Entrepreneur With The Human Touch
From his first illicit late-night stall as a 13-year-old schoolboy to starting an asset management company aged 22, business drives him, just as his love of heritage pushes him on to further achievements for the historic motoring renaissance. The heritage link is natural when you touch on the ancient Burke family history.
Patrick Burke is Managing Director and the welcoming face of HERO-ERA on event, the hospitable, charming leader who will entertain guests and customers long into the night and still be fresh officiating at a time control next morning. It’s a people business, sharing the passion with like-minded folk, encouraging new people into the sport, forging what he believes historic motoring should be, on the front line and behind it. There is a steely determination mated to strong business skills that have paved the success to date.
He is the entrepreneur with the human touch, building relationships, earning trust, and like his ancient ancestors the Normans, he has conquered business and won an army of supporters.
HERO-ERA is now a thriving historic motoring events company due to his determination and management style. The dynamic combination of Patrick Burke and Tomas de Vargas Machuca, two multinational UK domiciled Italians who share a passion for the preservation of heritage, have jointly driven HERO-ERA to new heights.
Whilst both have great heritage of their own to be uncovered, this spotlight also features Patrick Burke’s internationality, his passion for cars and most importantly his human touch employed across a diversity of businesses and enthusiasts around the world. His talent for communications has helped in many cases, he is often called on to help fix a permission or a route, most recently in Italy, but he has many international business connections that can help smooth a path.
One minute he is at full speed in Italian the next talking smoothly in fluent French, his English is of course, perfect. Multi-national is the best description of Patrick, his mother is Italian, he has dual Italian and English passports and is married to a German Baroness. Their three children hold both English and German passports, at home communications are trilingual.
Patrick Burke’s wide skill base is applied with style, a bit like his wide taste in cars ranging from his baby Fiat 500 with the old suitcase strapped to the back, to his Porsche 911 RS.
Apart from all the trappings of a successful business life, Patrick cites getting the balance of life right as the most import recipe. Patrick Burke “the balance of life between family and business life is so important, but really it’s understanding where to draw the line between the two, laying out the boundaries and keeping to them. If you get that right it really is a big happy recipe!”
Turning to his flair for business, where does Patrick think he got his first instinct for entrepreneurial activity? “It was aged 13 at boarding school, after lights out I would open my cupboard, switch on a little lamp and it would become a stall selling magazines, you don’t want to know what kind, chewing gum, anything I could get hold of. By 16 I was selling fake Rolex watches in school. By the age of 22 I had started my first company, an asset management company which we only sold in 2004, but I still sit on the board of that company which is now based in Belgium.
“Then in 2003 I set up a Private Equity Fund company which bought the likes of Republic (teenage wear), Robert Dyas, Jil Sander the fashion house, Hillary’s Blinds in the UK and many more.
“In 2008 with Tomas de Vargas Machuca we started Consortium Capital Group true to the philosophy of becoming renaissance men and turning our passions into business, we were always keen to do something in the classic car world.
“My brother lived in MiIan and he knew Tomas, always saying ‘I have this friend who loves classic cars like you, you must meet him’. It was not until I came across this classic car enthusiast at a party in London that I remembered realising this must be the Tomas my brother was always talking about! It became an instant friendship, although we are very different, we are very complimentary.
“In 2008 with Consortium Capital Group we started to try to find sectors where we could make a real contribution using our experience, mine in private equity, Tomas’ in banking. It was at the time of the credit crunch when businesses were going down the pan, not because they were doing anything wrong, they were just trying to do too many different things and not doing one thing well enough. It needed a certain business acumen and commercial sense, banks were not giving you any money, nobody was giving you any money! But you needed funds to survive.
“We decided to get into the classic car space out of passion and we decided to save HERO. Tomas went to do Le Jog, returning saying he’d had a crazy idea. He felt that Hero ran great events but they needed commercial help, and hospitality assistance. ‘Why don’t we start working on this to help them out?’ As we started talking about it the one stop shop platform idea emerged.
“We took over HERO which was a logo and a couple of events run by Peter Nedin under licence agreement with John Brown. The first Le Jog we did had just 15 cars, two of them were me and Tomas! Soon we had the idea of hiring out classic cars to try and bring in more people into the sport who don’t own classic cars. We were just talking through ideas and said to each other, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if you could arrive and just drive a classic rally car, ready to go?’ HERO Arrive and Drive was born.
