The 25 most influential people in British business

From famous entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Lord Sugar to the men behind John Lewis and Soho House, these are the most powerful people in business

You’ve heard of Lord Sugar. You shop in Peter Jones’ shops. You use Sir James Dyson’s appliances and book holidays with Sir Richard Branson. You read Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, support Mike Ashley’s football team and listen to Simon Cowell’s artists.

The influence of British businesspeople isn’t to be underestimated. So take a look through the list below to see just how far-reaching and all-pervading Britons are in the multi-billion world of business…

Sir Martin Sorrell, founder of PR group WPP

Sir Martin Sorrell

Sorrell has run WPP — an industry giant that initially began as a wire shopping basket manufacturer — since 1985. Suffice to say, the business has changed. In the intervening years, Sir Martin has transformed his brand into an advertising giant employing over 200,000 people. One of the most respected voices in business, he took home over £70 million last year. He is currently working with Boots, Diageo and Giffgaff.

Emma Walmsley, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline

Emma Walmsley

The most powerful woman on the FTSE 100, Walmsley began her career at L’Oréal, before moving to Diageo — where she held a directorship until 2016. Today, she is the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline; the world’s seventh largest pharmaceutical company. Furthering her reach, last September Walmsley also took up a non-executive director position at Microsoft.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin

Sir Richard Branson

What needs to be said? Arguably Britain’s most iconic entrepreneur, Sir Richard founded the Virgin Group in the 1970s, before going on to control more than 400 companies in tens of different sectors and industries. When Gentleman’s Journal interviewed the magnate, he shared his work philosophy: “I believe it’s really important to stand up for what you believe in, especially in the face of adversity.”

Sir James Dyson, founder of Dyson

Sir James Dyson

Another of Gentleman’s Journal’s past interviews saw us to decamp to the Dyson headquarters, where Sir James gave us an exclusive tour and insight into his work. With an estimated net worth of $13.9 billion, Dyson has spent the last three decades cleaning up with his innovative vacuum cleaners, hand dryers and household gadgets.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership

Sir Charlie Mayfield

As Chairman of John Lewis — Britain’s best performing employee-owned company — Sir Charlie Mayfield matters. A former soldier, he constantly defends the model of sharing profits with employees, which results in staff receiving a bonus of up to 20% of their salary. He’s also probably already thinking about this year’s Christmas advert.

Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever

Alan Jope

Persil. Simple. Lipton. Magnum. Knorr. Hellmann’s. Dermalogica. Lynx. Walls. PG Tips. Bovril. Just some of the brands that Jope, as CEO of Unilever, has under his control. The Scottish businessman took up his current mantle last January. And, if those credentials aren’t good enough for you, he was also a guest judge on Donald Trump’s US version of The Apprentice.

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry

Carolyn Fairbairn

As head of the group that represents British business, Fairburn is one of the most influential people on the business scene; able to call up any CEO she pleases. She’s had a 30-year career, including stints at ITV and the BBC — not to mention a directorship at the Lloyds Banking Group.

Lakshmi Mittal, CEO of ArcelorMittal

Lakshmi Mittal

Although his wealth may have dipped from its 2009 high, Lakshmi Mittal is still listed as one of the richest people in Britain with a fortune of $18.6 billion. The Indian-born CEO of the world’s biggest steel manufacturer may be struggling with Chinese competition, but he’s got wealth, fierce intelligence and an incredibly successful track record.

Mike Ashley, CEO of Sports Direct

Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley makes as much money as he does controversy. Starting with the equivalent of £30,000, he created Sports Direct — personally netting $2.7 billion in the process. Negative publicity has seen the share price tank over recent years, but the determined Ashley will bounce back just like his football club, Newcastle United.

Lord Alan Sugar, British business magnate

Lord Alan Sugar

As host of The Apprentice, Alan Sugar is one of the most recognisable faces in British business. Starting out in East London with his market stall, Sugar was at the forefront of personal computing with Amstrad. Years later, his fortune of well over £1 billion continues to grow, thanks in part to his large public following.

Rupert Murdoch, media mogul

Rupert Murdoch

Any list of business power isn’t complete without Murdoch. He may have just sold 21st Century Fox and News Corp, but Murdoch’s power, influence and reputation is as strong and far-reaching as ever. If you’ve seen Succession, you’ll know that Murdoch was the chief influence for Logan Roy — so need we say more?

Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce Holdings

Warren East

With a push for efficiency, Warren East became the most important man in Rolls-Royce Holdings overnight when he was appointed CEO in 2015. With previous dabblings in ARM Holdings and Texas Instruments, he’s a man who knows technology — and a valuable business ally to anyone who can pin him down.

