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The self-made millionaires who tried to stay humble

GROUND BREAKING: The Dyke and Dryden team during a 1982 trade delegation visit to Atlanta, USA

THE BUSINESS success of Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden has been hailed as a benchmark for all subsequent achievements by UK-based West Indian commercial enterprises.

Their remarkable story has been well-documented in the book How They Made A Million: The Dyke & Dryden Story by Tony Wade.

Yet there is much more to their story than just commercial and financial success. It was a company grounded in, and symbolic of, the heart of the community with all its aspirations.

Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden started out providing a range of products and services, many shipped in “from home”, for the embryonic UK Jamaican community in the 1960s.

While Dudley sold cosmetics and hair products from a stall at Ridley Road Market, Dalston, east London, Len ran a record distribution company and a travel agency from an office/shop on West Green Lane, Tottenham, north London.

It was hard going and the entrenched interests in those industries were not prepared to yield one inch of the market.

Yet through effort and initiative they made headway. And, as their fame spread, customers came to them from all parts of the United Kingdom and beyond.

The two entrepreneurs were equally committed to community organisations that worked to tackle the lack of opportunities faced by the Windrush generation.

BACK IN THE DAY: Some of the company's products

They were known for their efforts to support groups like the Standing Conference of West Indians, the Association of Jamaicans, and the UK Chamber of Commerce.

The duo were aware of the advantages that good public relations created and with this in mind, they created the Miss Dyke & Dryden beauty contest.

The title was second only to the ground-breaking Miss JOFFA (Jamaican Overseas Families and Friends Association) in a period regarded by many as the golden age of West Indian beauty contests.

The downside of such intense activity was that their business efforts were spread too thinly to be co-ordinated sufficiently to make an impact on the larger commercial scene.

This situation changed following the recruitment of accountant Tony Wade as a third partner with responsibility for marketing.

Wade is credited with the decision to cut out the record business and travel service in order to concentrate on promoting hair and beauty products with which the name Dyke & Dryden has now become synonymous.

THEIR STORY: The book How They Made A Million tells the story of Len Dyke (left), Dudley Dryden and Tony Wade

The company expanded rapidly and soon opened new branches and warehouses which enabled them to compete successful in the international market.

Dyke & Dryden held their own with the global American companies for several years and when they could not hold back the tide any longer they joined them, selling their interests in a deal which justified the title of their story.

By that time Dyke & Dryden were already a by-word for black and beautiful hair and beauty products. Their promotional enterprise reached its epitome with the ‘Afro Hair and Beauty Show’, one of the major international exhibitions in a multi-million pound international industry.

From the early days of Dudley Dryden’s hands-on selling from a market-stall and Len Dyke’s juggling of travel, records and other outlets from a small north London office to their emergence as the country’s best-known and most successful black-run business, Dyke & Dryden’s progress was marked by self-belief, self-reliance and resourcefulness in overcoming barriers.

Sadly, both men have passed on but Tony Wade retired to Jamaica where he still lives.

Their success has rightly seen them regarded as business legends.

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