It was when Mo Chaudry was sweeping floors at the GKN factory in Telford that he had his big lightbulb moment.
“I thought, I don’t want to be doing hard manual work for the next 30 or 40 years. I need to make a life for myself, and the only way to achieve that is to buck up my ideas.”
At that stage, teenage Mo had failed most of his exams at Wellington Grammar School, and watched as his father’s grocery business run into financial trouble.
Mo remembers: “It was all a bit of a shock to the system. Dad got a job at GKN in the wheel shop, and my elder brother also worked there as a forklift driver. They got me an industrial cleaning job there, and that summer I worked pretty much full time in the wheel shop, and I saw for myself the sort of heavy labour.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that it really changed my life. I decided that I needed to move on to sixth form, take my education more seriously, and have a go at making something of myself.”
And have a go is what he did. After retaking his O Levels, and taking A Levels at New College Telford, he eventually got the offer of a sports degree at Staffordshire University, which set him on his way.
“Mixing with different people gave me the chance to grow up and assess what I was all about. I needed those three years to grow emotionally.
“It made me realise I had to work for things; you can’t be a victim, you have to fight for what you want and fend for yourself. My time at university gave me all the tools I needed to do the things I’ve done.”
By the age of 30, Mo Chaudry had indeed made his first million as a financial adviser and property investor, and has since expanded into the health and fitness, leisure and tourism sectors.
He’s also the mentor and manager of the current World’s Strongest Man, Eddie Hall. In fact, Mo was the man who sponsored him to become full time, allowing him to focus on achieving his ambitions.
“It’s not just about money any more – it’s not been for a long time. It’s about success, fulfilment, and feeling that I am reaching my full potential and helping others along the way.”
2019, shortly before the pandemic, was a milestone for Mo. His flagship Waterworld complex in Stoke on Trent was upgraded and expanded in a £10 million-plus investment to include huge new rides, an indoor golf, and brand new branch of his M Club fitness chain.
He bought Waterworld from The Rank Group in 1999, and turned the loss-making operation into a thriving and profitable business which attracts some 400,000 visitors a year. That figure is expected to rise to 750,000 when the expansion is complete.
Mo has also taken a majority stake in a major UK fitness company with a global reach, which runs football and leisure centres as well as building public leisure facilities and manufacturing gym kit.
It’s all a far cry from the day, in the early 1970s, when a young Mo first arrived in Shropshire with his parents, and three siblings, looking to make a life for themselves.
“When we moved to the UK from Pakistan, we originally set up home in Luton, but my father had the opportunity to buy into a business, so we packed up and headed to Telford.
“My parents were stereotypical immigrants, energetic and ambitious, wanting to prove themselves and make a good life for themselves and their family.
“I remember my first sight of Shropshire as we drove along the old A5 towards Wellington. It just looked like a collection of old factories, like something out of Peaky Blinders. I thought to myself, what the heck have we come to?
“But we set up what seemed to be a very successful family business, Iqbal and Sons, and we lived above the grocery shop. It was a real family affair, with mum making the samosas and me and my brothers working there too.
“I was naturally good with numbers, so even though I wasn’t the oldest child, I was first in the pecking order when it came to running the tills.
“At that time, there were very few Asian people in Shropshire, and it was tough to fit in. I was bullied in my younger years, but our family wasn’t the sort to turn the other cheek – I believe you have to fight for what you get.”
Mo credits that time he spent doing a different kind of maths – totting up prices behind the till at the family business – for teaching him one of his most important lessons.
“Everything we do is about people. If you can connect with people, it will set you in good stead for business, and life. Dealing with different people in the shop at the age of just 13 or 14 gave me a very early opportunity to discover customer relations. I managed to develop that skill-set, and it set me up for life.
“Emotional intelligence is essential in business. My generation had it, this generation doesn’t, so if you do find a young person that does have it, they are a gold nugget.
“Getting to know someone’s name and paying attention to the person, not just the job they are doing, is vital in my opinion.”
Mo appeared on Channel Four’s intriguing Secret Millionaire series some years ago, where a rich business person goes under cover, living on benefits, in the hope of finding people they wish to help.
Mo ended up handing out £30,000 to deserving causes in Leeds who just needed a lucky break – and despite the meagre allowance he was given to live on during the experiment, he still managed to save a few pennies. A sign of that shrewd business sense coming through again.
“We are all human; we learn from our mistakes and experiences, and sometimes just need a chance” he says.
“It is very difficult to appreciate how difficult it was for an Asian person making their way in a place like Shropshire in the 1970s.
“For every one of me there were 97 or 98 others who would fall by the wayside, even though they had just the same capabilities. It’s to do with mindset. Change that, and you can change your life.
“I believe that it’s very important for people like me to tell our stories and to the current generation, which is why I’m keen to share my experience with my old Telford College now.
“If I was a young man today, white, black or brown, and thought ‘this guy was us, once upon a time’ that has real gravitas. You don’t get more powerful than that.”