are doing. We are leading the play."

With the aid of a presentation, he explains how the Consensus business model, CO2 - Offset to Ozone, can help defence manufacturers find investment opportunities in environmental, technology and healthcare companies under "offset" arrangements.

"We have formed a joint venture with technology-transfer company Imperial Innovations (the R&D arm of London's Imperial College) to establish the Consensus Imperial Innovations Commercialisation Centre. We invest in defence and aerospace companies, who then invest back in the country they have sold arms or planes to."

The investments, in places including Canada, South Africa and the Middle East, in effect offset the trade imbalance caused by the funding of the arms deals. "This is better than money, as the nature of these relationships can attract a lot of public subsidy."

Talking to the softly spoken Mr Tchenguiz in his Park Lane offices - one of the UK's most expensive office blocks, and just a few minutes away from his Mayfair home - it is not difficult to see why he has been so successful.

He is entertaining company, yet fiercely focused. He interrupts the interview more than once to check share prices with a trader in the dealing room, asking: "How we doing?"

The Tchenguiz brothers grew up in Iran. Their father Victor had fled Iraq in 1948. After completing his schooling in Tehran in 1973, Vincent attended Boston University and McGill University, Montreal. He also holds a MBA from New York University.

Before setting up the Rotch property company with Robert in 1998, Mr Tchenguiz worked for Prudential-Bache in London as senior vice-president within its fund-management division, and for Shearson Lehman Brothers.

In 2001 he set off on his own, with Consensus. But the brothers, whose offices are 100 yards apart, "still talk business. We are still friends," he says.

Mr Tchenguiz has continued to strengthen his position in the property market, either owning or managing over 500,000 freeholds. His £500 million acquisition of property manager Peverel earlier this year gave him access to 50,000 freeholds and 120,000 properties under management.

But the picture was not always so rosy. In 1984 he was down to his last $10,000. "I was very close to the wire," he recalls. "I used to play the stocks and commodities market and I lost a lot, to the point where I only had credit left. So I used the credit to trade my way out of it."

Mr Tchenguiz has seldom put a foot wrong in the intervening 23 years, a record he attributes partly to his poker prowess. "Poker taught me about risk-taking, bluffing and was good for mental ability. Poker is good for business.

"I was lousy at school, lousy with girlfriends but a great poker player. Age 10, I used to clean out all the kids at school. I realised that I can make good competitive advantage - and was driven to carry on in business."

He argues that to succeed, it is better not to have too much to begin with. "The less you have, the more likely you are to innovate." He jokes: "Parents should keep their children hungry."

Although "more motivated in business than ever", Mr Tchenguiz is also an understated philanthropist, recently donating $1 million to Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital and paying £320,000 for a Damien Hirst skull in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care and the Ecology Trust. His new charitable foundation is worth over £1 billion.

Asked how he relaxes, he points to a wall photograph of a 2,500-horsepower super-yacht. This is his "baby", moored in the South of France where has spent most weekends this summer.

He also has a home in South Africa and a selection of luxury cars, including a Rolls Royce, Lamborghini and Aston Martin.

But he has "no time for a wife. Plus," he says with a smile, "the divorce would be too expensive."

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