Italian-born Toni Mascolo OBE runs his hairdressing empire, Toni & Guy, from his home in Surrey, and still cuts hair in the London flagship salon every Saturday. When you have been at the blunt end of a pair of hairdressing scissors for 50-odd years, listening to people’s woes through five recessions, and have also run a successful family-owned business, you are entitled to a few bold opinions. And hairdresser Toni Mascolo, the eponymous half of the Toni & Guy partnership, has plenty – particularly on the subject of entrepreneurship.
“Recession is the best time to grow a business,” says Mascolo, who ran his first salon aged 17, and sold the product side of the company to Unilever last year, with his brothers, for $416m. “In a recession you are focused on keeping costs down, have better leases and lower rent, and you have to try harder to keep the standard of work up. If you open in a boom, you are relaxed and casual, and you keep being casual in bad times. Recession is a great discipline.”
For businesses struggling with the present downturn, Mascolo’s views are provocative. It is all very well to extol the benefits of austerity measures when you are taking royalties and profits from 450 franchised salons worldwide. But what about budding entrepreneurs who don’t have Toni & Guy’s turnover of £175m to fall back on? For those who disagree, Mascolo recommends Julius Caesar’s Commentaries. “Caesar urges you to have courage and no fear in what you are doing,” says the 68-year-old businessman. “He was at odds with thousands of enemies, with only a small army. But he planned and strategised well, taking advantage of high hills and other manoeuvres to ultimately triumph.”
Franchising is what built the Mascolo empire, and paid for the nine-bedroom house set in 39 acres of prime countryside in southern England. “I think we were the first company after McDonald’s to use franchising in the UK,” says Mascolo. “I had just come back from a trip to Dallas in 1979 and franchising was the hot new idea that everybody was talking about in the US – a five-year plan to become a millionaire.
“I could see the big picture but my NatWest bank manager in London wasn’t interested. He said: ‘If you don’t want a loan, get out; I’m a busy man.’ I could see there was a need to do something in a different way. We had a problem: we could train stylists to a certain level and then they had nowhere to go. A franchise solved that problem. Having worked within the company for a minimum of four years, employees could run their own business and share uniform, scissors, shopfitters – and we’d all make money.”
Eventually a Barclays Bank manager who was a client helped the business grow. The franchise agreement was drawn up, employees stopped setting up in competition, and between 1989 and 1992 the brothers expanded from three salons in the UK to 150 in the US and Europe.
“But you can only open so many salons every year,” says Mascolo as we pass the chickens pecking around an empty tennis court on the estate. “Products are my biggest business. And you can’t create a strong product line without education, so we began to open training academies, and now have 29 all over the world.”
While Mascolo appears to be boasting about his business achievements, there is obviously a deeper motivation underlying this move from being a hairdresser in Clapham, south London, to being made an OBE by the Queen for services to hairdressing.
Mascolo arrived in England in 1956 as a boy of 14 without any English. His father was a hairdresser and his grandfather was a hairdresser. What made him turn a family tradition into a business empire?
“I think the death of my mother soon after we arrived in England changed everything,” he says.
“She was only 45 and it had a profound effect on me. My father wanted to keep the family together and brought the four of us brothers to work in the Clapham salon. He felt we should share the profit – be one big family – and it was a philosophy which stayed with us. I run the company like a big family – all 8,000 employees.” Last May saw the death of the other half of the eponymous duo, his brother Guy, and Toni himself suffered a stroke a few years ago. Since then he has put more time into charitable projects, raising £700,000 to fund a ward in King’s College Hospital in London.
As we arrive in the chapel in the grounds of Mascolo’s house, where mass is said daily, he says that faith and his family are the foundations of his business. This tradition of family is evident throughout the Mascolos’ Surrey home, especially from the photographs and portraits of the children, his sons Pierre, 31, and Christian, 38, and his daughter, Sacha Mascolo-Tarbuck, 39.
Sacha is the creative force behind the company: “Sacha won Best British Newcomer at the Hairdresser of the Year awards when she was only 18, and this is where we entertain her kids when she is off doing shows,” says Mascolo, pointing at a tree house. The house and grounds were designed by Mascolo and his wife, Pauline, who was raised in Ireland. It has some peculiar features, such as hairdressing basins in the basement where his wife does the hair of the nuns from a nearby convent.
Two years ago Toni and Pauline decided to downsize, and bought a property in nearby Cobham for £1.8m. Then they changed their minds and decided to stay put, and now open the house up annually for a charitable summer barbecue.
Mascolo’s property portfolio has not always been successful, however. “I make mistakes when I try to be too clever,” admits Mascolo, describing a holiday home he bought near Pompeii, where he grew up in Italy. “I tried to play around with the currency because I had money in the bank earning interest, and bought the place for €2.6m, when the euro was €1.50 to £1. I only put down a deposit of £260,000, and by the time the sale went through, the £1 had dropped to €1.05, losing me £600,000.” He continues: “I bought a house in Cadogan Street in Chelsea six years ago for around £2m. I only stayed there one night. I woke up the next morning and I couldn’t breathe from pollution.”