How Richmond’s maverick entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Rich Energy drinks, fought his way into the high-octane world of Formula 1 racing.
William Storey is an unlikely looking international businessman. His trademark long beard and mane of hair make him look more like a Viking raider than someone attempting to fight his way into one of the toughest arenas on the planet – the world of Formula 1 racing.
Normally dressed in black and wearing a cap emblazoned with the golden antlers of his Rich Energy drink, Storey looks like he has arrived from the set of Game of Thrones − certainly not the boardroom, the big banks or the hallowed halls of Mayfair-based investors.
He is, by anyone’s estimation, an unusual man. Educated at the Russell School in Petersham and then at Tiffin Boys’ School in Kingston, it was a conventional start to his childhood and teenage years. He won a place to read Mathematics at the University of St Andrew’s, the alma mater of a very different William. He even formed part of the university’s Air Training Corps.
Yet, a clue to his unconventional personality is the way he chose to finance his studies with a stint as a professional gambler.
“I started at university and to supplement my income I developed a trading algorithm for horseracing using mathematics, which was my degree. A meeting with Irish punting legend Barney Curley fired this passion. For two years I was a professional gambler and in recent years made significant bets on the outcome of the US elections and on the Referendum. This philosophy on risk undoubtedly informs my business strategy,” he said.
With some humility he describes himself at that point as a failed footballer. He played for QPR reserves – in the broader scheme of things a success, but which left him without a home in professional soccer. However, he did make valuable connections in the sporting world and he decided to set up a sports management agency. Importantly, it gave him a network of contacts he was later to rely upon when starting up Rich Energy and entering the battleground of Formula 1 sponsorship.
“I guess I have always been a contrarian. I don’t like being told what to do; I don’t like clichés and I don’t like following the crowd. I certainly don’t do what is expected of me,” William says with some understatement.
“I don’t know why, but I have always followed my gut instinct. I had an insane level of belief that Rich Energy would work. I love the challenge of building a brand but I also love to rip up the rule book,” said Storey as he headed off for the Monaco Grand Prix. “We are in essence a premium British competitor to Red Bull. We also sponsor SAS sports events, Alex Thomson sailing, West Ham ladies and a raft of world champions.”
His time in sports management lasted several years before he headed to Zimbabwe and ended up on a tobacco plantation, where he seized his next opportunity. He soon discovered that the value of land had been suppressed because of political strife around controversial land reforms.
“A farmer I knew had a plantation that had been worth $30m but would now only sell for $2m, even though the amount of money raised from the sale of tobacco was much more than that,” he remembers.
Storey invested in the farm. Ownership wasn’t possible because of the laws that meant landowners had to be Zimbabwean. When he collected the return on his investment he returned to the UK and set up an IT company that led to an online fashion business, boxing promotions, a lighting business and then to Rich Energy.
The idea for the drink came after a chance meeting with a Croatian business associate who had already developed the formula. Storey says he liked the name ‘Rich Energy’ because of his close association with Richmond, where he has his closest ties and where his main office is based.
“Right from the start I knew we were on to something. Since then we have hung on to the conviction and belief that our product is the best on the market. We have been knocked back but we have never accepted ‘no’ for an answer. I felt that Rich Energy has real legs and was hugely scalable. We knew we had a premium product both in terms of content and design.”
The stylish design of the brand’s logo was recently tested in the courts. The Hastings-based firm Whyte Bikes, a British bicycle brand, claimed that the modernised emblem of the antlers, Rich Energy’s high profile logo, was in fact a direct copy of their own. Rich Energy lost the case, but Storey will appeal. Losing again would mean a rebrand and modification of the antlers.
Storey is not dissimilar to many high-risk entrepreneurs who have scaled the heights of international business. He takes chances and is not afraid to battle his way to success. But one thing is for sure, he is devoted to Richmond and is prepared to support some of its key businesses. Indeed, when Bingham Riverhouse was refurbished, Storey bought the iconic chandelier from the bar and most of the fittings from the dining room for his own home. He holds many meetings with clients and business associates within its discreet, luxurious walls. It is his favourite watering hole.
Erick Kervaon, Chairman of Be Richmond and General Manager of the Bingham Riverhouse, said, “William Storey is a very charismatic man. Always firing on all cylinders, he is without doubt a great supporter of this hotel and of Richmond in general.” In fact, at the recent Richmond’s May Ball Storey donated the highest value auction prize of the night.
Storey is a clever man, of that there is no doubt, but even a contrarian has to introduce some convention into his business life, no matter how difficult that might be.
In defending some criticism that it is difficult to get hold of his energy drink, even though 4 million cans of Rich Energy have been sold in Scandinavia and 24 million in the US, Storey says that greater distribution will be achieved once deals have been signed with leading supermarkets and other key outlets. At the moment online retail sales dominate in the UK.
“I am convinced we have a premium, high-end product that has strong brand recognition. Rich Energy Haas F1 team is only the beginning of what we can achieve.”]
UPDATE: Since going to press, William Storey’s tale has taken yet another twist.
Rich Energy allege, “poor performance” and the “politics and PC attitude of Formula 1” has lead to their disassociation from Formula 1 Team Haas. Haas, though, appears to remain clear that the sponsorship deal remains in place; but one thing is clear – controversy continues to surround this maverick personality.