Joe Lewis – From humble beginnings in London's East End to billionaire insider trader

By John Mercury April 5, 2024

Former Tottenham Hotspur owner Joe Lewis has been sentenced in the US for orchestrating an insider trading scheme.

The 87-year-old British citizen, resident in the Bahamas, learned about public companies after making large investments and tipped off lovers, friends, and two of his private pilots, allowing them to make millions, prosecutors said.

In January, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and two counts of securities fraud, admitting in court he had known he was breaking the law.

Prosecutors said he “believed he was above the law – that he had achieved a level of wealth and stature that relieved him from having to operate by the same rules that apply to everyday investors”.

On Thursday in New York, he was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $5m (£4m) fine.

Tottenham owner Joe Lewis looks on..Barclays Premier League..Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal..2nd October, 2011. (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
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Pic: AP

East End beginnings

Joe Lewis was born to a Jewish family in the East End of London in February 1937, living above a pub in Bow’s Roman Road.

Mr Lewis left school at 15 to help run his father’s catering business, Tavistock Banqueting.

After starting as a waiter, Mr Lewis oversaw the firm’s expansion into the tourist market, targeting American visitors with “medieval banqueting” experiences at themed restaurants across the West End.

He gave Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl his first job and also boasted the Hanover Grand nightclub as part of his portfolio, where a colleague once described him as a “natural schmoozer”.

In 1979, he sold the business, which made him a multi-millionaire and saw him move to the Bahamas.

The Tavistock Group he founded a few years earlier has since gained more than 200 assets across 13 countries, including Tottenham and the UK pub chain Mitchells & Butlers.

Having ventured into foreign exchange (FX) trading, Mr Lewis’s fortune sky-rocketed in the early 1990s when he allegedly teamed up with US billionaire George Soros to bet the pound would crash out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (EERM).

Three years after Black Wednesday increased his wealth, he reportedly did the same by shorting the Mexican Peso.

Joe Lewis in the stands with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy in 2011
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Joe Lewis (centre) in the stands with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy in 2011. Pic: PA

Spurs takeover from Sir Alan Sugar

In the late 1990s, Lewis took a financial interest in football when his son Charlie and then-protege Daniel Levy founded the English National Investment Company (ENIC).

While Charlie focused on restaurants, Mr Levy was put in charge of football.

Before buying fellow East Ender Sir Alan Sugar’s controlling stake in Spurs for £22m in 2001, the company invested in sides including Slavia Prague, Vicenza, AEK Athens and Rangers.

 Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
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The Tottenham Hotspur stadium in north London. Pic: Reuters

ENIC is majority-owned by Joe Lewis through his company Tavistock Group and, after holding a majority stake in Tottenham for more than two decades, his shareholding is now owned by a trust on behalf of his family.

With an estimated net worth of almost £5bn, his other sporting interests are golf and sailing.

He sponsors the Tavistock Cup, counts golfers Tiger Woods and Ernie Els among his friends, and bought a 321ft superyacht called Aviva in 2017.

Aviva III owned by Joe Lewis  moored on the River Thames in central London
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Superyacht Aviva owned by Joe Lewis moored on the River Thames in central London

‘Doesn’t like talking to people’

Despite ostentatious levels of wealth, he is reportedly shy. His daughter Vivienne, from his first marriage, once told a newspaper he “doesn’t like to talk to people” because “it aggravates him”.

His nickname “The Boxer” comes only from the similarity between his name and that of American boxing legend Joe Louis.

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He told the New York Times: “One of the rewards of your success is the quiet enjoyment of it. Being on the front page of a newspaper doesn’t allow that.”

His business decisions haven’t always been a success, however.

He suffered up to $1bn (£774m) in losses after US investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed during the financial crisis. His takeover of the prestigious British auction house Christie’s also failed.

More recently his Lake Nona development in Orlando Florida lost a deal with Disney, which would have seen 2,000 employees moved there.

As an art collector, he has acquired works by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Freud and Bacon.

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