“The first car we bought was the Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV.
“In 2010, there was a lot of resistance initially to these two semi Italians from different backgrounds taking over, which I understood. Speaking different languages, acting in a very different way, as we started work. There were lots of people who had been on the rally scene far longer that we had and were not prepared for two young entrepreneurs coming in saying we want to be part of this. Naturally they were saying, ‘who are these people?’
“We had to win hearts and minds. I genuinely think the determination we put into our efforts combined with our resolve into turning it around, making it professional with accountability, really helped the rally community understand that we were serious.
“We created proper jobs with salaries, we did what we felt was required which we believe has helped make HERO become what it is today.
“It has taken a great deal of time, effort, and I tell you a lot of money as well. I won’t deny at the very beginning there were a couple of times when I went home and my wife Louisa would say to me ‘by the way we have school fees coming in plus all these other costs,’ and I thought my god where do you draw the line on this idea/passion? It is difficult taking an idea, getting it to walk then run.
“It took a long time to become profitable but it’s a business that needs volume to make money, yet despite the struggle we never ever thought of giving up, we just realised we needed to do something else so we could both survive personally and keep HERO going. Hence the reason that Consortium Capital Group branched out into real estate activity and shipping activities, along with other branches of business that have since become successful in their own right. HERO was always a retirement plan; we want to run it and enjoy it until we get old.”
The analogy of the wealthy entrepreneur who loves sport, then indulges their passion by buying a football club only to lose their shirt, was put to Patrick as a possible comparison. Was this the heart rather than the head despite having great business records outside of their passion?
“Not in our case, we both shared the enthusiasm and made a big effort, even though it wasn’t quite the business we first thought. We both knew it was going to be a tough one there was no doubt, but you couldn’t do it unless you had genuine passion with objectivity. On one side you lose interest if you don’t have the passion and could be caught out. The guy who just buys the football club for cash for profit or is just blinded by his favourite club, that’s not us.
“For me and Tomas it was about building the one stop shop platform, the one port of call and becoming the voice of the legislators in this sector. It’s about bringing heritage back; we are heritage minded.” As indeed are Patrick’s family who have a proud, strong link to the ancient past, tracked and traced.
Patrick; “Ours is a very old Irish family. Originally, we landed on these islands with the Normans and William the Conqueror, called the de Burgos (meaning from the fort) we were granted lands in NW Ireland, Galway, where there are still many castles left which belonged to the family. These concentric Norman towers were the responsibility of the Burke tribes with the McWilliams Chieftains to provide a fortified trade route. Portumna Castle was built by Richard Burke the 4th Earl of Clanricarde in 1610, there is another for sale but they want silly money for it. The towers were tall and imposing, my children just call them ‘chimneys’ but it was our eldest, Henry, who came up with an idea of how to avoid spending a fortune on a ‘chimney’, ‘just go over there and steal a tower brick, when you bring it back you have a bit of our history right here.’
“They were eventually awarded various titles, my branch were the Earls of Clanricarde, my line comes from them. The Burkes were behind the composition of Burke’s Peerage for example, listing the landed gentry, that came from our family. We are directly related to the philosopher Edmund Burke who lived in the 18th century which is why at least one male in each successive family takes the Christian name Edmund, my grandfather and my brother are called Edmund.
“There is also a history of shipping in the family, we have been involved in the business for around 180 years. My great, great grandfather, Sir John Burke who was a Council General of five countries naturally travelled a lot and spoke many languages. He became acquainted with a coal rich trade area in the Mediterranean which he saw as an opportunity. He started a shipping company back in Ireland and then sent one of his eight children, a son, my great grandfather, to Italy. That’s when the Italian business started in Genoa, continued by my grandfather and father. But my father had it a bit tough. His father and then his sister died leaving him to look after his mother and run the business at the age of 21. He went to London and met with Viscount Runciman, a close friend of my grandfather, who ran a successful shipping at the time and worked for him learning the ropes before returning to Italy, rebuilding the business into Burke & Novi.
