Joe Fournier, 32, is a Monaco-born British multi-millionaire who swapped his lucrative business as a personal trainer for the likes of Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow to make his fortune through a string a high-end nightclubs in London, New York and France.
Fournier even retained personal training work on blockbuster movies such as Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Charlie’s Angels.
While the self-dubbed nightclub entrepreneur may seem like he has it all, including counting famous heiress Paris Hilton and actor Jamie Foxx as his close friends, his life has had more twists and turns than the average person.
Sitting down with Business Insider in his South Kensington bistro and bar Streaky Gin, Fournier told us how he was born into “a life of luxury” in London but after his parents’ “messy” divorce, he found himself as a child swapping chaffeur driven cars around the French riviera to taking the local bus in Hounslow, London.
He started off his incredible career trajectory as a professional basketball player, playing in England, France, Italy, and the Middle East, captaining the British national team 38 times. But a severe injury ended his career as a professional sportsman and he turned into a borderline alcoholic.
He told Business Insider about his rise to the top, how he made his fortune through owning famous nightclubs including Bonbonniere Club and Streaky Gin, and how he splits his time living in London and Miami.
Business Insider: Tell us a bit about your childhood. Did you “have it made” from an early age?
Joe Fournier: My dad was wealthy and I would say my mum was normal. They met by the French Riviera. My dad is from Monaco and was a pilot, while my mum stayed at home. I went to [top French primary school in London] Lycée Français Charles De Gaulle de Londres and then an American Community School.
However, my mum and dad got divorced, and it got messy, and we moved to Hounslow. I went from having a chaffeur driven car to school every day, to taking the bus.
BI: So how did you get into basketball and become a professional player?
JF: I didn’t live in a great neighbourhood, but there was a big following of basketball, and I ended up just taking it up here and there. When I went to Brunel University, I ended up paying just £2 ($US3.13) a session to practice and be in the university team.
It taught me discipline and how practice makes perfect. I’d shoot a hoop a thousand times a day until it was natural. I think it gave me better work ethic in the long run.
I ended up doing a try-out in east London one day and actually made the first half of the England basketball team. I was on the bench for a while but I got my chance to play when someone, unfortunately for them, got injured.
BI: An injury also ended your career as a professional basketball player. How did you react to such a sudden life change, and did you have a back-up plan?
JF: I always wanted to be a professional sportsperson and I loved it. I’ve always been a light and happy person, but when I injured my leg, I ended up in one of the darkest places in my life. I used to go to my local pub in Isleworth, Hounslow to drink, drink, drink, and then drink some more.
One day, after six months, one of the bar owners told me that this wasn’t what my life was meant to turn out like, and I asked him if he thought I was an alcoholic. He pointed to a guy with a bright red face, who was 60 but looked like 105-years-old, and said “no, he’s an alcoholic,” but it was enough to make a point that I didn’t want to become “that guy.”
BI: So how did you move on from that low point and become a gym owner? How did you build that client base?
JF: I just snapped out of my depression and I took what little money I had left and put it into a little gym I set up. I bought the equipment second-hand off eBay and managed to secure a lease on a small space in Richmond with no references.
I started my own gym, but it was hard. I managed to get a database of clients off a local spa and I cold-called around 1,500 people pretending to be a sales person for myself saying “this is Steve from Joe Fournier’s gym” to get clients. It took around the 1,000 mark until someone said yes.
I was a trainer, PR, and cleaner, all-in-one.
BI: From that one person, you ended up working with some pretty famous people, like Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, and were featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, GQ, Esquire … How did that happen?
JF: Well, I had to sign a lot of non-disclosure agreements so I can’t confirm or deny those clients, but I have worked for models, actors, actresses, royalty, and musicians.
It was actually through advice from a friend who told me that I should hire a PR or an agency to get my name and my gym out there. Actually, after some convincing, I did, and my business built a lot of traction and by word of mouth I got my first celebrity client. It all kicked off from there.
Eventually I wrote the “Red Carpet Workout” book in 2008, and I expanded my training studios internationally. Then, a private equity company offered to buy my fitness business and I sold my studios around three years ago. [Fournier declined to comment on how much he made from the sale and the details.]
BI: Why did you decide to get into nightclubs when you could have retired early?
JF: I was at a loose end and my buddy needed some help in launching some nightclubs. But then I realised that it was a wise investment. It’s really difficult to get people to do lunges and eat salad, but it was easy getting people get pissed, drink gin and tonic, party, and eat pizza.
BI: You’ve had some incredible success with opening Whisky Mist, and then owning Bonbonniere nightclubs and Streaky Gin, how much has it made you in terms of cash?
JF: I’m opening The VIP Room London, Restaurant Hotel Chantelle, Streaky Gin Regent Street, Mahiki Beach Miami soon, and a summer pop up called Bonbonniere Mykonos. I feel like these clubs are my babies and I feel incredibly proud to be opening up so many new ones. It’s my passion.
Being a successful business person isn’t to do with net worth. It’s about doing what you love and what you give back. My businesses make around £20 million to £30 million ($US31.3 million – $US47 million) a year, so you can call me a multi-millionaire, but it’s not about the money.
You can be sad and have loads of money still.
BI: How has your life changed since opening these clubs? You seem to be surrounded by celebrities all the time, especially on your Instagram. Do you hire them to open clubs to get publicity, or do you count them as friends?
JF: To be honest, I don’t need to pay for someone famous to attend a club or make an appearance, a lot of the celebrities that do turn up are my friends, or someone I have hung out with before. I am humbled by that and the personal relationships that have got me to where I am.
I would count Paris Hilton as a close friend for example. Also, when Jamie Foxx came to one of my clubs, it was after we went out for dinner and he decided it would be fun to go to the DJ booth and sing impromptu for 10 or 15 minutes. We just stayed at the club and got drunk.
I’ve had Victoria’s Secret having a party at one of the clubs, same with Will.i.Am, Tinie Tempah’s single launch party, and others too. We didn’t publicise, it was just where they wanted to hang out.
BI: With your success, do you think you’ve become a bit of a target? What happened in Australia? [Fournier was arrested on a charge of assaulting a cab driver in Sydney in 2009].
JF: It’s really difficult to talk about it as it did affect me. I was coming back from dinner with my fiancé at the time [Reanna Spaulding] and we took a regular taxi. He literally attacked me and because I do a lot of boxing, I managed to fight him off. He was really shady: it was a $US6-$US8 cab ride and he asked for a lot more. Because I didn’t want any trouble, I went to the cash point to get it for him and he tried to attack me.
What the press didn’t report was that he was twice the size of me, my fiancé was with me, and after the police released me, I stayed in Australia for over two months, made some amazing friends, did some business deals and had a great time.
Did it affect me? Yes, I probably will only take a private driver, instead of a cab from now on. But I am glass half full kind of guy and I am generally positive, so I have just moved on. [The court in 2010 did not record a conviction for Fournier, according to the Sydney Morning Herald].
BI: How do you do move on from such severe ups and downs in your life and career? What would you say is the recipe for your success?
JF: I think 95% of everything I have ever done comes from discipline of playing sport and being part of a team. It gives you the will to win and that competitive edge.
Believe in yourself and never give up. I know lots of people say that but it’s the mentality for success.
BI: So, lastly, what’s the future for you, other than owning lots of nightclubs? Will you live the quiet life once you have children?
JF: I’m single at the moment and I would love to have kids. I’d love to have three or four, but it just hasn’t happened yet. My former fiancé had a child and my life was no less hectic than it is now. I suppose though it would be irresponsible of me to not slow down if I did have a big family.