With a glittering lineage of European royalty and a place in the British line of succession, it seems an unlikely background for a champion of the consumer in the UK. But George Mountbatten – the 4th Marquess of Milford Haven – founded a business empire in his own right, and changed the UK energy market forever.
A bright idea of Marquess of Milford Haven
The journey from aristocrat to business mogul began in the backdrop of the de-regulation of the UK’s energy companies, opening the sector up to market competition, in the year 2000. The new rules allowed consumers to pick and choose who would supply their electricity, rather than being forced to use their local supplier, with the intention of lowering prices by encouraging competition. In this new system, the Marquess of Milford Haven saw an opportunity: While consumers now had the chance to switch supplier, they had no idea which supplier was best for them.
With a background as a successful polo player behind him, his idea of marketing cheaper energy deals door to door was an instant success. By placing the power in the hands of the public, and charging the cost back to the energy company for each successful referral, the uSwitch business model was seized upon by companies and consumers alike – allowing them to meaningfully compare prices for the first time.
From strength to strength
As a service that was free to the consumer, and saved them an average of £140 a year, USwitch quickly became a multi-million-pound organisation. It was also a business that was able to take great advantage of the rise of the internet, which was growing rapidly to become a key feature in UK homes. This helped uSwitch quickly expand, applying the same principles that it introduced into the energy market to a growing list of consumer products, including phone tariffs, credit cards and loans. The Marquess of Milford Haven continued to grow his business interests on the back of uSwitch, also founding ventures from aviation suppliers to a credit union.
The Marquess of Milford Haven himself left uSwitch in 2006, when he sold the brand to US media giants EW Scripps for £210 million after just six years, setting up a similar service to serve the Turkish market in 2015. However, his influence on the UK market remains vast in a huge number of areas. Going far beyond just energy, the price comparison phenomenon is now a ubiquitous part of just about every consumer sector; including almost every type of insurance, cars, flights and banks. The Marquess of Milford Haven also reversed the formerly one-sided relationship between consumers and providers, with ordinary people now able to search out the deals that were best for them rather than having to take whatever they were offered.
Born on the Internet
As well as revolutionising the consumer relationship with suppliers, the business founded by the Marquess of Milford Haven also came at a defining time in the UK’s relationship with the Internet. uSwitch may have been a small-scale operation if it had been launched a decade earlier, but its growth came at the same time as the Internet was hitting the mainstream. Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of adults with Internet access doubled from 40% to more than 80%, a factor that allowed uSwitch to go from a door to door operation to the nation’s living rooms.
These two revolutionary factors combine to make uSwitch probably one of the most transformational businesses to come out of the UK in the 21st century in terms of the impact on ordinary people’s lives, as well as the marketplace in various industries. As founder, the Marquess of Milford Haven can take much of the credit for these advances and can claim a special place in the world of the UK consumer.