From Brewing Scion To The Billionaires’ Furniture-Maker
28th March 2016 Tara Loader Wilkinson
Mark Boddington, ninth generation member of the UK’s Boddingtons Ale dynasty, wants to build the lesser-known aspect of his family’s name: furniture-making
But this is not just any furniture. Royals, Hollywood A-listers and billionaires are queuing up for his pieces, spending millions of dollars on bespoke tables and cabinets.
Seven years ago the Boddingtons Brewery, once synonymous with North West English pride (up there with Manchester United football team and soap opera Coronation Street), was defunct after over 100 years of family ownership.
Rewind a few decades, and the brand was in its heyday. Whether it was Melanie Sykes’ husky Mancunian tones in this cult British television commercial, or nine generations of brewing history, Boddingtons Bitter Ale hit its peak of market share in the mid-to-late-nineties, after which it began its last downward spiral.
“They say it is rags to rags in three generations. This was happening to our family every three generations,” said Mark Boddington, adding that family disputes were at the core of the downfall of the business. “When my father and his cousin were in charge of our business, they held separate board meetings for 40 years.” For him, establishing a sustainable legacy of which his future generations can be proud is his aim in life.
Which is why he has taken his family’s name down a very different route: making luxury furniture.
“I’ve always had a passion for making furniture. My mother has a bookcase we made together when I was five,” he said. Some of his ancestors were also bespoke furniture makers so it runs in the blood, he added.
His life could have taken a very different turn if he had not followed his heart. “I was supposed to follow my father into the brewery business but I pursued my dream instead.”
After some disappointing A-Level results, Boddington passed up university to join eminent furniture designer John Makepeace OBE as an apprentice. Two years later came his big break. Through his father’s connections Boddington was able to set up his first workshop, which he named Silverlining, on a piece of land within the Grosvenor Estate in Cheshire, home to the Duke and Duchess of Westminster. As luck would have it, they were looking to renovate their home.
“Her Grace wandered in to our workshop after a couple of years and said, ‘Oh by the way we are going to remodel our home, could you help?’” recalls Boddington.
Delighted with the results, the royals gave rave reviews within their social circles.
“Nothing can quite prepare a person for when suddenly, a drawing becomes a living entity,” said the Duchess of Westminster.
The Duchess introduced Boddington to famed interior designer John Stefanidis and so began a trail of word-of-mouth recommendations that would become a client roster including British, American and Venezuelan aristocracy, from the Rothschild to the Getty families, and international VIPs like Kevin Costner, David Bowie, Madonna and Tom Ford.
Up until the mid-1990’s Boddington had primarily focussed on home furnishings. But after an introduction through a residential project the company completed their first super yacht, owned by Prince Jefri of Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei’s brother. Now 20 years later super-yachts and private jets make up a large part of Silverlining’s revenue.
Current projects include seven yachts larger than 70 metres and one over 150 metres. His reputation is his calling card – of his 17 current projects, 16 are from repeat clients. He only takes on one client a year as it can take up to three years to complete a project, even with a staff of 53. He has twelve clients from Russia, of which all are amongst the top twenty wealthiest Russians, but they also hail from the UK, the Middle East, Europe and the US.
“Our clients are diverse and our commissions are a mirror of their wishes. It could be cutting edge or it could be art nouveau,” he explains.
Boddington’s billionaire customers have paid up to £7 million for his work. What is that that very wealthy love about his designs? In the main part, it is the rarity.
“I like unusual pieces, and when you commission furniture you can achieve the unusual – something that really suits who you are,” says Urs Schwarzenbach, a Swiss billionaire client who is based in Oxford.
“We pride ourselves in sourcing unusual materials,” says Boddington. Among such include a 227-year-old reindeer hide salvaged from The Metta Catharina that sank off Plymouth in 1776, or a 418-year-old brown burr oak from the stately home Holker Hall in Cumbria, England or even a swathe of glittering blue stingray skin. “We look for the unusual and find the incredible.”
He recently created a 17-metre dining table from a single plank of bog oak carbon which dated back 3,200 years, for a Middle Eastern client. As the table was made entirely from one piece, it had to be shipped in a specially-designed container and craned into the dining room before the roof of the house was built on top.
While rarity is important for billionaires, the second crucial factor is establishing trust, says Boddington.
“We were working for a Russian billionaire, and after we had finished a project for him and we were sat outside his house, and we asked him why he hired us. He said: ‘See that house, and that one, and that one? They’re all my friends and they recommended you. So I trust you’.”
So what is Boddington’s life’s ambition? Not to make money or achieve fame; he is only looking to take on two additional clients in Asia. “My ultimate goal is now to be able to pass this business to the next generation. I just hope they manage it properly.”
He has seen how not to run a family business (comparing his own family situation to TV show ‘Dallas’), and has a clear idea of how to make his work. How will he ensure his business survives the dreaded third generation rags-to-rags cycle?
“I’ve learned that with family businesses, if you don’t continually evolve and change, the business won’t last. The key is to keep an open mind and to allow your children to find their own way.”
With Boddington’s four year-old son already helping him make the furniture in his studio, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.
This article first appeared on wealth-x. Reproduced with permission.
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