Chris Ingram’s liquidity moment was a very public affair. Tempus Group, the company he founded as Chris Ingram Associates (CIA) in 1976 and which is largely recognised as the first modern media agency, was bought by the advertising group WPP in 2001 for £430m after a high-profile battle between Ingram and Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s charismatic chief executive.
“I guess it became quite personal,” Ingram recalls. “I was trying to defend the independence of my company at all costs. [Sir Martin] was equally determined to capture us.”
The deal went through and Ingram moved on, he explains, “because there was no way I was going to work in that group”.
Fortunately, he had many other interests. Philanthropy was particularly important. His family charity, the Ingram Trust, supports some 25 charities, including Shelter, the housing charity, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, of which he is a fellow.
“It is through asking questions that you get sucked in,” he says, adding that he likes to share his experience as a businessman. “I tend to have a good strategic view on things and I like to drill down. If I don’t like the answers I get, I get more involved.”
This could describe his experience with his hometown football club Woking, which Ingram rescued from bankruptcy in 2002 before overseeing its promotion back to the Blue Square Bet Premier League, the top flight of non-league football in England.
It was not an easy period, he recalls. “I didn’t want to own a football club. I had anonymously lent them some money to buy players – I now know how stupid that was.” What wasn’t so stupid was Ingram’s request to see the monthly accounts, which then stopped coming, alerting his suspicions. “I met with the financial director and realised they were in a terrible state.”
He also learnt football clubs were not run like conventional businesses. “You go in, set a budget and tell them not to spend anything unless you say so. Then the manager says, ‘Chairman, there is this fantastic striker … if only I could buy him we could avoid relegation.’ The same thing happens at the other end of the table.”
Ingram has stepped down from his role as chairman, but he still supports the club and the town through his philanthropy. He is now a supporter of The Lightbox, Woking’s new award-winning museum and gallery, where his collection of modern British art and sculpture is on view on a long-term loan. The gallery’s latest exhibition of football art is sourced from this collection and is on show until September.
In 2010, Ingram helped to found London Business School’s Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and he also runs his own venture capital fund, Ingram Enterprise, which invests in rising media businesses.
The lure of starting another business, however, has been too great to resist and Ingram has embarked on a second start-up, using his love of football to build a sports media group called Sports Revolution. He is the majority shareholder and chairman, and is helping to build the company into an international leader in sports media rights, digital advertising and sponsorship.
“I seem to be endlessly finding big challenging projects that are now as rewarding intellectually as financially,” he says.
By Jonathan Moules