While the name Nick Leslau may be something of a mystery to many of the UK general public, there is no doubt that property investors and stock market investors will have come across his name on numerous occasions. This is a man who began his career selling umbrellas from a market stall and then went on to create and manage a business valued in excess of £1 billion. While there have been many ups and downs in the life of Nick Leslau he is set to return to the stock market again, suggesting that property market conditions have worsened considerably since he sold out at the peak and the cycle is starting to bottom out.
Who is Nick Leslau?
Nick Leslau is the son of a jeweller and a skilled part-time art historian who has quickly moved on to become one of the U.K.’s wealthiest property entrepreneurs. Born in 1959 Leslau has had a meteoric rise up the ranks having started out selling umbrellas from a market stall. Born in Cricklewood, North London, the Jewish entrepreneur has had his finger in a number of property pies and unlike many well-known property entrepreneurs of the past, he knows when to buy and more importantly he knows when to sell.
The career of Nick Leslau
Born into a poverty stricken family (which saw his parent’s divorce), Nick Leslau was afforded the luxury of quality schooling in Hamstead and Mill Hill School due to the fact his mother worked full-time to pay the fees. However, this investment at a very early age has borne enormous dividends with Nick Leslau estimated to have a personal fortune in the region of £200 million.
In the early days
At a very early age Nick Leslau worked for a local milkman for just 50p a round, using his funds to acquire umbrellas in bulk which he later resold on a market stall. However, perhaps his most prominent move was when he became manager of the Late Late Store in Belsize Park at just 17 and “bumped” into ex-Mill Hill student and now well-known city financier Nigel Wray. This was a meeting which was to shape Nick Leslau’s life forever and take him from the poverty of his upbringing into the lap of luxury.
After dropping out of his German degree at the University of Warwick, Nick Leslau decided to look into surveying eventually joining commodities trader Burford Group. He was employed in the company’s property division and using his contacts in the industry and the willingness of Burford Group to educate its employees he became a qualified chartered surveyor and a junior partner in 1982, aged just 23.
He then went on to become chief executive of Burford Group and his chance meeting with Nigel Wray some years ago led to the two working together to convert Burford Group into a pure property play. There followed significant acquisitions which saw the company exposed to such areas as Oxford Street London, the Trocadero Centre and the creation of Segaworld (a deal which was ultimately to cause the company significant problems in the future).
In 1997 Leslau and Wray set up a company by the name of Prestbury Group which was floated on the alternative investment market with the two property entrepreneurs delivering a 150% increase in net asset value in just two years. While the collapse of the property market towards the end of the 1990s impacted heavily upon the value of Prestbury Group, and other property companies, this did not stop the two property giants from taking the business private nearly 10 years ago.
A company by the name of Prestbury Investment Holdings was set up to acquire the old Prestbury Group with an array of property giants happy to become involved, including the likes of Sir Tom Hunter. Leslau is currently chairman and chief executive of Prestbury Investment Holdings which now has a property portfolio valued at £2.2 billion – owning the likes of Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle and Madame Tussaud’s.
It has just been revealed that Nick Leslau is set to launch his new Max Property business venture onto the alternative investment market with the backing of the American Och-Ziff hedge fund. It is rumoured the US investor will be ploughing £25 million into the operation, a figure which will be matched by the company’s management. The directors list is very impressive and includes Aubrey Adams, a former chief executive of Savills the estate agents and Mike Brown the former chief executive of property group Helical Bar.
Prestbury Investment Holdings stands to receive fees of around £18.75 million over the next seven and a half years in a complex management arrangement which will see a minimum fee of £625,000 a quarter received by Nick Leslau’s company.
Max property – where will the money go?
The forthcoming alternative investment market floatation will value the company at up to £200 million and raise sufficient funds to complete a number of deals in the short to medium term. The who’s who of property investors, led by Nick Leslau, will use their extensive experience and skills in the property market to acquire offices, flats and retail developments over a five-year period. Initially the investment will be confined to the UK and will not be of a more speculative nature.
Nick Leslau has a track record which few others in the property sector can boast and a personal fortune of around £200 million. He has benefited from the significant ups and downs of the UK property market and the forthcoming Max Property flotation has caught the attention of many investors.
Aside from the fact that Nick Leslau has an excellent track record in the property sector there are many observers who now believe the sector may have “bottom out” with distressed selling in the office and retail sector having reached massive proportions. Very often it becomes darkest before the dawn and there is a hope that the UK property sector may be about to enter an initial recovery phase and then hopefully a return to growth.
It will be interesting to see how Nick Leslau, Prestbury Investment Holdings and Max Property perform in the short to medium term and whether in fact he has been one of the bravest property investors in the UK and called the bottom of the market.