From the Sugarhouse to Glastonbury – the rise of Peter’s student start-up

Peter Harrison (front left) kneels in front of his FGH Security team at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Peter Harrison (front left) with his FGH Security team at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

“I would guarantee anyone reading this in the UK will have passed a member of our team,” says Peter Harrison.

It is a bold claim, but then you consider the long list of major events and corporations he works with.

From Glastonbury to the UK premiere of Barbie, Eurovision to the Commonwealth Games and Premier League football matches, supermarkets to chain stores, his Lancaster-based FGH Security is almost everywhere.

Peter (BSc Management Science, 2005; Executive MBA, 2016) is Managing Director, Owner, and Founder, responsible for the safety of tens of millions across the UK and Europe every year. This summer, his team even prevented the crown from being stolen ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III – even if it was a giant replica on Oxford Street.

It all began as a start-up business while Peter was studying for his undergraduate degree in 2003. In 20 years, it has gone from providing security at Lancaster University’s summer Extravs – events they still cover today – the Sugarhouse, and other Lancaster nightspots, to £25 million annual revenue and working at some of the biggest events and for some of the largest companies in the world.

“We are everywhere,” says Peter, after running off a list of clients that includes Liverpool and Everton FC, Disney, Warner Brothers, adidas stores, and most of the main UK supermarket chains.

FGH was Peter’s brainchild during his studies. He arrived at Lancaster following a late decision to attend university – he was the first in his traditional working-class family to do so – and after a gap year on the Greek island of Rhodes and a failed attempt at Royal Marines officer selection.

Peter admits he was not the model undergraduate student. FGH started almost as he soon as he arrived and took up much of his time – he would be up most nights working as a door supervisor across Lancaster’s nightclubs, only going to bed at 3am, before studying the next day. His academic work suffered as a result.

“The business took off quite exponentially in the early years, and it was me doing everything trying to get things going,” recalls Peter. “By the time I graduated, I had 60 employees working every week, and I was managing them myself.”

If his undergraduate studies were not ideal, he still enjoyed much of his course and particularly the sports and gym facilities, of which he took full advantage. Peter and FGH stayed in the city, but he felt he had unfinished business with the University – the third-class degree he received reflecting the challenges trying to balance academia with running his company.

This was partly the driving force for a return to complete the two-year Executive MBA in 2014 – a decision he credits as key in helping FGH become the entity it is today, winner of multiple major awards in the security industry, and employer of 2,000 people.

“I started to realise that I could learn from academia and apply it to business,” he says. “I read a lot about the need for academic qualifications and having a learning culture within your business. I thought we needed that, and I wanted to lead from the front, so I started to look at MBAs.

“I’m still in Lancaster, and why would I go anywhere else where you've got an EMBA ranked in the UK’s top 10 at that time right on your doorstep? I also had unfinished business, so to go back and do my MBA and get a Merit was a big thing for me.”

He adds: “The business is now seven or eight times bigger than when I applied for the MBA, and I can attribute a lot of that success down to the MBA really opening my mind and teaching me the tools to grow the business, teaching me about the bigger side of business.

“For every assignment I could do a real-life case study with the company. It was probably a confusing time for my management team and workforce. I would get back from three or four days at the Management School with loads of fresh ideas of how we should do things and the way things are done at other companies. I would run mini lectures for the rest of my management team, driving that change through the organisation. I was in a fortunate position to be able to make decisions with what I learned, using the learnings from the university to shape the business.

“The MBA was probably one of the best decisions and best times in my life.”

Peter Harrison and friends smile at the camera wile wearing gradutaion gowns at their Lancaster Execuitve MBA graduation

Peter (centre) at his MBA graduation

Such is Peter’s positivity about Lancaster’s Executive MBA, that five members of his senior management team have since enrolled. Two start this autumn on the Senior Leaders Apprenticeship pathway. Of those, one came to FGH with no academic qualifications, and the other started as an apprentice straight out of school a decade ago. Both reflect Peter’s belief in valuing his employees, as well as his drive to give academic chances to those who did not have them the first time around.

“Those five people who will have the Lancaster MBA are the people who are going to drive the next phase of growth here at FGH,” he says. “I have every confidence in the MBA’s ability to give them the knowledge and tools needed to double us in size again.”

Peter is sure to pass on his own learnings to these leaders at FGH as well. As well as investing in his people – recognised when the company was named by the Sunday Times as one of the best places to work earlier this year – he appreciates the value of investing in yourself, and of learning from experience.

He adds: “Just get out there and do it. A lot of people think everything has to be perfect. But I know from my experience, it isn’t. You can learn as you go, it doesn't all have to be perfect. And, unless you're a genius, you're going to have to work harder than your competitors. You've really got to be prepared to put your hours in.

“On top of that, think big. For too long, I didn't think big. When I was studying my undergrad, I had this goal to supply every single door supervisor in all of Lancaster, about 100 door supervisors. That was my target, and that's what I woke up every day thinking about. By 2007 or 2008, we achieved that.

“But I was thinking too small. When I did my MBA, I came up with a new goal, to keep 50 million members of the public safe in a year. We did that in 2020.”

That number seems sure to grow. In the months ahead, millions more people will have FGH Security helping to ensure their safety – at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, English Football League and Premier League matches, or simply at their local Asda, Waitrose or Morrison’s. All this, from a business that started with security for the Grizedale and County extravs.

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