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Ain't no stopping him now SATURDAY INTERVIEW TOM COAKLEY He could easily retire today, but this property tycoon carries on for his family and the deal, he tells Mark Smith

SUDDENLY coming faceto-face with your own mortality can have a profound effect on a man - even a man like Tom Coakley, a failed professional footballer turned property tycoon, whose spoils include two RollsRoyces, a private jet and a bank balance that would likely choke a rhinoceros.

Coakley, an obsessively private individual who runs one of Scotland's most successful independent businesses, is a rough diamond who came up the hard way - but that only partially explains the character of this man bedecked in thick pinstripes, slicked-back hair and big bling, and his attitude to life and death.

The 44-year-old entrepreneur, who operates in the multi-millionpound, cutthroat, eat-or-be-eaten world of high-f lying commercial and residential property deals and has a portfolio now worth around GBP120m, last year came through what he describes as a "wee health scare".

In fact, he suffered a life-threatening stroke - but while most people in his position would shift down a gear and take life easy, particularly with booty like his tucked under the belt, Coakley appears to have made a complete recovery, and instead is speeding up.

He explains the bling - on this occasion, a thick gold chain, a weighty gold watch and large chunky gold cuff links - by confessing that he buys himself a gift every time he strikes a major deal - "just something to remember it by, " he said.

Nonetheless, his father, Eddie Coakley, a mechanic who in later life became a well-known Glasgow boxing manager and promoter, succumbed to a stroke in 1992, and his son now speaks with regret that his father did not live to share in the success and vast fortune that has been accumulated by his offspring. There is also clear trepidation that the same fate might befall him.

Coakley was speaking with The Herald while sitting at a table on the top floor of his new headquarters in Bath Street, Glasgow, the architectural drawings for an ambitious development in Spain spread out in front of him and the hard gleam of ambition still burning in his eyes.

"I'm not sure I can stop, even if I wanted to. I know that I should, after my wee health scare, " said Coakley, who had just finished reeling off turnover, income and margin projections with the zeal of a man who has suddenly come to understand that there is no time like the present.

"I admit that I push myself a lot. That's just the kind of person I am. But I love doing the deal, and there's no getting away from that. This is the most difficult time for me, because financially I don't have to do it.

"If I stopped now, this minute, I'd have an income of GBP850,000 a year for the rest of my life. But I just can't do that. I still feel the buzz of the deal, and that drives me - but at the end of the day, my family is the objective."

"But, you know, even though I'm a family man, and I consider myself honourable, I can be very cold when it comes to business.

"Something comes over me, and I know that I am fighting to protect my corner and, in the end, my family. When I see someone struggling, I pounce, and I always get the best price. That's just business.

"But then again, if you come to me for a deal, you've been everywhere else first. I'm usually the last-stop shop. But in saying that, I always pay upfront and right away. It's a kind of compensation they get for giving me a good deal."

Yet it all begs the question: Why does a man who has accumulated so much continue to drive himself so hard, especially in the face of that "wee health scare"?

"I have enough for myself, " said Coakley, who lives in Bothwell with his wife of 22 years and has three sons - one of whom works with him in the property business, the second is a professional footballer for Motherwell, and the third is still school age and lives at home. He also has homes in London and Spain.

"None of this is really about me anymore. Everything I do is for my family. Everything I do now is about making the future secure for my family.

"In all the years I have been married, my wife has never supported me anything less than 100-per cent all the way.

"I don't mix in business circles, and I don't really have any close friends. I don't even like showing off. I can tell you I give a lot of money to charity each year, but I do it in a very low-key way."

Coakley also claims to have bought his private jet to avoid having to chat to people on planes.

He added: "My children are dearer to me than anything. I would do anything for them, and when you've come up the way I have, that means working hard."

But this cannot be the only reason. Every self-made millionaire has his story, and Coakley's tough roots go back to his working-class childhood on a gritty council estate in Viewpark, west of Bellshill, where his father was a mechanic and his mother worked at the nearby Honeywell factory.

He left school at 15 to fulfil an ambition to become a professional footballer, and had a brief, unsuccessful spell with Dundee. He first demonstrated entrepreneurial f lair when he began buying and selling cars at auction to help supplement his paltry wages as a young player.

"I wanted to play football, but when I went to play for Dundee I hated every minute of it - the travelling and the low wages were terrible, and I suppose I wasn't really very good, " recalled Coakley.

"I wanted to save GBP1000. That was my ambition. I remember selling a car for GBP300 and spreading the money across my bed and counting it over and over again. I figured if I could make GBP300 once, I could do it again, and that's been my business philosophy through the years. If something works, I keep repeating it over and over.

"Eventually, I saved up enough money for a down payment on a small one-bedroom f lat in Bellshill, which I converted into a two bedroom flat and sold for considerably more than I paid for. Then I did that again, building it up, and I was on my way. I thought I was very clever."

His now 20-year-old company, Coakley Group, took off into the big time after the GBP600,000 sale of 12 shop premises on Glasgow's Trongate in 1993. It was a deal that saw him quadruple his investment in six months.

He added: "I thought I was really clever then, too. But the people I sold it to turned round and sold it again a bit later for GBP17m. Now that was cleverer."

Since then, Coakley has bought and sold great swathes of commercial property throughout Scotland, and recently he and his son have been snapping up large chunks of London's ritzy Mayfair district - around GBP20m worth.

He also transformed the site of the old Low & Bonar headquarters in Dundee into Coakley Business Park, and is working on a major residential development in Lesmahagow, as well as a new business park in South Lanarkshire. He is also currently in the process of developing a huge shopping complex in the middle of Malaga, where he has a house near actor Antonio Banderas and lives parttime, and is a landlord to Lloyds TSB and the Clydesdale Bank headquarters in Glasgow, both of which supply him with an undisclosed "income stream".

During the past two years, he has purchased more than GBP34m worth of property and sold GBP17.5m.

Asked directly how he feels about his mortality, he added:

"Look, my youngest son was born with meningitis. I thought he was going to die, so in a sense me and death are no strangers. I can't begin to tell you what we went through at that time. It was awful.

"Nothing could be worse than that, and ever since then I don't believe I've had fear of anything. Nothing could be worse than that.

"But by some miracle he survived. Believe me when I tell you that family is everything. Everything else is nothing."

Family values Best moment: The birth of my children, without any doubt.

Worst moment: My youngest son contracting meningitis when he was 10 months old. Even though he pulled through it, I realised then and there, that no matter what I lost in business, I could never really lose. What I've got is worth millions more.

What drives you: Family and the love of the deal.

What do you drive: I have various cars, but I like my Rolls-Royces.

Favourite book: Songs My Mother Taught Me by Marlon Brando.

What music are you listening to just now: I like everything. At the moment I'm listening to 50 Cent and the music of Cuba.

As a child, what did you want to be:

A professional footballer.

Greatest achievement:

I haven't done it yet.

Biggest disappointment: My father not living to see and enjoy my successes.

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