Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Rags to riches tale of self-made millionaire
He was a foster child from a notorious estate who became a hard-working but angry young man. Now, self-made millionaire Chek Whyte, who lives in 18th-Century mansion Bunny Hall, credits finding God as the bedrock of his success and mellower character at 45. JO ROBERTS found out more.
HIS nickname is Marmite because people either love him or they hate him.
But what does Chek Whyte care? The self-made millionaire's property and development empire goes from strength to strength despite the times, and he neither loses sleep over popularity nor listens to rumours – even the flattering whisper that he's one of the richest men in England.
"Yeah well, I just disregard it. I don't even mention things like that. I'm just a normal working class person, y'know; gets up every day, works a 12-hour shift, seven days a week. A lot of people try to tell you how much they're worth and all the rest of it, but it's not me," said Chek emphatically.
What about his description as one of the country's most successful property developers? "It's a source of pride but where people get the information from I never know. I suppose everything we've done, we've succeeded at and we've diversified, but do the people who write these stories really know what that means? I'm sure there are a lot of people out there better than I am. But, yeah, it's nice because people write that and think you're somebody," said the married father-of-three.
It's a surprisingly modest millionaire who supposes "there are a lot of people out there better than I am."
But then Chek Whyte is disarmingly open, and has none of the ego you might expect, insisting again in his broad Ilkeston accent: "I'm sure there are – I'm just a nobody type thing, I get up in the morning and go to work. We're just mooching along, doing a few bits, and playing about and enjoying us-selves."
Hardly! He has built up from nothing a hugely successful business that now involves construction, development, lettings, and specialist restoration of dilapidated listed buildings to their former glory. Chek has been responsible for renovating Bunny Hall, Clifton Hall, Colwick Hall, and has almost finished a stunning transformation job on Stanford Hall, the breath-taking HQ of Chek Whyte Industries, which will open as an auction house on March 19. There are also plans in the offing to build a £60m retirement village in the grounds.
Not bad at all for a son of the notorious Cotmanhay Farm estate, where Chek was one of five children whose parents enjoyed drinking and, in his mother's case, suffered from mental health problems. Subsequently, the troubled couple temporarily lost their children to Social Services on eight or nine occasions. Yet Chek insists he has largely good memories of his childhood years in Beresford Drive on the estate.
"I looked after everyone else," he said of his younger siblings. "It was hard but happy in some ways. You saw quite a lot of life on that estate, but it seemed all good as a kid. Mum and Dad would be there, but drunk."
Could Chek's taste for immaculate and extravagant surroundings be a reaction to chaos and deprivation of his early home life? "It's got to be," he concedes. "Everything has got to be clean. But in those days, if a shiny car pulled up, you knew Social Services were coming to take you away."
Despite the complex feelings that must lie beneath, Chek is matter-of-fact about his childhood.
"We were taken to foster homes in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. We always got thrown out because I would fight with the foster carers' kids. Sometimes we'd get split up and other times they'd place us in twos. We were fostered eight or nine times."
Sadly, some of the carers Chek encountered did not provide the loving home-from-home a child in his position needed.
"There were some people in the foster environment who were there for the money. They didn't treat you kindly. The worst one, the one that scarred me, was when we had lice. One foster carer – a woman from Derby – tipped lice powder all over me in full view of the kitchen window, in front of the other kids outside who were all laughing. I was 11 and I was teased mercilessly.
"We were given salad cream sandwiches while the family ate steak, yet they were paid to feed us."
During the periods at home, things may have been difficult but relationships were still affectionate.
"I was close to my dad," said Chek. "He was brilliant. He spent a lot of time in the pub and he was a comical man. We were all close."
Chek left the frequently troubled but not always unhappy family home in Beresford Drive at 15.
"Mum kicked me out. I'd started work a year earlier to buy my own clothes – I was very particular about them. But that particular night, it was my brother's girlfriend's party..."
Chek's favourite clothes had been washed but they were still wet so he was forced to wear clothes he wasn't comfortable in. His reaction?
"I smashed the house up because I had a tantrum."
It wasn't the only time his temper caused problems; Chek was expelled from Bennerley School in Ilkeston the same year for hitting a teacher.
"I was expelled and started working at a car spraying place for a bit of cash," he said.
The young Chek had seen a lot of hardship in his short life and was already older than his years, so perhaps it's not surprising that he quickly became adept at fending for himself, getting his own flat in St Mary's Street, Ilkeston.
