How Ovo chief Stephen Fitzpatrick started his £1.34bn empire

The energy boss who took £2m out of his start-up energy firm – and went on to become a billionaire: How Belfast-born Ovo chief Stephen Fitzpatrick started his £1.34bn empire with his wife… after modelling himself on Richard Branson

  • Stephen Fitzpatrick is the founder and chief executive of the UK’s third largest supplier of gas and electricity
  • He has amassed a wealth of well over £1bn, but his energy firm has racked up £300m in losses in recent years
  • Fitzpatrick started Ovo in 2009 to challenge the domination of larger, established energy providers
  • But the firm has also become embroiled in a number of controversies despite its meteoric rise to prominence

The boss of energy company Ovo accused of being a ‘fat cat making the profits’ and ‘ripping people off’ amid soaring household bills is a billionaire – despite his company making huge losses in recent years – and maintains a picturesque five-bed mansion in the Cotswolds as a weekend home.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and chief executive of the UK’s third largest supplier of gas and electricity, has amassed a wealth of £1.34billion which is said to have doubled in the past year alone.

The 45-year-old, a graduate from the University of Edinburgh, is also the founder of Vertical Aerospace – a zero-emission aircraft manufacturer – and grid technology firm Kaluza.

He models his business on Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin empire and bought Kensington Roof Gardens – Branson’s former flagship party venue in London. 

Yet despite Fitzpatrick’s personal wealth doubling in the past year, his energy firm has racked up losses totalling almost £300million over three years, the Mail on Sunday revealed. 

Net losses at Imagination Industries – Ovo’s holding company – have widened in each of the past three years, hitting £142million in the year to December 2020, the latest available. Net borrowings for 2020 were more than £400million. 

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick’s five-bedroom property in the heart of the Cotswolds near Cirencester is only used as a weekend home, according to his estate manager.

The country manor, set in 12 acres of pristine countryside, also boasts a swimming pool, four bathrooms and an elegant dining room that comes with stunning views.

But his estate manager told MailOnline in January: ‘He’s at work, it’s highly unlikely he will be here today. It’s his weekend home and even then, he’s not here every weekend.’

Stephen Fitzpatrick (pictured), the chief executive of energy company OVO, described the coming months as ‘a winter like no other’

Ovo Energy boss Stephen Fitzpatrick owns this sprawling, five-bedroom home in the Cotswolds that has its own swimming pool and is now worth in the region of £3.2million – but locals say he uses it only as a weekend home 

Mr Fitzpatrick founded Ovo Energy in 2009

The Belfast-born entrepreneur launched Ovo after racking up hundreds of thousands of pounds working for the likes of Lloyds, Societe Generale and JPMorgan as a trader. 

Quitting just prior to the peak of the financial crisis in 2008, Fitzpatrick launched Ovo in 2009 along with his wife Sophy in an attempt to disrupt the industry with a company founded on the principles of ‘simplicity, transparency, honesty and fairness’. 

The pair invested £350,000 to launch the business and set about challenging the status quo maintained by the Big Six energy suppliers at the time who preyed on customers unlikely to switch providers. 

In autumn 2013, Fitzpatrick won plaudits when he publicly called out large energy companies in front of the House of Commons energy and climate change select committee for unnecessarily increasing prices for consumers.

But a year later he was heavily criticised when it was revealed he took a whopping £2million out of his fledgling energy company to buy his lavish Cotswolds home, despite Ovo having net liabilities of more than £9m for the previous calendar year.

In 2022, the energy industry landscape is drastically different, and Fitzpatrick is no longer wanting for cash.

The Ovo CEO clashed with MoneySavingExpert founder Martin Lewis during a Monday appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, after Lewis said people were accusing Fitzpatrick of ‘sitting there talking like this when you’re a fat cat making the profits, ripping people off’ as families across Britain prepare to face unprecedented increases in energy bills.

The Ovo founder replied: ‘There are a lot of companies making extraordinary large profits. Not necessarily by doing anything wrong but they are making a lot of money.

‘I set up a retail energy business 13 years ago, only in retail, we only work on behalf of customers. We have no invested interests, except for what is good for customers,’ Fitzpatrick insisted.

Annual household bills are set to rocket to an average of £3,549 next month – around triple what they were last winter – after regulator Ofgem hiked the energy price cap. 

Fitzpatrick has said that helping low income families with energy bills ‘has to be the first order of business’ for new Prime Minister Liz Truss, with annual gas and electricity bills predicted to reach £7,263 by next April. 

‘If we don’t use every available moment over the next 12 weeks to solve this, we are going to see a winter like never before with people going hungry and going cold and the NHS being overwhelmed by the health impacts of the energy crisis,’ Fitzpatrick said, laying out a ten point plan for the government to help combat rising prices.

Ovo was in the firing line when it recommended in January of this year that households save on their heating bills by ‘cuddling’ their pets, ‘cleaning’, or ‘doing a few star jumps’

Ovo Energy sent an email to customers in January listing ten ‘simple and cost effective ways to keep warm this winter’. They included eating ‘hearty bowls of porridge’, sticking to ‘non-alcoholic drinks’ and eating ginger — but not chilli, ‘as it makes you sweat’

He believes the key solution is a taxpayer-backed fund that allows all energy companies to borrow from at low interest rates to subsidise bills for millions.  

He says that the £400 being knocked off all energy bills for all Britons in the six months from October must be paid in full before Christmas. 

Fitzpatrick also said that extra charges for pre-payment customers should be scrapped and standing charges abolished. 

But Ovo has seen its fair share of controversies since becoming a major player in the energy industry.

Energy regulator Ofgem announced in January 2020 that the firm would pay almost £9million in fines after thousands of customers were overcharged and around half a million received inaccurate statements. 

Ovo underestimated consumption levels and became aware of IT issues which caused billing irregularities, but did not report many of the issues to the regulator. 

‘These breaches occurred while Ovo did not put enough attention on ensuring its processes and governance were capable of complying with Ofgem’s rules,’ the watchdog said in a statement.

Two years on, Ovo was in the firing line again when it recommended in January of this year that households save on their heating bills by ‘cuddling’ their pets, ‘cleaning’, or ‘doing a few star jumps’.

Other suggestions included having a ‘cuddle with your pets and loved ones to help stay cosy’, eating ‘hearty bowls of porridge’, sticking to ‘non-alcoholic drinks’ and eating ginger — but not chilli, ‘as it makes you sweat’.

Now, accounts filed at Companies House show Ovo has struggled to make a profit even when energy prices were low and stable, racking up £300m in losses in the past three years.

Ovo is a large operator and there is no suggestion it is in financial difficulty, but Fitzpatrick’s recent appeal to the Government demonstrates that firms across the board are concerned about customers being unable to pay their bills. 

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