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College Dropout Who Founded UK Data Center Provider Becomes Billionaire

Numerous tech entrepreneurs have seen their fortunes swell with the recent growth of cloud-based networks.

Ben Stupples (Bloomberg) -- Success put Peter Kelly on the brink of failure.

During the 1990s, booming business at his fledgling mail-order software firm sparked a cash-flow crisis as money owed from customers mounted. Kelly rescued it by swapping unpaid invoices for a third-party loan, according to “Entrepreneurship and Small Business,” a 2010 book by Paul Burns.

Today, Kelly remains the biggest shareholder of Softcat Plc, which announced this week that full-year results will be slightly better than previous guidance. The shares climbed to a record and have returned 353% since an initial public offering in late 2015. And Kelly, who invested 35,000 pounds ($44,400) to start the company founded in his shed, is now a billionaire, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Kelly, 61, controls a third of Softcat, a provider of IT infrastructure and data centers that’s also one of the U.K.’s biggest re-sellers of Microsoft Corp. software. Shares of the company have surged 59% this year through Thursday, outpacing the 29% gain for the FTSE All-Share Software & Computer Services Index, as the rise of cloud-based computing and cybersecurity concerns spur businesses to bolster their networks. The stock was little changed at 12:55 p.m. in London.

Softcat’s revenue has almost doubled since 2015 and topped 1 billion pounds for the first time last year.

Kelly and Softcat, based in Marlow, England, didn’t reply to messages seeking comment.

He stepped down from Softcat’s board in 2015, the same year he sold shares worth almost 100 million pounds in the firm’s IPO in London. He joins Zscaler Inc. founder Jay Chaudhry and the brothers behind Fortinet Inc., Ken and Michael Xie, in the ranks of software entrepreneurs whose fortunes have swelled with the growth of cloud-based networks. The global market for cloud computing is projected to grow 18% a year through 2023, according to Research & Markets.

Kelly dropped out of North Staffordshire Polytechnic after one year to hitchhike around the world. Upon returning to the U.K., he worked in sales for Xerox Corp. and established his own recruitment firm before founding Softcat in 1993. During his tenure, Kelly emphasized boosting staff morale. Softcat, which had almost 1,200 employees last year, offers them perks including free breakfast, discounted massages and a weekly shirt-ironing service.

After leaving the company, he became the director of a small landscape management business -- a move that aligns with his passion for the outdoors. The best part of his day is turning over the compost heap in his garden every evening, he told U.K. technology news site CRN in a 2010 interview.

“I’m addicted to my garden,” he said. “Every night when I get home I have a glass of wine, walk around the garden and finish off turning the compost heap to ensure it rots with enough air to produce carbon dioxide rather than methane, which is bad for the environment.”

TAGS: Europe
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