How I met Town’s mystery magnate Marcus
09:08 21 May 2008
magnate, Marcus Evans.
As Ipswich Town bosses today continued preparing for another crack at their Premier League dream, Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover ends a six-month quest by becoming the first journalist to meet ITFC's new owner, the secretive multi-millionaire magnate, Marcus Evans.
IN EVERYTHING he does, genial, secretive, tycoon Marcus Evans means business.
He has devoted a lifetime of toil to entrepreneurial success - and seconds count to a man who left school before the pressures of A-levels ... and who grew up to build a worldwide empire worth hundreds of millions.
Meetings with London-based colleagues are followed by instant, e-mailed, minutes and action points. Sometimes, these messages reach their intended target's computer even before the recipient has had time to get back to his or her desk.
One-to-one conversations and meetings with some of his 4,000 colleagues, spread across 63 countries, are often conducted by video conferencing, direct from his hi-tech office.
Marcus Evans, new owner of Ipswich Town, knows his company and the various businesses within it - inside out.
And those in the corridors of power at Portman Road have been finding out just how keen their new boss is to learn everything to do with his first football asset.
Here is a stylish, driven, hungry individual who attacks knowledge and business targets as a proven Premier League striker attacks the goal.
And his current goal, his over-riding passion and determination, is to get Ipswich Town back into the big time of English soccer.
He wants to take ITFC back to the promised land of the Premier League - he wants to do this in double-quick time - and he won't take any prisoners as he drives his football strike force forward.
Which is why there was an almost instant clear-out of discarded players at the end of the season just gone - and why there may be some big-name signings very soon. Marcus time waits for no one.
Promotion is this season or next as far as the big M is concerned but to say his crusade is just about instant glory, or quick profits, would do the man an injustice.
It's about getting Ipswich Town to where he believes the club should be - and then keeping it there - for at least a generation among the elite of our national game.
How do I know all this? Because I've spent quality time with charismatic Mr Evans... catching up on his Ipswich Town dreams.
And I very much liked what I saw.
In a boardroom high above the spring-time blossoms of London's Hyde Park, the dynamic businessman of mystery, welcomed me to his crisply-run empire.
The Marcus Evans Group world headquarters has been created in the Edwardian white-stone splendour of the former Football League offices, in a discreet side street away from the noise of nearby main through routes... and away from unwanted prying glances.
I was a little early for my mid-morning appointment and two sleek women secretaries and the latest key-fob security kept me away from the man whose name - but not face - is now known to Ipswich Town fans everywhere.
This is a world far removed from the clinical glass-wall executive suite inhabited by TV's Sir Alan Sugar and his Apprentice henchmen and women. But I could have sworn that when I was summoned it was with the immortal words: “Marcus will see you now.” How I chortled.
A lift took me on high, through more security doors. Bright young executives glided by as I went to an inner-sanctum waiting zone.
M E Group financial wizard Martin Pitcher, who is 40, but whose boyish looks and good humour places him happily among the bright young things, raced through.
The man Marcus has tasked as Keeper of the Portman Road Purse Strings (who is just a little younger than his boss) stopped to say “hello” and to discuss the latest Town fortunes. Clearly, communication is good among the Evans elite and Martin had been told I was in the building.
I found this all good fun before the Main Event, the initials being rather appropriate.
So how had I got into the ultimate Super Blue corridors of power?
The tale goes back to October of last year when, after weeks of patience and dogged digging, my newspaper exclusively revealed the name of the new boss of Ipswich Town. Our award-winning title showed its credentials as Britain's daily and Sunday news-paper of the year with a stunning set of Ipswich Town revelations.
The Marcus Evans empire ranges from opulent corporate hospitality at one end to high-flying business summits at the other.
His world of business wizardry and international daring-do, and my Evening Star world of power-packed daily newspaper journalism had come together - and the new man appeared to like how The Star had handled itself with a potent mixture of newsbreaks on one hand and fun, a la “mystery magnate Marcus”, on the other.
