James Dyson builds family office empire for UK’s biggest fortune

Mr James Dyson is shifting ever-larger sums from his technology company through his family office, Weybourne. PHOTO: DYSON

LONDON - Mr James Dyson spent decades building his eponymous company into a global leader in cordless vacuum cleaners, hand dryers and heating fans.

Now he is forging a broader business empire through one of the world’s biggest investment firms for the super-rich.

Mr Dyson, 75, is shifting ever-larger sums from his technology company as he expands bets in finance, real estate and agriculture through his family office, Weybourne. That includes a record 10-figure dividend disclosed earlier this year, taking the total amount transferred since the creation of his investment firm nine years ago to about £4.7 billion (S$7.7 billion), according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

He is set to receive another £500 million or more in 2022 through a further dividend, with the proceeds likely to be spread between his business interests, art and philanthropy. Mr Dyson, Britain’s richest person, has a net worth of US$15 billion (S$20.6 billion), most of it coming from his namesake business, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“They are bringing out a lot of assets from the operating business and making this entity a professional investment unit,” said Mr Paul Westall, co-founder of family office recruitment firm Agreus Group. “They are extremely diversified.”

A representative for Weybourne declined to comment on the firm’s financial strategies.

Like many of the world’s super-rich, Mr Dyson has boosted efforts to manage and preserve his fortune through the creation of a family office that helps oversee everything from his investments to his private aircraft to his personal safety. 

Created in 2013, the secretive firm now has about 70 employees worldwide – roughly 25 per cent more than in 2019 – and recently posted recruitment ads for at least half a dozen roles across southern England, where most of its staff are based. It is run by former British army officer James Bucknall, who turns 64 this month, with former fund manager Bjorn Thelander, 57, as chief investment officer.

Weybourne has also built up operations in Singapore, where Dyson’s technology firm is headquartered, hiring analysts and a multi-asset investment manager, Mr Brandon Foo, who was previously at Citigroup. Mr Kelvin Wu joined in September to help oversee insurance operations after working at International SOS, a health and security services firm.

While there has been a global boom over the past two decades in the number of family offices catering to the needs of the world’s ultra-rich, few are as large as Weybourne. Its last publicly disclosed net assets stood at £4.5 billion in 2019, when Mr Dyson’s technology firm said it was relocating to Singapore.

Mr Dyson founded his technology business in the early 1990s and has taken funds out through a mix of dividends and transfers of share capital to its Singapore holding company, which does not publish consolidated results. His namesake firm’s borrowing has almost doubled since 2019 to £622 million at the end of last year, filings show.

While Mr Dyson’s technology firm and Weybourne have boosted their Singapore presence, the billionaire has reduced his ties to the city-state, a popular destination for family offices, because of its privacy laws and plethora of tax treaties with other nations.

In 2020, he sold a Singapore penthouse he bought just a year earlier before moving his residency back to Britain in 2021. Around the time he returned, there were news reports that he had texted then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in March 2020 for assurances his employees would not face a change in their tax situation if they moved back to help make ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Weybourne transferred shares of Dyson’s major real estate and farming businesses to Britain from Singapore in late 2021 in a transaction valued at £616.8 million, filings show. It recently posted a listing for a Singapore-based head of tax to help manage the family’s financial affairs and relationships with the authorities in France, Portugal and the United States, in addition to Singapore and Britain.

“It’s probably tax-driven,” Mr Mark Davies, a British-based tax adviser for the super-wealthy, said about the share transaction within Mr Dyson’s family office. “He is using the family office as a piggy bank to collect surplus income.”

A representative for Mr Dyson previously said the changes were to streamline accountability and improve the governance structure, and that they had nothing to do with the billionaire’s personal position.

“Weybourne could almost be its own asset management boutique,” said Mr Tayyab Mohamed, Agreus’ other co-founder. “It’s in the top percentile for family offices.” BLOOMBERG

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