Canadian businesswoman sold her fintech company - scaling an £11m castle in Kent came next

The stories you don't know about some of the world's best and little-known brands

Self-made businesswoman and TV star Ann Kaplan-Mulholland at Lympne Castle.
Self-made businesswoman and TV star Ann Kaplan-Mulholland at Lympne Castle.

When Ann Kaplan Mulholland sold her North American consumer fintech company, the Canadian businesswoman initially forged ideas of entering the credit scoring space. Instead, last February, she purchased Lympne Castle in Kent for £11 million and is now using her acumen to scale a medieval property into a profitable business.

“The idea wasn’t to buy a castle when I sold my finance company,” she says. “I had the idea of doing something that was more familiar to me. But this has become a full-time job.”

Kaplan Mulholland, who also starred in reality show Real Housewives of Toronto, launched iFinance in 1996 and propelled the multi award-winning business towards loan applications exceeding $2 billion.

Read More: 'We turned down Dragons' Den offers - our eyecare company is worth £7m now'

Now, the mother-of-eight is already making hay in the UK. Twelve months into taking ownership, the 139-acre castle uses weddings as its core business, with revenue also generated by the castle’s upgraded medieval bar, conference facilities and accommodation.

Lympne Castle in Kent hosted more than 20 weddings in its first 12 months.
Lympne Castle in Kent hosted more than 20 weddings in its first 12 months.

“If I didn’t have my background I wouldn’t have seen the castle as an opportunity for a business and wouldn’t have the trust to build a business,” she says.

The Grade I listed castle was once on the water and now overlooks Romney Marsh. “To me it was just a beautiful view and I could see France,” adds Kaplan Mulholland. “Now I understand what that history meant. Growing up in Canada, we don’t embrace history as they do in the UK.”

History, of course, comes with its share of challenges. Thus, she has set about, along with husband and renowned plastic surgeon Dr Stephen Mulholland, a multi-million pound restoration project to meet Historic England's standards. She also envisages costs to be in the region of £15m.

Read More: Bra pain inspired Evelyn & Bobbie founder to become go-to solution brand

Kaplan Mulholland says her new venture was a balance of not only becoming a tourist destination, wedding and conference venue but also how it would affect the locals.

“In all your business decisions you need to think of all the stakeholders," she says. "It could be your employees, people who use the castle, the media or your neighbours and impacting on their privacy.

“We had to scale it back and almost give the community a key to the castle. They don’t pay entrance fees, there is a discount on food.

The 1,000-year-old Lympne Castle is a booming wedding venue
The 1,000-year-old Lympne Castle is a booming wedding venue

"You have to consider all stakeholders, given I have come in to create something disruptive. I just wasn’t aware buying a castle would have an impact on the community.

“When we were decorating a room, what is the perception for the people who go in there? Are you embracing history? Does it matter if I change it to pink? Am I making a decision which is exciting for people or a slap in the face of history? There has to be a fine balance and it’s quite a learning curve.”

Back in Canada, Kaplan Mulholland sat at the same desk for 25 years with the door largely shut as her business adapted from faxes to being a leading fintech.

“I learned quickly that I didn’t want people to know that I was [then] a single mum with two children,” she says, “especially when you are in banking. I wanted people to see I was a business person in a male-dominated industry.

Ann Kaplan-Mulholland and her husband Dr Stephen Mulholland
Ann Kaplan-Mulholland and her husband Dr Stephen Mulholland

“The perception of a female leader ... I was never invited out for cognac and cigars and rooms would go silent when I walked in. It wasn’t an easy task and so I began to run my company in a methodical way and hopefully made decisions that made sense for the company without being front-facing. At some point I realised I could actually be a woman.”

She is still financially involved with iFinance and was recently asked to come back to work on its senior marketing and sales strategy. In running the castle today, she would still prefer to orchestrate from her office.

Read More: 'One Freja customer said his grandmother called it the Italian penicillin'

“The difference is today’s society wants to see a face or personality to gain trust,” admits Kaplan Mulholland, adding that a reality show on her taking over the castle will start filming this summer.

“We are building a 210-seat event space, so how do I attract people to rent it and market it? You have to do that as a public face and to be able to make money for the castle.

“We are in a position that we can make sound business decisions and that we can take care of people. I’m aware that people can be out to get you. But I hope I am doing something good and can look back and say that I was very proud of it.”

Watch: AI reskilling must be a continuous investment for businesses

Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.