Chris Gorman OBE is a whirlwind of activity. The serial entrepreneur - best known for his colourful past with Gadget Shop and Birthdays - thinks and talks at 100mph, barely pausing for breath. After our meeting, he's squeezing in another over coffee at Paddington before heading over to Heathrow and back to his base in Glasgow. He's been in London for two days of non-stop action; something he does week in, week out.

He is, he says, too busy at the moment and is currently attempting to extract himself from a number of interests as he seeks to focus on the industries he knows best and the companies he feels are best equipped to survive the current turbulent market conditions.

He's no stranger to tough times, having featured in one of the highest profile business court cases in recent years in 2005 when, along with the Scottish billionaire Tom Hunter, he was sued by his fellow Gadget Shop directors over the duo's acquisition of Birthdays in 2003.

Gorman and Hunter eventually won the case against Jon Wood and Peter Wilkinson but the spectacular fallout - with tales of Gorman dancing on tables in Monte Carlo and crying at a board meeting - saw Gadget Shop enter administration while Birthdays had been sold a year earlier at a loss of £5m apiece.

"They did everything they possibly could to try and embarrass us because they thought we wouldn't go to court," he recalls. "I'd been out in Monte Carlo with Tom - I do like the social side of life - and we'd bumped into Jon. The accusation was that I'd been dancing on the table wearing a loud flowery shirt. The judge asked me if it was true and I said that it did sound like me. But it was a Saturday night in Monte Carlo!

"But the serious side of it - and in many ways it's very painful - is that it was a two-year waste of time and as soon as it got really messy they took themselves off the board and their lawyer attended board meetings so we couldn't approve anything.

"What caused the business to go under was that they put two court injunctions against us selling the company to Game," he adds. "Both times the court said we could sell it but the second time Game said it was just getting too messy and they could see nothing but problems with the other shareholders. It might have saved the jobs of 750 people who had done nothing wrong but they were determined to cause as much pain to everyone as possible."

Paper money
Gorman's entrepreneurial zeal was evident from an early age, when he persuaded the owner of a shop in his home town of Hartlepool for which he did two paper rounds to let him reorganise the rota and keep any savings he made. "I reorganised it all for £40, kept the £10 difference and was in a nice warm shop," he says. "Even back then I was looking for my own independence."

His big break came when he invested £25,000 in the fledgling high street mobile phone retailer DX Communications. "We started running the
‘The idea was to spend three months in the Gadget Shop. We were bringing cash back into the business so I thought I'd stay involved in it, rather than putting a chief executive in. That was great until we had the first fallout'
business from an office unit and grew to 170 stores in five years," recalls Gorman. "It was probably the most interesting time of my life because I didn't know anything about being a director or being in business. We got everything we could get wrong but we were lucky in that it was a growing industry that allowed us to make mistakes. I'd always said that by the time I was 30 I'd be a millionaire and one month before my 30th birthday we sold 25% of the business to Cellnet, as it was then, for £4.2m. I owned 25% so I got a cheque for £1.077m a month before my 30th birthday. Any deal I've done since then hasn't been life-changing but that one was."

If the success of DX owed much to the emerging mobile phone market, his next move - setting up internet consultancy Reality Group - cashed in on the arrival of ecommerce. "We were a small web services business and there were about 600 web companies in the UK," he says. "I was trying to work out how we could differentiate ourselves from anybody else so I got people to come and pitch to me. Everyone talked to me about the quality of the design or the technical back end. Not one talked about business leads, whether I should even have a website and how I could commercially justify it. We had literally 90 people in the space of 15 months and were billing around £1m a month and making around £300,000 or £400,000 profit."

By 2000, though, Gorman could see the way the market was headed and was thinking about an exit when GUS made an offer of £35m. "Money was going into things that were just wrong," he says. "We were building websites for people who didn't have a clue what they were doing. We finalised the deal about three weeks before crashed and then the whole thing came crashing down."

Even The Gadget Shop, which was in dire straits when Gorman bought it in 2002, was an initial success. "The idea was to spend three months in the business - it was all negative like-for-likes and really struggling - and sort the finances out," he says. "Within three months we were running at between 10-15% positive like-for-likes and we'd cleared a lot of the old stock. We were bringing cash back into the business so I thought I'd stay involved in it, rather than putting a chief executive in. That was great until we had the first fallout."

Backing businesses
Despite the subsequent failures of Gadget Shop and Birthdays Gorman began life as an investor in businesses and today has four main ventures. One of the original backers and non-executive directors of luxury services brand Quintessentially, he has recently taken on a much broader role as it expands from a London-based concierge service to a global company offering luxury holidays and products, as well as events and property management. Quintessentially Artists is a direct result of another Gorman business - Lucid PR - and specialises in providing top names for private functions. "We can access just about any artist around the world," says Gorman.

Companies are like children; you give them rapid development early on but when they're teenagers if you keep telling them what to do they'll rebel so you've got to just nurture them. I'm not very good at nurturing'

The other ventures that play their part in keeping Gorman so busy are Obsidian Communications - a low-cost routing solution for companies calling mobile phones - and Truphone, which provides an application on iPhones, Blackberries and most Nokias that allows users to make low-cost international calls. He has particularly high hopes for Obsidian, which works by running office calls to mobiles through mobile SIMs to take advantage of lower rates and has also developed technology to record calls from mobile phones.

For Gorman, the thrill of building a business is greater than running an established company and this, along with scepticism that is a legacy of the Gadget Shop experience, explains his tendency to exit ventures once they reach a certain point. "When it gets to a certain level I tinker about too much because I constantly want it to be better," he says. "Companies are like children; you give them rapid development early on but when they're teenagers if you keep telling them what to do they'll rebel so you've got to just nurture them. I'm not very good at nurturing; I want to keep on changing things and helping their development."

Confronting recession
He is very passionate about his work with the Entrepreneurial Exchange, a Scottish business group that provides support to small business owners. Gorman has been on the board in one role or another for the past eight years, although is unsure about putting himself forward for a third year as chairman, and this currently takes up around one day a week. "It's a fabulous organisation because it's not for profit and no one's trying to get anything out of it," he explains. "Now we're going through this economic challenge we're trying to help our members get through it, particularly the smaller businesses that have never been through this before."

The key to doing that, Gorman believes, is to redefine the marketplace and how it is changing as a result of the upheaval. "In real terms GDP is going to drop by a maximum of 10% so there's still plenty of business out there," he says. "But you have to look at how you can create the most compelling reasons why people should be buying from you, whether they're businesses or consumers and whether it's cost-saving or lifestyle-enhancing."

Perhaps unusually for a successful entrepreneur, Gorman is not motivated by money per se. "Money to me is a means to an end," he says. "It's easy for me to say that when I don't have to worry about money but I'm not motivated to go and have £1bn in the bank. It's about making a difference." For him, this means giving away between £300,000 and £400,000 a year to various charities.

Gorman acknowledges that he has taken too much on in recent years and says the one thing he misses in life is time to himself. But with his unbridled passion for business, various charity initiatives - he estimates charity work takes a third of his time - the Entrepreneurial Exchange, a teaching post at the University of Western Scotland and his son's band to keep him busy, that's not likely to happen any time soon. And you get the feeling that he wouldn't really like it any other way.

Extract from full interview conducted by Nick Martindale for New Business magazine