The billionaire brothers who built an empire from a Bury petrol station and have just bought ASDA for £6.8b

Photo: Brothers Zuber (left) and Mohsin (right) Issa

 

In a petrol station a mile or so from Bury town centre, the seeds of a billion pound empire were sown.

When brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa purchased the run-down garage in Brandlesholme Road back in 2001, there was little to distinguish it from so many others up and down the country.

But its new owners possessed big dreams and a vision.

Nearly 20 years on, the Issa brothers are worth more than £3bn and have just bought Asda for £6.8bn.

The deal with US shopping giant Walmart puts Asda back into British ownership for the first time in more than 20 years.

Yet despite the brothers' vast wealth, the story of their remarkable rise to being one of the UK's richest families is not particularly well-known.

Born to an Indian mother and father, who moved to Britain with little to their name in the 1960s, Mohsin and Zuber's childhood was a modest one.

They grew up in a terraced house in Blackburn while their father worked in one of the town's mills.

After leaving his job at the mill, Mohsin and Zuber's father bought his own garage and the young brothers would help out by selling petrol and refreshments.

Although the family later sold the business, it sparked an idea that would make the brothers wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

They decided to branch out on their own, first renting a petrol station for two years, then in 2001 buying their first forecourt in Brandlesholme Road, in Bury. The derelict site cost £150,000.

From there, Euro Garages was born.

Situated on a busy road linking Bury and Ramsbottom, and surrounded by housing estates, there was no shortage of drivers running low on gas.

Yet the Issa brothers dreamed of something far bigger than a mere filling station.

They set about making the most of the site's retail potential, adding a newsagents and a grocers.

The plan was such a success that they rapidly expanded into Lancashire, snapping up ailing garages where they replicating the model that had worked so well in Bury.

Speaking about the secret of their success, Zuber told the Financial Times in 2018: “Fuel sales were declining.

"We wanted to create a destination where you could get fuel, food-to-go and shopping.

"This is the formula and it works.

"We were fortunate that the big players were leaving the market just as we were growing."

Securing partnerships with big brands was a key part of the Issa brothers' plan to attract motorists.

Among the early adopters were Spar and Subway, both of which have become common sights at Euro Garages sites up and down the country.

Their empire, the EG Group, now has almost 6,000 sites across 10 countries, from the UK to the US and Australia, runs outlets for Greggs, Starbucks and KFC, and employs 44,000 people.

In 2017, it bought 77 Little Chef roadside restaurants.

Zuber, 48, said: “We grew (EG) from nothing.

“We’ve been on the pumps, we’ve been stocking the shelves, cleaning the toilets. You do everything.

“And once you do the foundation work, it’s no different wherever you go in the world. It’s a petrol station; you’re selling fuel, you’re selling coffee, you’re selling convenience.”

Mohsin, 49, said the company “makes more money selling a cup of coffee than we would do on an average tank fill-up”.

According to this year's The Times Rich List, the tycoons are worth £3.56 billion.

Remarkably, they enjoyed a £2.36bn increase in their wealth on 2019 with only James Dyson, who was named the richest person in Britain, experiencing a greater annual increase.

While their wealth has opened up a world of luxury, they remain fiercely proud of their Lancashire roots.

Despite splashing out £25m on a mansion in Knightsbridge in Central London, the low-profile pair have retained a strong connection to their hometown.

They still live in Blackburn and are building five mansions for them and their relatives just ten minutes' drive from where they grew up.

Meanwhile, Euro Garages' new £35m headquarters has recently opened in Blackburn and the brothers have invested £100million in a new business estate, which includes a Hampton by Hilton hotel and aims to bring 2,000 jobs to the town.

They told the FT: "People are always asking when we will move to London or Manchester.

"But the quality of life here is great. A lot of people do a few years in London then come to the North West.

"They want to raise a family and have less pressure. We have got a lot of fantastic people that way."

Mohsin, who is married and with two grown-up children, runs the business day-to-day, while Zuber is responsible for strategy and acquisitions.

The deal to bring Asda back into British hands is said to be worth £6.5bn, with private equity firm TDR, which owns half of the EG Group, expected to put in a large chunk.

And it is believed Asda’s parent company, US giant Walmart, will retain a stake, although the rumoured sale price is £5billion less than it paid for the chain in 1999.

Back then, the Issa brothers were preparing to take their first steps into the world of business.

Almost two decades on, the Bury petrol station where it all began is still there, and still owned by EG Group.

Each day, hundreds of motorists pull in to buy petrol, groceries, or visit the Subway and Starbucks outlets.

Yet few, if any, will be aware of the role it played in shaping two of Britain's wealthiest men.

 

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