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Charity is at the heart of Graham Kennedy's life

01 November, 2010
Ten years after winning the Forecourt Trader of the Year award, Graham Kennedy still gets a buzz out of fuel retailing
Page 50 

Sleeping is not something that comes easily to me. I often wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea and wake my wife to tell her. Either that or I wait until just before the radio alarm goes off, to ask her what she thinks of my latest brainwave. She listens and then says: 'Are you taking the kids to school?' I'm told that genius is often not recognised by those closest to you, especially at 6.55am!

Every morning I get up and go downstairs to be greeted by my Bernese Mountain dog who stares at me with complete respect and adoration things that I don't always receive elsewhere.

After at least three warnings, my girls eventually bless us with their presence. My wife and I have been doing the school run for over 20 years and since my youngest two have become teenagers, we are always late. The requirements of hair and make-up take priority over timekeeping. Luckily, I can do my hair and make up very quickly nowadays.

After the morning battle over the choice of music in the car and my daily lecture about the importance of their education, I drop them at school in York. As I watch them meander carelessly to their lessons, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have now paid for most of the buildings in the school through the choice and extortion of private education. I am ready for business.

Every day is different, but I normally go to the gym on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Sport has always played a huge part of my life. I have played football every week since I was five, but Glasgow Rangers never saw my potential and now my playing days are sadly coming to an end, as it takes me the whole week to recover from the game on Sunday.

I believe that good health is the gift to appreciate more than anything else. Two of my four children are disabled and that has made me savour the beauty and vitality of every wonderful day. I spend a lot of time indulging myself in whatever I want to do at that particular moment. The need to protect my children from my natural risk taking, made me stop five years ago and think more about the future. I cashed in some of my roulette chips by selling three of my service stations to the Co-op. However, fuel marketing is in my blood and I can't leave the roulette table. I still get the buzz each day from seeking perfection in retailing. I have multiple interests outside of work, but even with just two sites now, I am continually trying to innovate. I have a superb finance and ops manager called Sally who keeps me in check. I tell her my latest brilliant idea: "I think we should build a space rocket." She looks at me, shows me the latest Platts price and says: "You know we're making nothing on fuel?" I reply: "Are we doomed? Maybe we should go for a Cyberman to stand next to our Daleks or our Tardis?"

I think the way I can survive as an independent operator is to create theatre on site coupled with exceptional customer service and it's a continual battle for Sally to share this vision (she's ex-bank). I drift back to the reality of the business and tackle my emails.

A big part of my life is raising funds for Ataxia UK. I have just completed my latest bike ride, (www.bigbadbikeride.com). We raised £70,000 in one day and I will not stop until I have reached my target of £1m (currently I'm at about £650,000). I will gain much more satisfaction when I reach this target, than I ever will from making money for myself.

In the evenings, if I am not playing poker, or tennis or going to a writing class, it is back home to have dinner with the family. My wife and I have a glass of wine and feel blessed that we met at school and have been married for 200 years. My favourite saying is 'Life is too short', so I tell her about my next brilliant idea...


Graham Kennedy:

Company: Inner Space Stations Ltd, based in York Job title: Founder and md

Responsibility: Two service stations, one with Planet Wash; Bargain Booze; property portfolio

Career history/biog: Mobil Oil Co; set up Inner Space Stations in 1986 Greatest achievement: MBE for fundraising for Ataxia UK

Most likely to say: "Life is too short do it now"

Least likely to say: "I don't have any ideas"

Tip for business success: Innovate and be bold