Steve Parkin used to be a miner but now he is a man with a vision to give Leeds the iconic building it so nearly gained before the recession struck. Jayne Dawson talks to him.
There was a time when the skyline of Leeds was full of cranes. They were everywhere, soaring high, a symbol of our prosperity.
Then the recession happened and they disappeared, leaving empty sky and the city ...unfinished.
In particular there was one big hole, literally a hole. The foundations of the two glass towers known as Lumiere - the greatest symbol of the city’s big bold future - had been months in the drilling, but no towers ever rose.
The site became an eyesore. Instead of a building to be proud of, the people of Leeds found themselves complaining about the ugliness of it all.
All was stagnant.
Now, there is talk of what can only be described as a phoenix rising from the ashes - thanks to a former miner from Middleton.
Steve Parkin is that man, an old-school entrepreneur and capitalist who started at the bottom and worked his way to a place where he can now talk in very big numbers indeed.
In terms of distance, he has not travelled that far. Steve began life in Middleton and now he is based on Gelderd Road - a mere cough and a spit away - but separated, in his case, by several hundred million pounds.
Steve has come forward with a plan to develop a new iconic building for the city, and he is not shy about making his intentions clear.
The scheme isn’t firmed up yet and Steve doesn’t know if his towers will be glass like the original Lumiere concept, but the idea is that, within two and a half years, two towers of around twelve storeys each will exist.
“I want it to be a landmark building because I recognise the site’s symbolic value. It’s a good business deal but it’s also about putting something back.”
But how did it come to this? How did the miner from Middleton come to be the man with a plan to rescue our civic pride?
Basically, Steve is a walking template of how to leave school with no qualifications and then turn yourself into someone who thinks bigger than most of us would ever even dream -but he’s a bit of a contradiction too.
His personal wealth was last estimated at £102m, and that didn’t even include his string of around 40 racehorses from which he has made millions, nor his property portfolio and investment business.
In terms of flashiness, he has just ordered a red Ferrari F12 and has years of driving Aston Martins under his belt, but he is also a private man and says talking to the press is the worst part of his job.
“When I was on the way up I wanted everyone to know about it, but now I try more and more to go under the radar. I’ve been asked to do everything from Secret Millionaire to Dragon’s Den, but I won’t. But I admit there is a contradiction in what I do and my desire to stay away from publicity.”
Back in the beginning, he joined Asda as a trainee butcher straight from school, but then he discovered he could earn more money as a miner in the pit at Rothwell, so he left to do that.
But, good money or not, eighteen months was all he could stand, so he gained an HGV licence. By the age of 21, he was delivering fish from Aberdeen to Yorkshire.
Eventually he branched out in the delivery business from fish to fashion and started working for a fashion wholesaler in Leeds.
By the age of 28 he was a man with a van running his own business, driving the length of the country - but gradually, the work built up and turned into what is called “logistics”: taking stock out of the box, putting it on a hanger, ticketing it and delivering it to the store.
He reckons the entrepreneurial streak came from his dad, who had a fish business in Leeds market. He has two brothers, one a banker and the other a builder, and a sister who works for Burtons. He is the strange, entrepreneurial one.
By 1992 he had formed his present company, Clipper Logistics, and soon had a turnover of several million pounds and a workforce of 200 people. It wasn’t all straightforward though. Business is a roller-coaster and strictly for people with nerve - and sometimes a bit of luck.
When one of his biggest customers got into trouble, it looked like Steve’s success could be over and his business would go under, but then he bumped into Philip Green, a man whose business sense means he runs Arcadia, a company which owns many of our high street shops.
Steve already knew the retail king, and told him his business was about to go bust. The result was six postdated cheques, each for £50,000, to cover rent and wages. It took three years to pay him back, but it was a lucky break.
By the millennium, when most of us were wondering if computers would go into meltdown as the year 2000 began, Steve had different thoughts on his mind; he was busy buying companies and acquiring the right staff.
Now he runs a business with a turnover of £220m, employs three and a half thousand people and works with the county’s biggest companies.
“What we do isn’t rocket science, I just want to keep it simple,” he says.
Away from work, he lives in a seven-bedroom house in north Leeds with his wife Joanne and their four children, aged 11 to six.
He met Joanne in a pub in Guiseley one Sunday afternoon and they have been married for 12 years. The couple share five cars between them, the children are all in private school, and Steve worries about their future for slightly different reasons than most of us.
“It makes me anxious when I think of all the money there is,” he says.
Those who don’t know Steve’s name from the business world may well know him from the world of football, because that is the other passion in his life. He owns Guiseley Football Club and has always been a Leeds United fan.
He failed a trial there aged 14 and it broke his heart, he says, but it’s fair to say he bounced back. In fact, he has tried to buy the club more than once, and his name has been in the ownership frame for the last ten years.
“I am a lifelong fan. I used to play truant from school to go watch them train.
“When the club hit the buffers in 2003 I had a plan with three other businessmen to acquire it in a deal that would have cost £5m, or so we thought.
“But it turned out to be a lot more money than that, and I just didn’t have the financial firepower.”
This year he again went into negotiations, this time with the aim of buying a 51 per cent stake in the club. Steve is the kind of man who, if he likes the product, really does want to buy the company.
He travelled to Dubai for talks and the legal work got under way, though negotiations eventually stalled.
He said: “Any deal you do with Leeds United is played out in the spotlight. I could buy a controlling share, that isn’t the problem, it’s the money that would need to be spent after that to make the club the success I know it can be.
“It has been underfunded for so long, it would need £40-£50m. I would be mad keen to get involved but my family would not be happy if I put that amount of money into the club. I wouldn’t, it is just too risky.
“You have to have nerve to do what I have done, but the risk has always been calculated. My headmaster wrote on my final school report that he struggled to imagine what I would do with my life, but that my one saving grace was that I was a born leader. I have never followed anybody, that is just how I am.”