If you want to learn what it takes to get a series of successful small businesses off the ground, you could do worse than pick the brains of Barry Hearn.
After growing up on a council estate in Dagenham, the young Hearn released he was going to have to graft to achieve his ambitions – hence why he worked as a car washer and a fruit-and-veg picker while still in his teens.
Later qualifying as an accountant, Hearn settled into a comfortable life in the financial sector – but it didn’t give him the buzz of going in to work every day excited about what’s in store.
It was an unlikely investment proposition in 1974 that gave the entrepreneurial Hearn his major breakthrough in the business world…
Today, the World Snooker Championship is a sold-out, fortnight-long event at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, with millions watching on TV at home and many trying their luck in the snooker betting markets, which will pit the likes of Mark Selby (5/1), Ronnie O’Sullivan (5/1) and Judd Trump (7/1) against one another in a bid for the famous trophy in 2024.
But when snooker began to take off in popularity during the early 1970s, there was no such infrastructure in place – it was very hard to enjoy a game of the colourful sport on black-and-white television.
Hearn began promoting local events at two clubs he was persuaded to purchase by his business partner Deryck John Healey. One of these venues, the Lucania Billiards Hall in Romford, would become the home of a red-haired potter by the name of Steve Davis. He, backed by Hearn, would dominate the sport for more than a decade.
The erstwhile Hearn became Davis’s manager, pitting him in exhibition matches at his own snooker halls against the likes of Alex Higgins and John Spencer – they were huge draws on the exhibition circuit.
Turning professional in 1978, Davis would go on to win six world titles and a host of other tournaments, but it was his rivalry with polar opposite Jimmy White – Davis was nicknamed ‘The Nugget’ for his conservative style of play, while White’s moniker of ‘Whirlwind’ reflected his carefree approach – that fascinated the public. Their 1984 World Championship final would draw a TV audience of 13 million.
Unexpectedly, snooker had become one of the most popular sports in the UK – helping Hearn to make his name and his millions in the business world. He would later take control of the sport’s governing body and drive snooker into the new technological era of the 2000s.
Hitting the Bullseye
Given his knack for building sports from the ground up, Hearn was soon involved in promoting boxing, darts and other niche sports as part of his Matchroom Sport empire.
To detail Hearn’s influence on darts in particular, the first PDC world final took place at the Circus Tavern, a venue with a capacity of 1,100. Today, each day of the World Championships at London’s Alexandra Palace welcomes more than treble that number.
Now 75, Hearn has stepped back from some of his responsibilities with World Snooker and the PDC, but old habits die hard as he watched his darting stars pack out Madison Square Garden. “I’m trying to retire but I’m not very good at it,” he admitted. “The thing is, you miss so much of the fun by not being involved.”
For some, it’s impossible to shake that entrepreneurial spirit…