Iain Conn, CEO of Centrica

Iain Conn

Probably one of the few people in Britain to take pleasure in gas bills, the CEO of Centrica has a tough job. Attacked for being a ‘fat cat energy boss’ last decade (newspapers cited his salary at nearly £4 million a year), Conn’s experience with companies including BP and Castrol mean he’s well-equipped to handle controversy.

Richard Caring, Chairman of Caprice Holdings

Richard Caring

The man behind The Ivy chain of restaurants has an estimated wealth of £650 million. Born in Finchley, Caring has amassed a London-based empire of social institutions; from the aforementioned iconic eatery to nightclubs and member’s clubs including Annabel’s and Soho House.

Simon Cowell, Founder of SyCo

Simon Cowell

The man we spend primetime television slots loving to hate needs little introduction. Cowell’s grip on popular culture is undeniable and, after he miraculously returned from the brink of bankruptcy almost two decades ago, his talent show formats and music label have netted him over £300 million. He puts his success down to a “really good attention to detail”.

Dave Lewis, CEO of Tesco

Dave Lewis

It was once said that 1 in every 7 pounds spent in the UK was spent at Tesco. The figure is disputed, but either way the company’s CEO, Dave Lewis, is really quite important. Formally at Unilever, he may be stepping down this year — but Lewis is frequently credited with saving the British retail institution.

Nick Jones, Founder of the Soho House Group

Nick Jones

This emperor of exclusivity founded the Soho House Group, which now has 27 clubs, a plethora of restaurants and two cinemas worldwide. Married to ex-Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young, Jones sees his family as his ‘greatest achievement’, but it’s his impeccable connections that earn him his place on this list.

Doug Gurr, Head of Amazon UK

Doug Gurr

Amazon is ever expanding, and Gurr is at the helm of its UK operations. After stints with the Booker Group, Asda and McKinsey & Co, Gurr joined Amazon in 2011, and was country manager in China for two years. In his current role for four years (and counting), he has helped spearhead the brand’s expansion into everyday groceries.

Tom Blomfield, Founder and CEO of Monzo

Tom Blomfield

We’ve all got Monzo cards in our pockets these days. But that flash of hot coral is thanks to one man; Tom Blomfield — whose Oxford-educated brain cooked up a new wave of banking for the younger generations. Little-known fact: he also got in on the ground floor of now-competitor Starling Bank.

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO of Salesforce UK

Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Tasked several years ago by the government to lead a review into ‘Women in Finance’, Gadhia is a great advocate for female representation in the financial industry. A trained accountant, she puts her success down to never giving up, and has connections ranging from the Tate Gallery to countless mental health charities.

Peter Jones, British entrepreneur

Peter Jones

After forming his first business at just 16, Peter Jones has made his mistakes. He lost £200,000 in his twenties, opened a doomed cocktail bar based on the reprehensible Tom Cruise film Cocktail, and finally gave in to employment when he joined Siemens. But that opened the phone door to Jones, who went on to create Phones International Group. Several savvy investments, and appearances on Dragon’s Den later, and he has a fortune of half a billion pounds.

Evgeny Lebedev, Owner of Lebedev Holdings Ltd

Evgeny Lebedev

The Russian-British owner of the Evening Standard, The Independent and TV channel, London Live, Lebedev isn’t just a businessman — he’s also a journalist. With an innate understanding of the sector in which he does business, he was the man behind the innovative i newspaper and is deeply involved in charity causes including AIDS, UK poverty and elephant conservation.

Ben Elliot, Co-Founder of the Quintessentially Group

Ben Elliot

In December 2000, Elliot founded the Quintessentially Group — a luxury lifestyle group with a 24-hour global concierge service. Also the co-chairman of the Conservative Party and a partner at Hawthorn Advisors, you’d be hard-pushed to find a more connected man in London.

Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News UK

Rebekah Brooks

After serving as the youngest editor of a British national newspaper at News of the World, Brooks fell from grace during the phone-hacking scandal in 2014. But, since 2015, she has been CEO of News UK — the current publisher of The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun newspapers.

Jeremy King & Chris Corbin, London restaurateurs

Jeremy King & Chris Corbin

Chris Corbin and Jeremy King have been partners in business for nearly 40 years. Together, the pair have created some of London’s most iconic restaurants, including The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel, Colbert and Soutine in St John’s Wood. Read our interview with Jeremy King here.

Looking for more business inspiration? Listen up to the latest of our Six-Minute Mentors, 1Rebel’s James Balfour…

Join the Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse here.

Further Reading