6 October 2017
Garreth Wood had a privileged upbringing and admits he launched his burger empire in a rather extravagant way - but the Aberdeen businessman refused to live a rich lifestyle without thinking of others.
BIG-HEARTED Scots give more to charities than any other part of the UK according to figures out this week.
The first annual Charities Aid Foundation found we donated an astonishing £813million in the last year — with a new breed of philanthropists leading the way.
In Day Three of our exclusive series Chief Features Writer MATT BENDORIS speaks to the Boozy Cow founder who hopes to lead the herd one day by donating £1million a year.
Businessman Garreth Wood chose a strange way to start his philanthropy career — by going on the world’s biggest pub crawl.
People didn’t think humanitarian causes were on the Aberdeen-based entrepreneur’s mind when he set off across the US in 2002, visiting an incredible 15 boozers a day.
But the 39-year-old insists he wasn’t on the randan — instead he was a man on a fact-finding mission.
He explains: “My older brother Nick and I travelled for four months across America.
“No one took us seriously when we said we were on a fact-finding mission as they all believed it was just a huge jolly — the world’s longest pub crawl.
“We started in Miami, went to Key West, right through Florida then the southern states, Texas, up to Vegas and Detroit and finished in New York.
“On average we visited 15 bars a day, but only let our hair down twice as we would hit the road straight away the next morning.
“Nick did the driving and I’d write up all the reports, adding the pictures. We ended up with a 300-page document.”
And Garreth, the son of North Sea Oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood, admits he had to go undercover in the some of the rough red neck bars.
He says: “We were posing as tourists most of the time. Sometimes we would tell them we were from Lonely Planet Guide because we would be walking around with cameras taking pictures and they’d ask, ‘Are you guys reviewers?’.
“But it was purely for us to get as much knowledge and design ideas as possible. It could be something as little as a door handle.
“It didn’t have to be a grand concept, just little nuggets to bring back. Even a dive bar could have something in it that we’d take with us.”
This epic road trip resulted in their Boozy Cow chain — named because they sell booze and burgers — which gives all profits to local charities.
That saw Garreth hand over £263,000 two years ago, while last year he dished out £210,000. However, he insists he’s totally different from Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn, who aims to employ a quarter of his staff from the homeless community.
He says: “I really like Josh. A lot of people compare us and say Boozy Cow is a social enterprise, but it isn’t.
“Unlike Josh, who is very focused on employing people who have experienced homelessness, we haven’t gone down that route. We’re all about making as much profit as possible.
“I want to be able to employ the best staff going. We want to create as much as we can because then we have more to give away.
“So we have a social conscience, but we’re not a social enterprise.”
Garreth was raised with his big brothers Graham, 41, and Nick, 43, in Aberdeen by their mum Lady Helen and Sir Ian Wood — one of Scotland’s richest men with an estimated fortune of £2.15BILLION.
But despite such a privileged background, he insists his folks kept the boys grounded — preventing them being raised as spoiled rich brats.
He says: “Me and my brothers had a fairly dull upbringing but it could have been a complete horror show.
“I never flew business class as a kid, always economy. We weren’t flying around the world in private jets and staying in five-star hotels.
“My dad drove a Ford Granada and although we went to a private school, I was just surrounded by other kids like myself. I didn’t see myself as being terribly different.
“We always had to have a summer job from the age of 14 as well. If I didn’t find a job then I had to work in a fish factory. My brothers did it and came home stinking of fish.
“So I got a job as a bike mechanic. Sure we went on two holidays a year, which is a great lifestyle, but it was never extravagant or showy. That was never my old man’s style.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like the nice things in life and I’m a bit more showy, but as far as being brought up, it was a normal childhood.”
Garreth has now started his own family with ex-Miss Scotland beauty Nicola Jolly and their daughters Ezra, six and two-year-old Coran, following the heart-breaking loss of newborn triplets in 2013.
And he maintains his girls will have the same down-to-earth upbringing he had.
He says: “I have these conversations with my wife about trying to find the right balance for them.
“The last thing I want is for them not to appreciate where they’ve come from and the fact they’re very blessed.”
But his charitable donations started long before Boozy Cow. He explains: “When I was 16 I had meningitis and took a long time to recover.
“But it led to two eureka moments - one was wanting to do something for the Meningitis Research Foundation which supported my parents through my illness.
“So I did a solo parachute jump and raised £900. That was more money than I’d ever had in my life and had the very simple joy of giving of handing it over to the charity.”
He added: “The other was in 2007 when I went out to Africa as a guest of Stagecoach co-founder Ann Gloag.
“I stayed in her house in Nairobi before I then found myself in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa.
“It was a complete attack on the senses. And yes, there were the horrors, but also the incredible people who were doing everything they could to improve their lives.
“I was 29 and left asking, ‘Why was I born into such privilege? What do I have to do over the next 50 years to make it feel like I’ve accomplished something?’.
“Just earning money and making a profit wasn’t enough. If I died and all I’ve done is create wealth then I’d feel a failure. I needed to leave an impact on the world.
“So I have been actively involved in philanthropy long before I knew what philanthropy meant.”
He adds: “We now have four Boozy Cows and plans to expand over Scotland and into England.
“My aim is to give away a million pounds a year. There’s no greater joy than seeing charities benefit from our support.”
For more info log on to boozycow.com/foundation
Images by Michael Schofield - The Sun