How Waterworld boss went from failing exams in Telford to being worth £100 million
It was when Mo Chaudry was sweeping floors at GKN that he had his “light bulb” moment.
When his family moved from Pakistan to the UK when he was nine, he was unable to speak a word of English.
Now he is worth more than £100 million, and owns the UK’s top water park – Waterworld in Staffordshire.
Having initially moved to Luton, his family later relocated to Telford. Mo attended Wellington Grammar School, but failed most of his exams, and saw his father’s grocery business in Bank Road run into financial trouble.
“When we were driving from Luton and got to Shropshire it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere,” says the 58-year-old. “It felt like a run down industrial area where nothing was happening.
“I went from a school in Luton where I got good grades to a new school in Wellington. Because I started school at nine I was playing catch up and everyone was way ahead. It was a new language and culture. I slowly moved down to the bottom classes.
“When I was 16 I got a job at GKN and it was here when I had a ‘light bulb’ moment. I was cleaning a big industrial unit which was dirty work.
“It didn’t do me any harm but taught me a lesson and opened my eyes. It made me realise what my working life could end up being like and I thought I had better do something about it – I needed to take responsibility and buck my ideas up.”
College and university
After retaking his O Levels, and taking A-levels at New College Telford, he embarked upon a sports degree at Staffordshire University.
“Sport was my saviour,” Mo says. “I played cricket for Wellington and Shropshire Under 19s.
“Mixing with different people gave me the chance to grow up and assess what I was all about.”
So he became a financial adviser and property investor, and by the time he was 30 he had made his first million.
He took over Waterworld when it was struggling, and within a year was turning a profit.
“My dad failed with the grocery shop,” he says. “A lot of people go into business without a basic grounding of what business actually means. My dad had a lack of financial control and had no understanding of VAT or tax.
“We went from having a nice home to a small terraced house with no bathroom and an outdoor loo.
“Financial services was a hard career. I got tired of it. I got the local paper and on the front page was news Waterworld was up for sale.
“I said to my wife ‘that’s interesting me’, and she said ‘I think you have done enough now’.
“I had never been there before but I thought, ‘I fancy this’. I drew the business in my head and it seemed right.
“I have put a lot of money into this business and it is currently undergoing a £12 million redevelopment which includes putting in a high-end fitness club. It is the biggest transformation since it opened, and I am proud of that.”
Elsewhere, his indoor golf brand, Adventure Golf, is expanding across the UK. Mo plans to plough £20 million over the next five years into launching 20 new centres.
He already also owns and runs the M Club Spa & Fitness Clubs in Staffordshire, plus significant property interests via investment firm M.I.C Investment Group.
Ranked among the Midlands’ 100 most successful business people, and the top 10 Asian business people, he has worked with many charities.
Mo cycled through Jordan’s desert in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia to raise funds for the National Deaf Children’s Society, and set up an English Medium school in Pakistan for local children.
He appeared on Channel Four’s Secret Millionaire series, where a rich business person lives undercover on benefits, to understand the needs of poorer communities, and giving money to worthy causes afterwards.
Mo said: “As a business I am still playing in the Championship and I want to be in the Premier League. Once there I don’t want to stop.
“My ambition is not about money but the people I have. My ambition is unlimited. I don’t think the fire in my belly will ever be extinguished. I will only be done when I’m dead.”
Mo is also the mentor and manager of the former World’s Strongest Man, Staffordshire’s Eddie Hall.
“Eddie joined one of my fitness clubs so I had the opportunity to meet him,” he says. “To meet someone who was a potential world beater was surreal. It was like another light bulb moment.
“He said it would be difficult to become the World’s Strongest Man, because he needed to do it full-time and he had a mortgage and family.
“I asked if everything was in place for him to do it did he think you could win, and he said absolutely. So I said I am going to make you full time, will give you three years and I’m sponsoring you.
“When he won I was very emotional. It was one of the most wonderful, exciting, bizarre things I have done.”
Mo lives in Staffordshire with his wife Ann, and has never forgotten the role Shropshire played in his success.
His mother lives in Wellington, and Mo sponsors the town’s boxing club.
“It is all well and good having successful businesses but I want to use my success for good and help other people,” he adds.