A dad who left school aged 16 with just a couple of GCSEs has opened up about how a chance meeting with the CEO of Tesco has led him to running his own multimillion pound company.
Mike Welch admitted he wasn't particularly academic and struggled to engage with school and after getting his first job as a tyre fitter in Birkenhead at the age of 16, he was inspired to set up his own business from his parent's home, the Liverpool Echo reported.
The soon to be dad-of-three has now swapped Liverpool for Miami and is the CEO of Tirebuyer.com – one of America's biggest online tyre retailers with an estimated turnover of more than $100m.
He said: "I wasn't a bad kid but school wasn't really my thing so when I left I got a couple of GCSEs but not a lot. I got a job and basically the first that came up was a tyre fitter in Birkenhead, working for a business called Lewis Reed which was a Nissan dealership so I was like I'll give it a go.
"I worked in the stores there, stacking the tyres, fitting the tyres and that was my first job and then I was made redundant after about 18 months."
A brew with the Tesco CEO opened doors
After being made redundant and having a chat with his grandad about what he should do next, Mike decided to go solo and started buying and selling tyres on his own and dropping them off at people's houses across Merseyside in his mum's car.
Aged 17 at the time, Mike went to apply for a £500 grant from the Princes Trust after submitting a business plan, which he used to kick-start the business from his parent's home who by that time had moved to Birkenhead.
Mike said: "I had this Princes Trust computer, this fax machine, this basic website and a couple of these really not very impressive ads but people were contacting me – and that's basically how I started, I was buying and selling tyres then.
"I had this little website and then the Princes Trust – I kept in touch with them – they introduced me to the Chambers of Commerce and I then took an office above Ethel Austin in Aigburth which isn't there anymore, employed somebody and started to build this little online tyre business.
"I had to pay for that member of staff with the money I was earning doing the night shift at Tesco in Rock Ferry. I wasn't making enough money off the tyres but I knew I needed help."
After moving to Edinburgh to work for Kwik Fit, the company was acquired by Ford and Mike was invited to a meeting in Detroit to talk about e-commerce.
Mike said: "Four years earlier I was under a car in Birkenhead trying to take tyres off a wheel, now I'm in worldwide headquarters with Ford answering questions that I don't really understand."
Two years later Mike, aged 21, decided to leave Kwik Fit and set up his own tyre company, Blackcircles.com, using the same business model he'd used previously while creating a network with thousands of independent garages across the UK.
It was at this point that he reached out to the CEO of Tesco Sir Terry Leahy after seeing a story about him winning Fortune business person of the year in Fortune magazine.
Mike said: "I wrote Sir Terry Leahy a letter, I was getting the bus into the office. I had Fortune magazine and there was a cartoon caricature of him on the front page that said 'Fortune business person of the year'.
"I said 'congratulations on Fortune person of the year again and your knighthood. This is who I am, I'm from Liverpool, based in Garston. This is my business, I know how to trade tyres but I don't know how to retail if you could spare me 30 minutes and a cup of tea maybe I'd really appreciate the time.'
"Not expecting to get anything back and then the following Tuesday I get the letter [that said] 'come down' and we had two hours [together] and then three, four months later he's invested, he's on my board and I've known him for ten years, we're pals so it just shows you."
After starting the business with one phone line and hundreds of copies of the yellow pages, which he used to create a business network with independent garages and suppliers, Mike went on to sell Blackcircles.com for $100m to Michelin Plc in 2015.
He became the president and CEO of Tirebuyer.com in February 2021, which is one of America’s largest online tyre retailers and is projected to make up to $1bn turnover in the next five years.
Mike now lives in Miami with his family and is soon to welcome his third child into the world.