Investor Guy Hands’s new biography, The Dealmaker, took 17 years to write, and he burnt through five ghostwriters – all for a mere £10,000 advance. Hands, who was estimated to be worth £259m last year, believes it’s the lowest hourly wage he’s ever made.
Is it good reading?
“The Dealmaker must be the only book about private equity to read like a thriller,” says Charlotte Edwardes in The Times. Hands, 62, found himself in a bunker outside Moscow in 1995, where Russians named Big Peter and Little Peter threatened to shoot him unless he agreed to sign an oil contract. He said no and escaped. When he later refused to sell a chain of East End pubs, they mysteriously burst into flames. There’s star power as well: during his fund’s troubled ownership of EMI Records, he lunched with Mick Jagger, who complained about the label paying for “attractive women holding my water bottle”. “I left the lunch thinking Jagger would have made a better CEO than me,” Hands writes.
Sounds like a colourful life
It certainly has been. Hands has made and lost billions of pounds during a rollercoaster of a career. He was born in apartheid-era South Africa, but his parents moved to Berkshire when he was three. Hands was bullied mercilessly throughout his schooldays, but at Oxford he became friends with William Hague (his future best man) and was president of the Conservative Association. He also sold cheap artwork and bought property with the proceeds. When he was landed with a £40,000 bill for unexpected repairs to a shop he had bought, a careers adviser recommended declaring bankruptcy. Instead he asked what company paid graduates the most. Goldman Sachs, came the reply, and Hands got himself a job there in 1982.
Did it go well?
Very. He quicky rose up the ranks, building a culturally diverse team of “technical, nerdish people” rather than the usual pale, male City types. “Instead of going out for drinks, we’d pore over documents, looking for the little facts that would give us an advantage,” Hands told the BBC in 2019. In 1994 he joined the Japanese bank Nomura, bringing in £1.5bn in profit before setting up his own private equity firm, Terra Firma, in 2002.
And was that a similar success?
For a time Terra Firma was the biggest private equity operation in Europe. In 2007 it bought EMI for £2.4bn. Hands says he found a £5.6m Mayfair “shag pad” and a £20m-a-year bill for “fruit and flowers” (allegedly code for cocaine and prostitutes) on the books. His attempts to slash back the largesse soon spiralled into public feuds with the label’s artists: Radiohead’s frontman, Thom Yorke, once said Hands “f***ing ruined my Christmas”, while Joss Stone’s poodle defecated on Hands’s office carpet after a particularly “emotional” meeting. Citigroup, the deal’s main lender, ended up taking control of EMI in 2011. Terra Firma lost £1.7bn and Hands about £170m – more than half of his net worth. A seven-year court battle against Citi, which Hands claimed had misled him over the value of EMI, also ended in ignominious defeat. Hands described it as “almost as close to a near-death experience as one can have without dying”.
How did he recover?
He moved to tax-free Guernsey in 2009, where he lives in a £6m, 11,000 sq ft home with panoramic sea views. For a while he didn’t even set foot in Britain: his family and employees had to fly to Guernsey to visit him while he started his days with yoga and Pilates. He also has villas in Tuscany, Spain, California and Hawaii (all available to rent for up to £8,800 a day).
What do his family do?
Hands’s wife, Julia, 62, is a businesswoman who runs the upmarket Hand Picked Hotels chain. Hands can’t form a mental image of her beyond her blonde hair and blue eyes – he has aphantasia, a condition that means you have no “mind’s eye” and a shaky visual memory. In supermarkets, he can lose her and end up walking beside complete strangers. The couple have four children in their twenties and thirties – Richard Hands, who looks to be the right age, is part of the Terra Firma leadership team.
Has Guy’s life calmed down?
Partially. Hands has a formidable head for numbers, but he is so dyslexic that he has a reading age of 13. His severe dyspraxia means he can barely drive at more than 30mph, and his OCD once manifested in an addiction to roast potatoes that had to be cured through hypnosis. Now he’s fixated on cheesecake. Hands has struggled to cut down his 90-hour work weeks – he is constantly terrified “of ending my life having not achieved”. Nevertheless, he says he’s in a better state, mentally and physically, than he has been for years. He once admitted to a GP that he had no friends he could ring with a serious problem – now he’s got one (he doesn’t say who) and is working on increasing that number.
A wise investment