"At 16 I was on a YTS scheme as an asphalter for £23.50 a week. Rent alone was £17, so as well as my full-time YTS scheme, I had to work nights to afford gas, electric and food. I was working around the clock to survive."
In the following years, Chek's mum also moved out of the family home alone, and died some time later when Chek was about 25.
Chek remained close to his dad until he died about ten years ago.
Meanwhile, independent Chek was working long hours as a groundworker and asphalter and building up his own businesses, although there were several false starts.
"Aged 22, I launched my own business as a groundworker. There were difficulties I had to overcome – I was dyslexic, colour blind, I could hardly read or write. Yet in the early stages, I went from starting out to employing 300 staff within 18 months."
But the company Chek was working for didn't pay him – "that sent me bankrupt." It wasn't the last bankruptcy. "Again, another person didn't pay us."
But Chek was not a quitter.
"I still don't know how I gained the entrepreneurial mindset! The long hours I'd always put in had become my work ethic. Why only do 37 hours a week? That only gives you a normal lifestyle. The other 20 give you your car, a good lifestyle, and a better school for the kids. I started in construction, then became a builder, then became a developer – buying up, improving and selling on – and also moved into property rental.
"Now I've got good accountants, lawyers and surveyors because I can afford to. Back then I couldn't – it was a chicken and egg situation."
But the factor Chek really credits as the bedrock of his current success is surprising.
"Things really changed about six years ago when I met God and became a Christian. I built Trent Vineyard church's building in Lenton Lane and that's when my charitable side came out. I do a lot with them now. Meeting God makes you a better person."
In a mellower mindset, Chek's natural business aptitude flourished.
"I'm good at seeing the best in pieces of land. I'm a very good delegator, but to the right people. And I come up with ideas."
Chek's latest idea is the auction house based in Stanford Hall, which opens for business in March.
"You have to be one step ahead of the game. It's a full recession, the market's collapsed, so what do you do? You organise an auction house.
"We are confident we are going to weather the storm of this recession but if the banks collapse around us, we can't do anything about that. Even Richard Branson said if one particular bank had gone under, he would've gone too. Everybody's got to feel vulnerable, but we are using very good banks."
Bearing in mind the economic situation, what is the continuing attraction to Chek of the expensive listed buildings he now specialises in? "They're big! To have gone from having nothing to owning stately homes is more than a dream."
Business-wise, one of Chek's biggest (literally) projects is his proposed £120m, 600-ft tall skyscraper inclusive of a hotel, dubbed Whyte Tower, in the Eastside Regeneration zone. It is expected to be submitted for planning permission in May.
I ask whether Chek's recent invitation via the Evening Post to host Russian billionaire Sergei Matvienko (when the tycoon snubbed the Presidential Suite at Nottingham's Park Plaza hotel) was a bit of a joke aimed at drawing attention to the Whyte Tower proposal?
"No it was a serious offer! We need external money coming into the city for its growth. I would like to see Nottingham compete with Manchester. We don't want to lose the feel of the old city, but we need to add to it.
"I see what needs doing and I get on with it. You've got to have do-ers around you, and I'm a do-er."
The policy applies as much to Chek's community-minded projects as his business life. In May 2008, he bought Ilkeston Town Football Club.
Chek says he didn't step in to save the club because he's a big soccer fan, but because he wanted to recreate something like the Salford Lads' Club he encountered on charitable Channel Four show Secret Millionaire, which he appeared on in 2007.
"After Secret Millionaire my dream was to have a lads' club for Ilkeston. I'm trying to work with the community to break down barriers for young people from deprived areas in Notts and Derbyshire."
Chek says he has no plans to leave the area. "Why leave the environment you like? My best friend still lives on Beresford Drive. We've still got a lot in common, I'm still the same guy. I've not changed."
The same guy but with a yacht in Majorca – although he doesn't have a lot of time to play.
He said: "In my professional life I've always wanted things to be perfect and I've fallen out with lots of people because they don't do as you want. My sites are run meticulously so people get fired if they don't do it properly. But I'm not at that end of the business any more.
"When I met God I met the Holy Spirit, He cleansed my soul and so I'm not vindictive, plus I've mellowed with age. Of course I have critics. I've never let it bother me."
Source : www.thisisnottingham.co.uk