Money Man: Carlton Ellington Cushnie

Jamaican-born Carl Cushnie is one of Britain's top business men

Carlton Ellington Cushnie. Photograph by Buchanan Communications Ltd.

A Caribbean man has made history as the first black businessman to be listed among Britain’s 100 wealthiest people. Reclusive millionaire Carl Cushnie is now in the number 100 spot on the Rich List of the British Sunday Times newspaper. The List estimates minimum personal wealth on the basis of identifiable assets like land, property, race horses and share-holdings in public companies.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1950, Carlton Ellington Cushnie is now seen as the most successful black businessman in England, with an estimated personal wealth of £230 million. His climb to the top is even more exceptional because he made his money in the banking sector, an industry famous for its old boys’ network. He lives in a secluded £2 million mansion in Kingston Hill, Surrey.

Signs of Cushnie’s bright future were evident from his early childhood in Jamaica. He won an academic scholarship after the Common Entrance examinations. But his father Harry, an engineer, died when Carl was 13, prompting his family to move to London in search of a better future. Three years later, Carl joined his mother in London to continue his schooling.

Cushnie continued to do well academically at the Willesden Grammar School in north London, turning out impressive ‘O’ and A’ Level results. He began a maths degree at London University, but dropped out a year later, impatient to start his own business. He worked as a computer software programmer before setting up his own consultancy. Then, combining his computing and financial skills, he identified a gap in the financing market for small and medium-sized companies.

That was when he took the bold step and, in 1989, borrowed £1.6 million from a Scandinavian bank to form the Versailles Group, his own finance company which would lendnes money to small businesses. Seven years later his impatience paid off. His idea had turned into a gold-mine, and Cushnie made his first appearance on the Sunday Times’s Rich List at number 564, with an estimated fortune of £71 million. The next year he went to 312th spot, then to 167th, and this year he is among the elite, at number 100, his worth having tripled. In the last three years alone, his company’s share value rose from 8 pence in 1996 to 149 pence in January 1999.

In spite of his success, Carl has opted to maintain a simple lifestyle, shying away from publicity. He lives with his Jamaican wife, Angela, and their four children, on a private estate next to a golf club, screened from prying eyes by electronic gates and high walls. He enjoys cycling, squash, tennis and occasional games of golf. And although he is being celebrated as the first black man to make it into the millionaires’ top 100, Cushnie dismisses the notion that his colour makes his success any more or less outstanding. In one rare interview, he said: “I have a sense of pride in what I have accomplished. The fact that I am black may be important to some people but what is important to me is how I live my life.

“I have gone to the City to make my presentations and nobody has ever said ‘Carl, we will lend this money to you because you are black’‚ or ‘Carl, we won’t lend you this money because you are black’. Colour is not something I carry around with me.” He believes that the success of the Versailles Group is based on a sound idea with a “no-blame” culture. He says that clients’ problems are examined by industry specialists, whose assessments look beyond the balance sheet preoccupation of traditional banks.

Cushnie stays in touch with Jamaica, visiting his sister Barbara in Kingston and vacationing in Montego Bay every year. Occasional stories about his success have appeared in the local newspapers, but Cushnie’s reclusive lifestyle helps him to remain a virtual unknown in his homeland.