Tuesday, 24 January 2017
A man who's experienced extreme hardship and adversity in life, and also fantastic success in business thanks to his vision, acumen and guile in trading.
Mr O'Gorman made his fortune in property, gold and energy, which culminated with the selling of his shares in Cove Energy in June 2012 to the Thai government owned PTTEP for $1.9billion, but his latest venture is nothing to do with money.
The businessman has founded The Phoenix Resources, a scheme aimed at giving young offenders a chance of rehabilitation through business.
After visiting Hydebank College in response to an invitation from Prison Governor Richard Taylor, a Newry man, for a chat with inmates on how to make a success of a business venture, Tom had an epiphany after he realised that one of the major stumbling blocks for a young offender on their release was the stigma associated with serving time in prison and settling back into the community.
The tycoon befriended a young offender after being informed by his father that the young man had an interest in the stock markets and asked Tom if he could impart any advice to his son.
The young man, who did not wish to be named, said: "I always had an interest in the stock market and stock trading, but it's very difficult to get information about it.
“My dad had mentioned that Tom had been involved with the stock market and would know an awful lot about it and could possibly help by coming out to see me, sit down and have a chat about it.
"I got speaking Tom on the phone and after a brief chat he told me he'd see me later that day. He came round and we ended up talking until about 11pm that night, so by then I knew that I could learn an awful lot from him."
Mr O'Gorman said: "His father and I would have known each other and said that he'd a huge interest in stocks and shares and asked me if I'd be interested in helping him.
“I saw right away the potential in him and I was really incentivised to help him. I got a great enthusiasm and satisfaction in sharing my knowledge of the markets with him."
The young man said that Tom soon proposed the idea of starting his own business, and, after much brainstorming, the pair devised a plan to help him realise his business dreams.
The young man said: "Tom asked if I'd ever thought about going into business, and, to be truthful, I hadn't given it much thought at that point; but we met up again after that for a coffee and a chat, and the idea grew from there.
“I thought that I would like to go into business, but the main stumbling block was how someone in my position would get funding; who's going to fund you to go into business. Tom suggested that he would fund the idea because he could see that it would be a positive thing to do and that's where we went."
As someone who's experienced life in an institution, the young man is all to aware of the stigmatism associated with coming out of prison, and how it can inhibit opportunities within society.
He says this is one of the main things The Phoenix Resource wants to address.
“That then got me thinking that when I was inside there was a lot of people in there who would've had good business ideas but didn't have the support network to see them through.
“I was lucky that I had the support of family and friends and I had all these people around me, whereas 99% of the lads in there don't have that support, you have people inside who wouldn't have had a visit for maybe two years."
Tackling society's perception of the offender is a key part of the Phoenix Resource's mandate, the young man said society "has a skewed view on crime and the criminal, it forgets that any person can be a criminal at any given time".
He added: "The whole idea of jail is to rehabilitate people and to rehabilitate people is to reintegrate them back into the community; but if you're not going to reintegrate people back into the community, because of the stigma that's attached to them, then the system isn't working."
He said that the benefits to society in giving young offenders an opportunity are plain to see, given the astronomical costs of keeping a person in jail.
"It costs £60,000-70,000 a year to keep you in jail and that's just to keep you there - that's excluding your legal costs etc.
“That doesn't need to happen, because if we can get a person into a successful business contributing to society, rather than draining resources, it's a win-win."
Tom agreed, adding: "The fact that there's a 60-70% prison reoffending rate states that. It's a damning indictment which indicates that it's not working."
Mr O'Gorman had previously been involved in a youth business competition in Belfast Science Park that seen the winner go to Buckingham Palace.
Explaining the satisfaction he gets from seeing the transformation of a young person's confidence as they bring their idea to fruition, Tom said: "I'd finished a project in Belfast in the Science Park.
“We even brought the winner over to Buckingham Palace and Prince Andrew invited our winner to America on a trade trip, and we'd 37 other businesses which applied to the programme, so it was hugely successful."
Explaining the hardships that he faced as a young man helped forge his character, Tom said: "As the creativity builds in young people, you can see an improvement in your product until you've got something saleable.
“That's why we call it Phoenix Resources - I came out of the ashes myself, I was homeless and have made a success of things and so can they.
“What's a really great thing about it is the satisfaction you get from seeing a young person, who maybe needs a bit of help and guidance, making a better life for themselves. You think of the savings of keeping them out of prison, that's £60,000-70,000 you can put back into the public purse.
“I feel that this will will help reduce the burglary rates in Newry, Mourne and beyond, as it's become an epidemic within society that often leaves the victims unable to return to their homes, as, in most cases it is elderly people that are targeted and who are often left frightened at the potential for a reprisal incident."
Speaking about how he came to work with young offenders, Tom explained: "I was down at Hydebank with Richard Taylor and the Head of the Rehabilition Service and they invited me down, so I agreed to go down and I was able to engage with a number of the students.
“I could see that it wasn't a place of lost causes and I could see the talent and enthusiasm in them all, it was young people who'd made a mistake.
“I was amazed at the wholehearted and ceaseless dedication of the entire prison staff, especially Richard and Brian, who offered me great support and guidance moving forward with Phoenix Resources.
“Nobody gave me a chance, so really, my heart goes out to anyone in need, as everybody's capable of making a mistake at any point in their life.
“Now, I'm a businessman. If I see an opportunity where there's a business and the project has merit, we'll engage and support with the young person to make it a success.
“We started Cove energy with £164,000 and we got $1.9billion for it, so the sky's the limit really - our instincts will be driven by the idea."
"Working with Tom is a complete transformation, as I'm now dealing in the property and motor industries acting as a business partner to Tom," said the young man.
“It's about recognising that you are capable of achieving anything, what's happened in the before is now irrelevant.
“Phoenix Resources' motto is, 'Forgive the past; live the present and build the future'.
"That is massive, and if I can give the same inspiration to someone else, that's what this is about. The only time you're beaten in life is when you give up."
Tom said: "This is a private project I'm funding entirey myself, however, we have received expressions of interest from people associated with other institutions, thus highlighting the potential for expansion with it.
“If anyone feels that they want to help in any way; be it financial, logistics, advice or expertise, they can contact myself on firstname.lastname@example.org," said Tom.
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