The Dragons’ Den judge’s armour-plated CV
Worship the internet
It’s the best place for budding entrepreneurs to look for advice. There are so many sites that’ll give you great ideas about the way to go, and it should be the first place to start.
Execution is king
I’m a big believer that business is not about the idea but the quality of execution. In some ways, ideas are ten-a-penny – it’s the skill of execution that guarantees success. One of the investments I made on Dragons’ Den was the dog treadmill, and a lot of people said it was a crazy idea. I bought into the passion of the individual who believed in the idea, but lacked the skill of execution. Orders increased from 20 to 300 in six months.
Know your strengths
I would never describe myself as an ideas man, for example. My strength is my ability to deliver an idea, but I’m not the pioneer. A key facet in any business is to know what you’re good at and where you need help.
Everything sells at a price
If you get your pricing wrong it just won’t sell. If someone said to me that they had an amazing idea to launch a magazine and it really was fantastic, but the price point was £10 a copy, it would never work. It sometimes amazes me that entrepreneurs set a price where it will clearly never sell.
Placate difficult staff members
Disruptive staff can be a problem, as bad news always travels quicker than good news. But don’t just get rid of them, find out why they feel demotivated. People are not products; they have emotions and views and once you understand what’s upset them you can generally fix it.
Know when to quit
One of the things I constantly see is something not working, but the inventor has read that you should never give up. People are blinded by determination and it’s often a false hope. About 18 months ago I invested in the Benjys sandwich chain, but within six months I realised I couldn’t turn it around. We’d lost a great deal of money, but I got out quickly. If I’d continued with it I could have lost a fortune.
Take time off
It’s critical, because to be effective you have to be fresh. I did a gap year when I was 40 – I took a year off and chilled and bought a yacht and learned to fly. Now, every month I take two or three days out to reflect and recharge my batteries.
Sharpen your image
If you’re the boss you have to lead, and you have to be inspirational and motivational. And if you have a poor image or you’re a poor communicator then how can you be a good leader?
Look at Stuart Rose [Executive Chairman, M&S] or Richard Branson, both exude approachability, whereas many bosses put themselves in an ivory tower. For the last 15 years, I’ve never had my own office. I sit in the open-plan office with everyone else, and you can’t be more approachable than when there are no divides. I wish I had a nicer chair, though.
Hire the passionate, weed out the dull
I’m looking for conviction; people with drive and a belief in their own ability. Someone who can make a difference and someone who is adaptable to change. What you don’t want are people who are uninspiring, lack creativity and are just looking for a job.
James Caan uses T-Mobile’s ‘Mobile Broadband USB Modem’ (t-mobile.co.uk/business)
Lahore, Pakistan, December 1960
Christ Church Primary School, London
Forest Gate High School, London.
Founded executive headhunting firm Alexander Mann.
Co-founded executive headhunting firm Humana International. “We grew the business to over 147 offices in 30 countries.”
Sold Humana International. Also sold a minority stake in Alexander Mann Group for £25m.
Shortlisted for Price Waterhouse Coopers’ Entrepreneur of the Year.
Awarded BT Enterprise of the Year award for outstanding success in business.
Sold Alexander Mann. “At the time, it had a turnover of £130m and operations in Australia, Europe and Asia.
Named Price Waterhouse Coopers Entrepreneur of the Year. Also won Entrepreneur category at the Asian Jewel Awards. Meanwhile, graduated from the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard Business School. “I left school with no qualifications – I was 40 when I went back and did this.”
Established private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw.
Named one of the 100 most influential Asian people in the UK by Asian Power 100.
Acquired failing sandwich chain Benjys from administrators. Handed the company back to administrators in February ’07.
Sold final economic interest in Alexander Mann Group for £93m. Joined the panel of Dragons’ Den judges.
Wrote autobiography, The Real Deal, which has just come out. “I made a conscious effort to take time out and write this, spending time on my boat and reflecting on my life.”