Each one of the five top business brains in the den has the opportunity to make someone’s entrepreneurial dream come true – we take a look at where these ‘ultrapreneurs’ have come from, and what they have to offer…
With a list of very impressive businesses behind him and a reputation for investing in people as much as their ideas, serial entrepreneur James joined the panel of Dragons’ Den in October 2007 for series five. Born Nazim Khan, James is the calm in the Dragons’ Den storm. Even when faced with an incredulous pitch, James doesn’t resort to sarcasm or harsh words. He’s polite but assertive, often giving wannabe entrepreneurs the chance to be heard out after the others have opted out.
James says: ‘In business I make a point of investing in people, as I’m a great believer that it is people who create a success in business through their passion and conviction.’
James set up recruitment company, Alexander Mann Group in 1985, aged 25, building it to a turnover of £130m before selling it for £95m in 2002. His second venture, exectutive headhunting firm Humana international, co-founded with business partner Doug Bugie in 1993, grew to 147 offices in 30 countries in six years. The duo sold it in 1999.
James was awarded the BT Enterprise Of The Year award in 2001, and also the PricewaterhouseCoopers Entrepreneur Of The Year award in 2003. He went on to set up Hamilton Bradshaw in 2004, a private equity company which specialises in buy-outs, venture capital and real estate.
Earlier this year, James was appointed co-chairman of the government run Ethnic Minority Task Force which supports over 280,000 businesses. He was also awarded the Star of Pakistan for his contribution to UK business and an honorary degree in Business Administration by Leeds Met University. During his acceptance speech during the graduation ceremony, James said: ‘It’s our attitude not our aptitude that determines our altitude.’
Since joining the den, James’ successful investments have included Peter Moule with his electrician’s Chocbox and Laban Roomes, the man behind gold plating company, Goldgenie. Sharon Wright left the Den with £30,000 more than she asked for, a rare event in the den as
James and Duncan Bannatyne were so impressed with Sharon’s outstanding pitch for her company MagnaMole, they were clamouring with the other dragons to back this entrepreneur. Her invention was a product that solves the problem of threading cables through cavity walls. Another success for James was the memorable Fit Fur Life dog treadmills, brought to his attention by entrepreneur Sammy French.
The Scottish businessman describes himself as driven, restless and a bit arrogant and he has a reputation for being firm in the den. Duncan is keen to encourage others to achieve success and is a prolific investor on the show – but only if the pitchers have done their homework. If they haven’t done all the figures, he’s ‘out’ in a flash.
After being dishonourably discharged from the Navy at 19, Duncan bought an ice-cream van for £450 at the age of 31, expanded the business and sold it for £25,000. He then founded a nursing home business, Quality Care Homes, which was so successful he sold it for £46m. And the children’s nursery chain he set up, Just Learning, went for £22m. Duncan has since established the Bannatyne’s chain of health clubs, which has become the largest independent health chain in the UK, and is also creating bars, casinos and hotels. His latest venture is Bannatyne’s Sensory Spa, a chain of luxury health spas.
The 60 year-old has an estimated wealth of £320m – although the Scot doesn’t take his riches for granted and has pledged to leave money to charity when he dies. ‘Giving away the money you make is the best reason for making it in the first place.’
He is urging other rich people to do the same and recently made a documentary of his efforts for ITV, Britain’s Rich List: Giving It Away. He has written a book, Anyone can do it: My story, (Orion, £7.99) and does a lot of charity work – receiving an OBE for his work in Romania, including setting up a hospice for children with HIV and Aids.
Since first appearing on Dragons’ Den in 2005, Duncan has agreed investments that total £1,150,000 in 17 businesses.
The retail entrepreneur believes there are three reasons to be in business: to make money, to have fun… and to make money. Theo’s estimated wealth is £145m, ranking him 382nd in the Sunday Times Rich List 2009. As a dragon he is notably assertive but approachable – the joker of the bunch. His favourite catch phrase on the show is ‘you want me to invest my children’s inheritance on that…?’.
Theo had a head for business from a very young age – starting out running his school tuck shop at the age of 15. He then progressed through the ranks in various sales positions, setting himself up in commercial property sales establishing his business at the age of 23 and making it big in the property boom in the 1980s.
As chairman of Millwall FC for eight years, Theo managed to take the club out of administration and into the FA Cup final against Man United, and then into Europe for the first time in their history. He now specialises in turning around struggling companies, and his success stories include lingerie store La Senza and Ryman, the stationers, where he quickly turned debts into profit. Along with fellow dragon, Peter Jones, Theo salvaged the adventure gift company Red Letter Days out of administration.
Theo says he has made more money from the investments he’s made on Dragons’ Den than he has put in. His most successful punt was Imran Hakim who created the iTeddy – it’s made both the inventor and its investors millions. He also invested in Jane Rafter’s customised sandal business, Slinks, and Karen O’Neill and Karen Coombes’ inline skate that allows skaters to practise on any surface, as well as on ice.
The cocky playboy of the den, Peter’s not short of confidence. ‘I’m the most successful dragon on the panel. I’m also the youngest,’ he says. He often locks horns with Duncan – on one occasion even calling him a ‘sly little sh*t’ when he undercut one of his deals. His pet hates include dishonesty, exaggeration and waffle and he won’t hide his disdain if he comes across them during a pitch.
Peter founded a tennis academy when he was 17, then rebounded from a failed computer business to become one of the most successful businessmen in Britain. He set up Phones International Group in 1998. The firm saw explosive growth and turnover today is around the £150m mark.
Peter’s motto is, ‘Believe in yourself, never give up and go about your business with passion, drive and enthusiasm.’ It’s worked for him; his business interests now include, publishing, property, leisure and television and he is aiming to reach the £1bn turnover bracket in the future.
He’s also a judge on US show American Inventor, which he co-produced with Simon Cowell, and has written a book called Tycoon – How to be Really Rich (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99).
His successes from Dragons’ Den include the iTeddy, in collaboration with Theo, and Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce, as well as James Seddon’s Eggxactly, a water-free egg cooker, which famously didn’t work during James’ pitch, and Lawrence Webb and Frank Drewett’s labour saving device for wheelie bins called Lid Lifters.
She is the only female dragon and has a reputation as one of the toughest. She cuts straight to the chase and has been known to opt out before the pitcher has got half way through. She admits she can, at times, be a little too blunt but explains her harsh judgements by saying: ‘I can’t stand bullshit. I’m very direct, I don’t believe in wasting time, in wasting words. I don’t speak for the sake of speaking – I’m not saying the others do, I’m just saying the way I handle it. I sit quietly and think, do I want to do this or not? If I don’t want to do it I’m out. I form opinions quickly.’
Deborah says she’s not surprised to be labelled a baddy, as that’s how she comes across on the show. ‘Nobody is like the person I am on TV, surely, only Cruella de Vil! But I’ve got a job to do.’ Currently concentrating on investment opportunities she recently founded a market research company. She launched a glass and ceramics export business after leaving college, then set up a textile franchise, before becoming MD of her family’s holiday park business, Weststar Holidays. In August 2007, she sold her stake in Weststar when it was sold for £83m. She is now a full-time investor with a portfolio which ranges from fashion to software to waste management. Recent Dragons’ Den investments have been Carol Savage’s mydish.co.uk, an online recipe sharing website and Oliver and Toby Richmond’s car servicing company, Servicing Stop.
Dragons’ Den Online, launched in April 2009, allows entrepreneurs looking for £50,000 or less to pitch their ideas to two new dragons, property and computer millionaire, Shaf Rasul and Julie Meyer, who runs an investment advisory company. Visit www.bbc.co.uk/dragonsden