He was very good at what he did as Burke & Novi became one of the leading ship broking companies in the world. He sold before he died in 2018 but I wanted the name to continue in shipping. I’d already had thought about it and started Consortium Maritime Trading in 2014 with Philippe van den Abeele. Consortium Maritime Trading is slightly different as we don’t own ships any more but trade futures contracts on freight charges and shipping routes. It’s virtual shipping really.”
An alliance with a different aristocratic family became a reality when Patrick fell in love with and married Baroness Louisa Freytag von Loringhoven, the Granddaughter of Baron Wessel Freytag von Loringhoven who with along with Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, tried to kill Hitler on the 20th July 1944 attempt. Patrick; “He was a war hero in his own right, when I went with Louisa to Berlin we visited the museum and saw pictures of him and the letter he wrote to his wife before he killed himself rather than risk giving away his co-conspirators. He had been heavily involved, producing the detonators and sourcing British explosives for the bombs to try and avoid a trace.
“Louisa has been working for the Art Loss Register since before we got married. She has been tracing and restituting stolen art, managing to be quite successful with art stolen or sold under duress during the Holocaust years, to a degree I assume that was because of her grandfather. She nearly joined Scotland Yard in the Arts and Antique squad as a special constable but had to stop early due to the birth of our first son Henry.” Could she resume her career? “not really, it’s too long now, a shame as I was looking forward to the handcuffs!”
“Louisa and I also share the love of classic cars; her father is a car collector. She is an excellent driver too having competed in the Mille Miglia with her father in the 328 Frazer Nash BMW, she is much quicker than me on the school run!
“My passion for cars was always there. I was lucky to be able to start driving with my mother and father when I was 12, there was hardly any traffic where we lived, then at school one of the teachers had a 1500cc Triumph Spitfire, he once let me drive it! I will always remember the sensation, I loved it, you were so low, you had to work hard at the steering wheel it was a like a go kart. I thought as soon as I get my driving licence a Spitfire will be my first car, I stuck to it, but my father refused to buy it so I had to save up doing all sorts of summer jobs whilst at University. But I paid way too much for it and it wasn’t a particularly good car, I didn’t have the experience then but it was a valuable lesson for the future. Despite that I enjoyed the car, I used to go around London in it, it was Tahiti blue with shocking orange peel paintwork but the girls loved it. I had a sticker on the back saying ‘Passion Wagon, don’t laugh your daughter may be in it!’
Patrick’s love of cars has continued since, so from his collection and all the previous cars he has owned, what have been his favourites?
“I have been lucky to own some great cars since, but my two favourites are the Porsche 911 2.7 RS and the 328 Frazer Nash BMW, two completely different yet perfect driving experiences in their own way. The RS is just an animal but it is so precise, so instant, so together. It’s the ‘together factor’ for me, a car has to feel together, steering, throttle response, the opposite is the wobbly gear lever and slack steering. On the 911 everything is instant; you think it and it does it. In many ways the 328 Frazer Nash BMW is a perfect machine for a 1938 car.
“It was so ahead of its time, encased headlamps, a powerful engine that set new standards, for me it feels and drives like my 1956 MGA, and yet there are two decades between them, these are cars I really look after, but as they are also very valuable you have to be respectful and careful where you drive them and how you use them.
“My first classic car competition was with Tomas in the Summer Trial 2009, we came 1st in class and 2nd overall, I was navigating and it was my first big argument with him in a car. I remember walking out of there thinking this is going to be fun if we work together! We did well, I have achieved some more class awards since but never any more podiums! I was lying 3rd overall on the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo when I spun into a col snow bank throwing it all away, I have never been great on snow!
“I don’t have a favourite event as such despite the great heritage events we run. I am less competitive than Tomas, I love the driving, the different experiences you can feel in different cars, I love the way they behave so differently. The first thing I do when I get into a car is smell, for me it already tells me a lot about the car, if I’m going to like it or not. You drive a car from the inside not the outside. I prefer to drive than compete.”
After a degree of pain and certainly some major work and finance, HERO-ERA is already the most comprehensive global platform for historic motoring events, so what does Patrick Burke the Managing Director want for the future? “Ultimately, I want people who think about classic cars, heritage, historic motoring, I want them to think HERO-ERA and that’s it.”
Photos by Blue Passion/ Will Broadhead/ Gerard Brown and Alfredo Buonanno