How did Lord Alan Sugar make his money?

We’ve all heard Lord Alan Sugar spout on about how he became successful out of nothing as a youngster while we’ve been tuning into The Apprentice.

But how did the local East End lad from Hackney who grew up in a council flat and was the son of a tailor who had to feed his family on £13 a week actually make his money?

We looked back at the 69-year-old entrepreneur’s career, from being a statistician to earning a Knighthood in the 2000 New Year’s Honours and becoming a Lord in 2009, to find out just how he became a multi-millionaire…


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Del Boy

Lord Sugar worked at a greengrocers during his school days in Clapton to make extra cash, but left school at 16 and became a civil service statistician at the Ministry of Education.

But, drawing comparisons to Only Fools and Horses wheeler-dealer Del Boy - who was also from the East End and became a millionaire - he soon set out to make some serious cash by purchasing a van with £50 savings and selling car aerials out of the back of it.

Just five years after he left school he set up his first business, establishing electronics company Amstrad in 1968 aged 21, which was the beginning of his incredible rise.

The company name was born of his initials, Alan Michael Sugar TRADing, and began making hi-fi turntable covers at a much cheaper rate than its competitors after he invested £1,805 of his own money to buy an injection-moulding machine.

Amstrad was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1980, and went up against the Commodore 64 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the home computer market with its Amstrad CPC 464 computer later that decade.


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Tough 90s

Lord Sugar arguably had some of his best years in the 80s, which in 1987 saw him ranked the 15th wealthiest person in the UK and worth £600 million aged 40.

Amstrad’s stock peaked at an incredible £1.2 billion but the 1990s proved difficult, despite being awarded $153 million in damages in a court case against hard disk supplier Seagate, later reduced to $22 million.

The company tried to compete in the gaming market with its Amstrad GX4000, but it was always going to be tough up against the likes of Sega and Nintendo with their Mega Drive and Super NES respectively.

He eventually sold Amstrad to BskyB in 2007 for £125 million and stepped down as chairman a year later.

After selling up, he said: “I’m realistic. I mean what can you do? You can’t keep crying in your beer.”


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Lord Sugar purchased his favourite football club, Tottenham Hotspur, with football manager Terry Venables in 1991 but it didn’t turn out to be one of his shrewdest investments.

He helped the club out financially but after 10 years as chairman he quit in 2001, selling most of his stake to leisure group ENIC for £22 million.

He offloaded the remainder of his stake in the club to ENIC for £25 million in 2007, donating £3 million of this money to the refurbishment of the Hackney Empire in the East End.

The majority of fans weren’t big supporters of Sugar’s as many believed he treated the club as more of a business venture, and they were angry when he sacked Venables the night before the 1993 FA Cup final.

Describing the supporters’ reaction, he later said: “I felt as though I’d killed Bambi.”

As well as that, it turned out he wasn’t a big fan of footballers.

Not known to mince his words, he once described his time as chairman of Spurs as “a waste of my life”, and also dubbed footballers “the biggest scum that walk the planet”.


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Other Ventures

Lord Sugar still has several other companies but leaves a lot of the day-to-day running to his sons, Simon and Daniel.

He founded jet charter company Amsair (Alan Michael Sugar Air) in 1993, and the organisation is run by Daniel, who also controls Amsprop, the investment firm 2007 Apprentice winner Simon Ambrose previously worked for.

Amsprop has generated plenty of cash through its property dealings, selling commercial buildings in London for huge profits, and Daniel recently said the organisation was “sitting on a major cash pile”.

The company has sold places such as the Sugar Building, near St. Pauls, for £80 million, and Burberry’s former flagship store in London’s Haymarket for £65m.

Lee McQueen and Yasmina Siadatan, who won the BBC show in 2008 and 2009 respectively, work for one of Lord Sugar’s other companies, Amscreen, which sells advertising space on digital signage and is run by his son Simon.

Lord Sugar’s only remaining IT firm is Viglen, which was acquired by Amstrad in 1994, and run by Bordan Tkachuk, who has featured on The Apprentice on several occasions during the deadly interview stage.


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TV Fame

Thanks to The Apprentice, which began in February 2005, Lord Sugar has become somewhat of a TV star in the last decade.

As well as enjoying plenty of banter with the candidates and his aides, Karren Brady and Claude Littner, he still takes a no-nonsense approach to business and has become known for his catchphrase, “you’re fired”, which he exercises at the end of each episode.

While Lord Sugar could make money from the show, he chooses not to as he donates his fee to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Business Tactics

He negotiated his own book deal for his autobiography, What You See Is What You Get, and it became a best-seller in 2010.

In the book, Lord Sugar discusses his rise to fame and power, including his tactics for being a successful businessman.

He reveals some of his strategies, such as watching what market leaders are up to, making better products than his rivals and selling to the mass market.

He also describes himself as an “all-rounder”, as he does occasionally on The Apprentice, insisting he likes to be on the production line to see his new products first-hand before they are rolled out to the masses.


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Still Going Strong

While he has become a hugely successful entrepreneur throughout his career, he is prone to the odd wrong prediction, none more so than in February 2005 when he infamously claimed the iPod would be “dead, finished, gone, kaput” by the following Christmas.

Despite this, he is still going strong in business and on the small screen, on which he will front the 12th series of The Apprentice on Thursday.

What’s more, in The Sunday Times Rich List 2016, it stated he has a worth of £1.15 billion and was named the 95th richest person in the UK.

He’s come a long way from the back of his van.