Hiard’s cricket coup

Mike Hiard has made a good-size fortune from little niches.

Mike Hiard has made a good-size fortune from little niches. The former City financier is chairman of London’s Woodworm, which makes cricket bats with trademarked recessed edges and sponsors two of England’s biggest hitting stars, Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.

The two players and their teammates gave the 46-year-old Hiard reason to celebrate this summer when they took the all-important Ashes cricket trophy in a spectacular and unexpected victory over rival Australia. The Ashes series, played between the two countries once every two years, dates to 1882 and has only been canceled during world wars. This was England’s first win in 18 years.

The victory was a business boon for Hiard, a former global head of equity financing at Citigroup and onetime founder and managing partner of agency stock lending business London Global Securities (the company thrived in the 1990s before being sold to Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette in 1997). Since this year’s Ashes series began, demand for Woodworm’s bats has been, Hiard says, “unbelievable.” In 2002, the company’s first year, it sold 200 bats at £25 to £225 ($44 to $400) a pop; this year it has sold more than 15,000.

Hiard has been involved in Woodworm since its first innings, when he was approached for funding by Joe Sillett, the son of one of Hiard’s former schoolmasters, who was working toward a launch of the company. Joe’s father had found an old cricket bat riddled with woodworm near the blade’s shoulder and had carved it out, creating a concave shape on either side. Joe took the bat to play for his local club and promptly scored an impressive 142 runs without losing his wicket. The Silletts decided to patent the design.

In theory, the bat’s shape offers players better control. But Hiard, who left Citigroup for Woodworm in August 2004, credits his company’s success to the on-field exploits of Flintoff and Pietersen. “They are the two most marketable stars in world cricket at the moment,” he says. “We had great confidence they were the right players for us.”