It now all seems a far cry from the days when John Hellowell was a lad growing up in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.
He said: ‘As a lad at 13 I bought an old butcher’s bike, got myself half a dozen hens and started selling eggs to my friends and neighbours.’
He then got a hawker’s licence and ended up with around 50 hens. He became a familiar sight on the market square on Saturday mornings.
This was the launch of John’s business career.
He left school at 15 with no qualifications.
But this did not deter him and he eventually went on to build up his own successful business, a specialist company making waterproof clothing.
The successful business was eventually sold to Granada Group plc. John moved to live in the island following the sale.
He said: ‘I came to the island in 1987. I’d already made some good friends here.’
He and his then wife Gill had a holiday cottage in the island at Cross Four Ways.
‘It was the most natural thing to do to sell the business in West Yorkshire and to come and live here.
‘We lived in the holiday cottage for the best part of 18 years.’
But John was keen to keep involved in business. He recalled how he put an advert in the paper: ‘‘Wanted: business of any kind, anything considered.’’
‘I seem to remember I got offered a butchers shop, second hand clothes shop and even a sailmakers, that was quite an interesting proposition.’
John said another business that came forward was a commercial cleaning company. In fact it turned out to be a small window cleaning business in Douglas.
John said he liked the look of it, saw the potential and Strand Cleaners, named after Strand Street in Douglas, was born.
I n 1988 there were just two members of staff. Today the Strand Group employs nearly 130 people.
One of Strand Group’s largest clients now, was a Prospect Hill customer of the original window cleaning business 25 years ago.
Today Strand Group provides facilities management, cleaning, high level access, secure document scanning, storage and destruction, through its three operating businesses which are called Strand Facilities Services, Storall and Krypton.
Today it is a 24/7 business and John told Business News that he believes team work is a major factor in the success.
John, 56, told how they used to have a contract with Manx Airlines.
‘We used to polish the aircraft for the company. According to Manx Airlines if you polished an aircraft the slipstream is so much more efficient. Apparently a return trip to Manchester would save 10 litres of fuel with a brightly polished aircraft.
‘We used to polish them by hand. We’d get four or five people to do it over a weekend with the old ATPs. ’
John said he has always prided himself on being involved with the job, mucking in and not just sitting in his office. ‘I’ve got a nickname in this firm, I’m known as the Vest, I’m never off their backs’ he said with a chuckle.
He said he has always remained enthusiastic for the business as it has expanded, but he was keen to praise the group’s management team for being very good and also the loyal workforce, some of whom have been with Strand for many years.
His ex-wife Gill is the group’s finance director
Size wise Strand deals with companies of all shapes and sizes, ‘from an office run by a husband and wife to large companies, eGaming firms, the Government and a large bank.’
John has a son Ben aged 20 who runs a company called Just Care Products. Business News featured Ben a couple of years ago when he became what was thought to be the youngest managing director in the Isle of Man. John said that at home in the west of the island the tea table often becomes the boardroom table as he and Ben discuss business matters. Away from work John says he always enjoys his winter trip to his own island, Kidney Island, in the Falklands.
‘My passion for wildlife extends to going out to the South Atlantic at least once a year with my partner Tracey.
‘I bought the island about six years ago and we keep it as a private wildlife reserve.
‘Other than penguins and sea lions and loads of birds on it there’s nobody living there.
‘I won’t say what it cost but it wasn’t a problem.
Getting to the island means firstly he and Tracey book flights on a military aircraft from RAF Brize Norton to the Falklands. They stay with some very good friends at Goose Green. Then they get to their island paradise by taking an ‘air taxi’ to another island called Lively Island and then going by boat the final two miles to Kidney Island.
John, a keen amateur photographer and lover of wildlife said there is a unique species of bird that breeds there called the Cobbs Wren.
He said: ‘It’a long journey out there, two or three days, but it’s all worth it when you get there.’
John, who says he is not a person who particularly likes being in the limelight, said most people were surprised when they found out he owned an island.