Rob Northfield: Giving something back

Multi-millionaire businessman Rob Northfield bought his local football club, Harrogate Railway Athletic, last year. Now he believes the club can rival neighbouring Harrogate Town, while he’s still as keen as ever on giving something back.

Today, Rob Northfield, who runs Harrogate-based management consultancy 2inspire, is a wealthy business guru with properties across the richest parts of London, Yorkshire and the Balearics – but it wasn’t always thus.

His is a classic rags-to-riches tale. He emerged from a tough upbringing in London’s East End, during which he shared a two-bedroom house with six other family members. It instilled in him a determination to work hard and succeed.

Northfield left school at 15 with no qualifications and was forced to abandon his dream of becoming a professional footballer. Instead, he joined pharmaceuticals giant Beecham as a transport supervisor, before quickly rising through the ranks, becoming the company’s youngest managing director at the tender age of 25.

Northfield says a fear of public speaking led him to a Dale Carnegie event on leadership and communication, at which he recognised that his autocratic style of management had to change.

Seven years later, he left Beecham to join Dale Carnegie Training, at which he built up the most successful franchise in the UK. His entrepreneurial appetite led him into property development and he went on to build a portfolio across the country.

A great save

In 2002, at 49, Northfield decided to retire from corporate life and bought a home in Ibiza to take time out. His love of football and desire to give something back, however, eventually led him to the rescue of indebted UniBond football league club Guiseley.

‘I took over in the 2004/05 season, investing a six-figure sum to get the club out of trouble. Within a year, we had cleared up all of its debts and won the Yorkshire County Cup, beating League Two (old Division Four) side Halifax Town in the final,’ he recounts.

Northfield later sold Guiseley, but he had already developed a taste for ‘helping people out’. In 2007, he returned both to work and football, forming Harrogate-based management consultancy 2inspire and investing £30,000 in Harrogate Railway Athletic.

‘I’d done it before, and thought I’d like to help out another club. I got involved in May 2007 and was appointed chairman on 1 July. I invested some money, but not a lot, and I attracted some sponsorship. I kept the budget low and we said to the players: “Bring success to this club and you’ll be the highest-paid players in this league.”’

Winning mentality

This focus on motivation paid off in spectacular style, with humble Harrogate Railway making it as far as the second round of the FA Cup. True to Northfield’s promise, the team made plenty of money along the road to Wembley and attracted considerable media interest before eventually succumbing to Coca-Cola Football League Two side Mansfield Town. ‘To put this in context, it is something that most clubs of our level will never achieve in their lifetime,’ beams Northfield, who will appear on Saturday football chat show Soccer AM later this month.

Aside from Harrogate Railway, Northfield’s other passion is 2inspire, a company whose name adorns the club’s shirt as sponsor. ‘We started from scratch in May last year and turned over £500,000 in the first six months,’ he enthuses. But he concedes that he is undecided about whether to ‘keep the company small or take it further’, since he has no need to work anymore.

The 2inspire mission is to help businesses run more profitably by working smarter without working harder, and encourage entrepreneurs and managers to grow as people and professionals. Northfield is now best known for his motivational speaking for 2inspire, and his love of what he does is clear.

‘Executive development is my passion because I want people to become effective communicators and I want to leave a legacy of helping people,’ the 54-year-old explains.

Similar motivations are behind Northfield and his wife Judi’s adoption of a family in the Gambia. He not only wrote out a cheque to build a village school for 500 children, he also paid for his adopted family’s seven children to be educated and is now building a new house for them.

‘I got more pleasure from writing out that cheque than I ever did from driving an Aston Martin,’ adds Northfield.

Rob Northfield’s Vital Statistics

Age: 54

Marital status: Married

Best friend: Billy Jennings, the ex-footballer who played for victorious West Ham United in the 1975 FA Cup Final.

Leadership mantra: Leadership is about completing your own tasks to a level that is acceptable when measured by others, then helping others

Hobbies: Keeping fit (‘I can run 10km in 45 minutes’)

Life philosophy: Become one of the friendliest people in town. Let’s be more positive, stop complaining and help others


Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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