EX-LEEDS UNITED STAR ON JOURNEY FROM FOOTBALL TO PRIVATE EQUITY
By Adam Lovell - Insider
Insider 42 under 42 Danny Mills has opened up about his move from a lucrative football career to the world of business and how meeting one of the region's most successful entrepreneurs when Leeds United were going through administration helped drive that transition.
The former England and Leeds United footballer entered the ranks of Insider's 42 under 42 in 2016 and joined editor Adam Lovell on stage at the annual dinner held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.
"I suppose I am a little bit different," Mills said. "I had a football career but then went into business. I took my pension at 31 and then realised I probably had another 50 years of life and figured I had to do something.
"I had a very good football career, it was lucrative and I looked after myself when I was playing and I managed my money quite well – better than many, not as good as others."
Mills said the ability to think differently has served him well.
"I have taken some brave decisions, I have taken some risks, I can't tell people about business – I can't talk about figures and EBITDA, there are more experienced people than me. My success I think has been driven by thinking outside the box."
He added: "You don't have to do things the normal way, you can, and that is fine – but most of the successful people I know, in sport and business, they are single minded and they are different.
"They don't follow the normal path, they don't think mainstream. Too many people in this day and age don't want to do that, they want to follow the crowd – if you want to be the very best you have to be willing to stand out.
"It doesn't always win you many friends and at times it can be quite lonely."
Mills' business acumen was evident when he was still playing.
"When I first came to Leeds and started earning decent money I had a couple of choices to make; stocks and shares or property," he said.
"I went property, prices were quite low, I dipped into the private rental market but quickly realised it was a pain in the neck, doorbells not working, lightbulb needing changing.
"I came out of that and went into commercial property – I had the scale of money to jump several levels."
Mills met the founder of Endless Garry Wilson when the then EY-based insolvency specialist was brought in to help Leeds United through their administration in 2004.
"We came to loggerheads," Mills said. "I signed a new deal after the World Cup, but I was asked to talk pay cuts and I refused, the club was going bust and I refused. I went to Middlesbrough for a year, came back for a year but by the time I came back there was nothing less.
"I had to take advice to protect my family and my assets. We followed each other and Endless took off but I never had anywhere near the cash to get involved in the big stuff.
"Then they launched an EIS fund and it was a great opportunity to invest in businesses and a great opportunity to learn from some phenomenal people. I pulled some money together, and then got offered the chance to join the advisory board alongside some great business leaders - these guys are at the top of the tree."
Mills now sits on the board alongside bankers, lawyers, accountants and entrepreneurs and has invested in four companies; the most high-profile has been the West Cornwall Pasty Company.
He said: "You look at the people you are sat with as investors, people with experience across years in business, in banking, in corporate finance and then there is me; but I am not afraid to ask the stupid questions, the ordinary questions.
"Everyone was looking at the figures, looking at the numbers and I looked at the product and it was rubbish. It didn't look very good and when I walked past the stores I didn't want to go in - if you don't have a good product and no-one wants to buy it you've got a problem."
The determination that characterised Mills' football career was demonstrated by his thoughts on the injury to a star rival which handed him his big chance on the global stage.
"I was delighted when Gary Neville got injured before the World Cup. Anyone who says they want the person ahead of them to do well is talking nonsense. In any walk of life, football or business, you want the person who has the job you have to mess up.
"I didn't think I was even going to the World Cup, but I ended up playing in the quarter final."