Corporate Responsibility: Profile - John Caudwell, Phones4U

Joe Gill

Self-made billionaire John Caudwell, owner of mobile phone retail empire Phones4U, has cycled thousands of miles raising funds for his Caudwell Charity for disabled children. But he has no truck with CSR.

Caudwell, 21st in the Sunday Times Rich List, and with an estimated personal wealth of £1.28bn, says he was motivated from the age of seven by a desire both to be rich and to help people.

The plain-speaking Stoke businessman believes he has an obligation to use some of his wealth for charity, but he thinks corporate social responsibility is just a catchphrase. "I think probably what I am doing is endemically CSR, but it doesn't come under that phrase. It's a different philosophy, one that gets a tangible result rather than something that is in danger of being bureaucratic and airy-fairy and not producing the result that really matters."

Mention worker consultation, trade union recognition, supplier audits or environmental standards, and Caudwell is dismissive: "That wouldn't be my hot button at all. With the desperately thin margins in our business, if we were wasting our time on auditing suppliers and so on, we'd probably be going bankrupt."

Caudwell devotes half his year to training for the bike rides and all senior staff are encouraged to give to the Caudwell Charity. Because Caudwell covers the administration costs, he promises that all money raised goes to the beneficiaries.

Caudwell set up his business in Thatcher's 1980s, and is a believer in meritocracy, preferring to offer eye-catching financial incentives to employees rather than staff benefits. "If I built a subsidised creche and that cost me £100,000 or £200,000 a year, that is £200,000 I could put into the charity - for kids that desperately need it. I'm afraid for me there is no competition there. We don't have real poverty in this country."

Caudwell says he sees his charity's beneficiaries as equivalent to victims of the Asian tsunami disaster, for whom he is also planning a project: "I do think that anyone who's wealthy has a responsibility to help. But I wouldn't necessarily put it under the social responsibility category.

I would put it under the category of helping people who desperately, desperately need it, not to help people who are on the minimum wage."

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