Danny Chapchal Interview – Musical chair

Danny Chapchal likes nothing more than lending his experience to the founders of young or troubled businesses - nothing, that is, except losing himself in his collection of 17,500 CDs. Nick Britton meets him.

‘When you experience a great work of art, you know there is so much more that’s important in life than doing business.’

You wouldn’t guess it from these words, but Danny Chapchal trained as a chartered accountant. However, he soon saw the error of his ways, as he puts it, and gave that up for the world of business. Forty years later, he’s a ‘hands-on investor’ in companies such as security systems specialist TSSI and digital valve developer Camcon Technology, in which he’s chairman and CEO respectively. It’s no casual hobby: the two companies represent about one-third of his net worth, including his house – though it’s not clear whether he’s factored his CD collection into the equation.

‘I bought my first CD in 1984, in Perth, Australia,’ he says. ‘It cost me the equivalent of £16. Since then I’ve acquired about 800 every year.’

He hastens to add that acquired doesn’t necessarily mean bought. ‘My satellite receiver picks up every classical music station in Europe. If I listen to something and think it’s good, I make a recording.’

Bittersweet symphony

For Chapchal, classical music is not just a passion, but an obsession. It all began with his Russian father, who left the country because of the Revolution and never saw or heard of his family again, and his French mother – both were from artistic backgrounds.

‘My father was a wonderful man – he never forced the issue,’ Chapchal recalls. ‘One Christmas, when I was eight, he said to my brother and me, “I am going to listen to a concert on the radio. If you want to listen too and be quiet, please do; otherwise leave me alone.” We chose to listen.’

The piece was Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. Chapchal was transfixed, and his lifelong love affair with music began. Like all true love, it didn’t always run smooth. Shortly after getting married, when money was tight, he had to hide an LP he had purchased under the carpet in his car until his wife was away one evening. Fortunately his marriage survived – he and his wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last year.

Songs of a wayfarer

Chapchal admits that it is hard to make non-music lovers understand the intensity of his response to music. ‘I once drove up to Manchester with a colleague who had no interest in music. On the way back I said, “You don’t mind if I listen to my music, do you?”

‘After two hours he said, “I do envy you – you obviously get so much out of it.” I said, “Well, I feel sorry for you, because you get so little out of it.”’

With evangelical zeal, Chapchal rejects the idea that such pleasures are cut off from the hoi polloi. ‘There is an element of snobbery about the arts, which worries me,’ he says. ‘Music is a form of pleasure that represents every possible mood you could have. We are doing people a disservice if we say the ordinary man in the street can’t appreciate this – that’s rubbish, we all can.’

Different composers have been particularly important to him at different stages in his life. Beethoven – ‘so dramatic and forceful’ – was an inspiration as a young man, when he was put in charge of an electronics company at the age of 24; while the hidden depths and serenity of Mozart have impressed him more and more as he’s gained experience of business and life.

‘Without wishing to be blasphemous, I think there is a Holy Trinity in music,’ he states. ‘Bach is God the Father, all-knowing, supremely wise. Then there is Beethoven, the Son, who suffered so much for his art. And Mozart is the Holy Spirit – absolutely perfect.

‘I’m not a religious man, but I think I could almost believe in God, thanks to Mozart.’

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for growthbusiness.co.uk when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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