” If you set your heart and energy and beliefs and absolute commitment to achieve something, the chances are you will succeed.”
From bins collector and supermarket shelf stacker to self-made millionaire businessman, Tony Banks is the embodiment of a modern day rags-to-riches success story.
But the epithet ‘one of Scotland’s top entrepreneurs’ does not sit comfortably on his shoulders. “The truth is there are no airs and graces about me,” he says.
“I’m just a proud Dundonian, brought up in a working class family – with an insatiable appetite to learn.” Banks, 51, is today head of Balhousie Care Group, Scotland’s largest independently-owned care home provider comprising 27 care homes and employing more than 1,000 staff.
The route he took to get there is full of twists, turns and not a few surprises.
His first job was as a newspaper delivery boy. He also worked as a refuse collector, shelf stacker, electrician’s assistant, raspberry picker and chicken catcher before leaving school at 17 to study accountancy at Abertay University.
Not long after starting his degree, he spotted an advert for the Territorial Army Parachute Regiment and signed up to supplement his meagre student grant. He loved the army life so much he abandoned university and joined the regulars ‘to prove to myself that I was worthy of the Parachute Regiment’s maroon beret’.
Within months of finishing his training, Banks found himself with 2 Para fighting in the Falklands where he witnessed one of his closest friends being killed at the Battle of Goose Green.
“That, and the psychological damage suffered by several of my comrades because of the horror of war, was a life-changing experience,’ he said. ‘It shaped my commitment to care for my fellow human beings. It’s also where my drive to make the most of every opportunity stems.”
When he got home after the Falklands conflict, he served for a while with the parachute field ambulance before making another radical career move. He became an insurance salesman in Aldershot – and experience, he says ‘that opened my eyes to the world of commerce and finance’.
It was also behind his decision to return to Scotland and launch his own business. While working as a medic on the oil rigs, he researched the provision of care for the elderly and discovered that the private sector did not have the capacity to cope with the country’s ageing population.
Using his savings, the sale of his house in Aldershot and help from his family, he bought his first care home, Balhousie Lisden in Kirriemuir, Angus, in 1991.
In 2009, and by then a very successful businessman, Banks starred in the sixth series of Channel 4’s hit series, Secret Millionaire, when he spent time living on a poor estate in Anfield, Liverpool, getting to know some of the local residents.
During the programme he donated money to people he had met. He has subsequently donated to organisations that he got to know while filming, including community support charity Daisy UK.
The following year, the BBC filmed a documentary entitled ‘From War to Peace’, in which a film crew followed Banks on a journey to Argentina.
Banks had left the Falklands with a war trophy which he had kept for 28 years – a trumpet taken from an Argentinean prisoner of war named Omar Tabarez. With the help of a journalist who tracked down Tabarez, Banks visited him at his home in Argentina to hand back the trumpet.
Last year, Banks released Storming the Falklands: My War and After, which charts his experiences in war, how he struggled for years with combat-related stress, and how he has just recently managed to come to terms with his experiences.
Today, Banks is Honorary Colonel of the Territorial Army’s 71 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers). He also serves on the board of the Scottish Entrepreneurial Exchange.
He is one of former Dragons Den star James Caan’s Millionaire Mentors for the Entrepreneurs’ Business Academy.
He says: “Early in life I developed an ability to be energetic and focused in business and also found that I had raw, entrepreneurial flair that came about as a result of all the experiences I’d had before I’d turned 30.
“Every day is a school day for me – we never stop learning. What I have learned is that if you set your heart and energy and beliefs and absolute commitment to achieve something, the chances are you will succeed.”
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