On the front page of the Star, I had written an open letter to him... and he had replied by return.
As we had no image of Marcus, we created our “shadow man” logo and soon realised that a “mystery man” was, in fact, better than having a picture. If Marcus didn't want to have his picture splashed around, we were happy with our very own shadow - and we told readers so.
This stance was backed by readers who, overwhelmingly, stressed that if the new owner wanted his secrecy then the media, in general, should let him have it.
As 2007 ended, Marcus sent me a Christmas card by special delivery, and I knew that our style and stance hadn't caused offence.
Later, there were other exclusive stories - and news of which Ipswich matches the new man had seen... among others the games at Blackpool and Preston, in the Fylde area of Lancashire, when he had flown north to the local Squire's Gate airport in a private jet.
There were other matches at Portman Road - including that memorable 2-1 defeat of the Canaries, which thrilled the new boss enormously. How ironic - given the importance attached to keeping his identity and image a secret - that one East Anglian broadcast media leader even rubbed shoulders with the tycoon at this game.
So, the Marcus/Evening Star relationship had been built on firm foundations. But the London meeting came because of a simple question. Please could I meet Marcus Evans? Simple as that. Funny, no one else had asked...
And so I came to a high-octane world and a meeting I had been looking forward to enormously. I'm glad to say I was not to be disappointed.
Marcus and I shook hands in his large, yet not ostentatious, office and we moved to the adjoining boardroom for our meeting. He knew why I had come down to London, of course, but I was yet to find out what he was to glean from my visit.
I guess one immediate benefit of the visit was to confirm, in conversation and in this article, that the man really does exist.
Wilder rumours, from the ever-churning mill of Ipswich Town chattering, have had our man as anything from a) a figure of corporate imagination b) a woman and c) a Dr Who, Davros-style, brain in a box.
But, I believe, there was subtler work afoot - and I'll return to that momentarily.
Marcus Evans, I can attest, is a normal guy, worth quite a lot of dosh (£200million according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List) who is one of the most driven and “sharp” individuals I have ever met.
In a well-cut navy suit, the suave and talkative Marcus started proceedings by... handing me a cup of English breakfast tea.
I'm glad I had that cuppa because for the next 50 minutes or so I sat back and heard the incredible “pennies-to-riches” story that has made Marcus one of the great business successes of the last decade.
His journey through his own history showed three things to me.
The first is that he hadn't until then had the time - or the trust - to tell full details of the Marcus Evans story to anyone.
The second is that he has an immense pride in all that has been achieved.
And the third is that success for Ipswich Town is the new imperative - and he is devoting a lot of time to it.
I knew, very quickly, that I was going to be able to do business with the man who has shelled out a chunk of his firm's money to buy Ipswich Town Football Club.
And back to that subtle point.
Marcus Evans is to information what blotting paper is to ink - he sucks it in and swoops on it big time.
When it came to my turn to talk, he took it all in - every scrap of info and every nuance that my words offered.
And he has done that with dozens of people from the world of football since the day he took the helm of one of the great football clubs in this country, Ipswich Town.
Just the day before we met he had enjoyed a powerhouse lunch with a Premier League football manager - and there have been meetings with some of Britain's most influential soccer chairmen and senior executives.
It's all part of a steep learning curve with one aim in mind - to take Ipswich Town to places it has never reached and maintained before - to the top echelons of the Premier League.
Marcus Evans, it is clear to me, has been bitten by the Ipswich Town bug. Fans will hear more of that in the future, I'm sure,
Yes, this football fairytale journey started with a simple business proposition. His purchase of a football club with good Premier League credentials makes sound business sense and promotion will bring with it more millions for the Evans bank balance.
But, as Town fans everywhere know, an attraction to Ipswich Town soon becomes an obsession and Marcus now has the power - and the passion - to deliver the much craved-for success
And if soon he delivers the golden ticket, he will be propelled into the hearts of Ipswich Town fans everywhere... forever.