Enter the Dragon

Published: 15 Jun 2015

Theo Paphitis’s career is not one that can be described by just one word – for since he was 15, he has held quite a number of jobs and positions.

The former Dragon’s Den star first experience of business was running his North London school’s tuck shop as a teenager. His first job was as an assistant with a Lloyds of London broker before moving into retail aged 18.

Property and corporate finance were next on his list before he set up his own company at just 23. He has also been the chairman of Millwall FC for eight years, has revived the fortunes of several retail brands such as La Senza and created new businesses.

Theo Paphitis

Most of us will also know him as one of the Dragons on the highly popular BBC series, Dragon’s Den where he advised many entrepreneurs and invested in several innovative businesses and brands.

His latest venture has him back in retail and back to lingerie. Boux Avenue, was launched in 2011 with a store in Glasgow and now has 26 shops – including one in Aberdeen’s Union Square which opened yesterday.Friday

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ABERDEEN AS THE LOCATION FOR THE NEW STORE?

“Aberdeen would have been one of the first stores to open but it’s not very easy to get a store in Aberdeen. We launched in the middle of a recession and clever boy here thought no problem, we’ll get the stores in any location we want. Guess what? The biggest constraint for opening stores has been locations because we want to be in the best locations. It took us four years to get a location in Union Square – even though there was a recession.

“When we did a list of where we wanted our business Aberdeen was always there at the top for many reasons; demographic, spending power, the profile of it, and it’s international profile. People might not realise how big an international profile Aberdeen has. If you ask people around the world name a Scottish city you might not think Aberdeen is one people mention but they do because it has a great international profile.”

DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO OWN YOUR OWN BUSINESS?

I was severely dyslexic when I was a kid so I was no good at school, I was never very good at the academic stuff. I ended up with a Scottish certificate in colouring in maps – that’s geography by the way – the reason it was Scottish our teacher was Scottish and the board that issued the certificate was Scottish. So that was it. Everything else I failed miserably I’m afraid. Not because silly or stupid, although I was labelled that at the time, it was because I was dyslexic.

You find with a lot of dyslexic people I have to row my own canoe, you have to create for yourself and you are very logical, we think outside the box because we’ve got to find solutions to all the problems we encounter during the day to day. And I found I was quite good at solving problems. I was quite self driven, organised, good planner, I worked harder because I had to work harder just to be as good as those that didn’t work at all. And from that I found business was the right thing for me because I could solve problems. And I could work things through and I could plan and I was passionate about what I did.

WHAT WOULD YOUR ADVICE BE TO YOUNG PEOPLE WHO MIGHT JUST BE STARTING TO BE THINKING ABOUT CAREERS?

It’s very rare when I come across young people who know exactly what they want to do, I always quite surprised when I do. There are exceptions to the rule. Most questions I get is “Mr Paphitis, I don’t know what to do”. And my answer is always well you aren’t going to know for a while so try now as many things as you can and find one that you are passionate about it. The likelihood is if you are passionate about it, you are going to put more work into it, more effort into it and be better than the next person who isn’t passionate about it. And when you do find your passion, you are a long time dead, you spend a lot of time working so don’t spend time working on things you don’t enjoy and follow that passion. That’s the best advice I can give you. You work more than anything else so don’t do something that you don’t enjoy.

YOU SEEM TO HAVE A LOT GOING ON WITH WORK, THE CHARITY WORK AND EDUCATION WORK THAT YOU DO. DO YOU HAVE A GOOD WORK / LIFE BALANCE?

I don’t have one. I drag my poor family along with me to what I do. There is no compromise. I love what I do and I am passionate about what I do and I am very fortunate that my family join in with me. Mrs P is even up here with me today which is marvellous. That’s the only way I can balance it, they join in with what I do otherwise they would never see me.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN BUSINESS?

There’s not just one lesson. There is no such thing as one lesson. There is never a silver bullet to anything. Nobody becomes a millionaire unless they win the lottery or someone dies and leaves them the money. You become a thousandnaire, a two thousandnaire, 100-thousandnaire and so forth. There’s never one thing that gets you to the top of the mountain. It’s a gradual climb. So for me it’s very much preparation, doing your homework, knowing more about your business than the next guy or girl and making sure you’ve got enough cash flow. A lack of profit  – this business is only just going into profit now after four years – is not a problem if you plan for it. It kills you off eventually.

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY IN YOUR CAREER?

I’m a forward thinking individual. So when I screw up, which I do, regularly – anyone who says they don’t make mistakes is either someone who doesn’t make any decisions or is lying. I make loads of decisions every day and I get some wrong for a variety of reasons. I work more on not what I would do differently but on what do I do now and what does the future hold? You can make a bad decision and still make it into a good outcome as long as you recognise things quickly and you are not too proud to say you know what? That wasn’t a good call.

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