Theo Paphitis: ‘Shopkeeper’ & star of Dragons’ Den

Whether you know him from the BBC series Dragons’ Den, his Small Business Sunday Campaign or elsewhere, Theo Paphitis is one of the most well-known business figures in the UK.

The self-proclaimed ‘Shopkeeper’ has been hard at work since he left school at 16 with no qualifications. In this edition of Business Leader Insight, brought to you by Arbuthnot Latham, you will get to know Theo’s rise through business, what drives him and much more.

Brought to you by Arbuthnot Latham

Theo Paphitis has a business empire that spans retail, property and finance. He began his life in business as a filing clerk/tea boy for Lloyds Insurance. Realising that a dyslexic filing clerk was never going to make it big, he then took a job working for Watches of Switzerland where he discovered his love for retail.

Over the years, Theo has revived the fortunes of some well-known high street brands such as Ryman, La Senza and Robert Dyas. In addition, in the Spring of 2011, he launched what has now become the multi-award-winning, global lingerie brand Boux Avenue. He also acquired arts supplier London Graphic Centre in 2016, to complement his Ryman business. Theo sold Red Letter Days, which he co-owned with fellow Dragon Peter Jones, in 2017.

Theo is known for his many appearances on television, including being a regular on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, Theo’s Adventure Capitalists, Britain’s Next Big Thing, Back to the Floor and The One Show, and as a regular media commentator on current affairs news programmes such as Question Time. He returned to BBC’s Dragons’ Den as a dragon in 2019, for several episodes of Series 17.

In 2010, small business champion Theo launched (#SBS) Small Business Sunday from his kitchen table on Twitter to help small businesses. This now has over 3,000 #SBS winners in the network, a free annual event and an expansive business network. He is passionate about creating and supporting entrepreneurs and encouraging startups across the UK.

Here’s a breakdown of what we discussed in the interview:

  • I understand you struggled at school and may not have found the teachers you had very inspiring. What would you like to go and say to those you were at school with if you could? (0:48)
  • You started in business at 15 – can you tell us about why you wanted to do this? And if you wouldn’t have been a successful businessman what do you feel you would have been? (6:14)
  • Do you think those early experiences toughened you up for the world of business? (8:03)
  • Let’s talk about your time at Millwall FC. Why didn’t you continue with another club or in the game? (8:56)
  • Is running a football club very different to running a business and did you learn any lessons that transferred over to your business career? (10:49)
  • I’d like to now get your insight into what different ingredients and thinking is needed to grow a £1m business compared to a billion pound one. And why don’t more people think in these terms? (12:20)
  • In the UK, it tends to be common for business leaders to exit quickly which means we haven’t produced a Facebook, Tesla, Twitter, Amazon or BMW for example. Some may say that’s a good thing, but do you have any thoughts about why Americans mainly, are more inclined to think in terms of building empires? (13:32)
  • Moving onto your role on Dragons’ Den – have you ever invested in somebody you just liked – they may not have had all the number right but you just thought I like this person. Or does it always have to be against a formula? (14:32)
  • What should our viewers looking for investment be aware of in regards to best practice when pitching? (15:33)
  • Moving onto the economy, you know retail inside out. How do you see it changing and how will it come back stronger from the pandemic? (18:36)
  • Do you think other countries will try to leave the European Union now that the UK has? (22:57)
  • What keeps you up at night – what are you scared of and this could be external political factors, threats to the business world or something more personal? (26:26)
  • For those who aren’t aware of Small Business Sunday (#SBS), could you tell us what it is and how it started? (30:03)
  • What is one fact about you that we can’t find online? (32:35)
  • A final word from Theo (33:53)

Catch up now with all of the Business Leader Conversations and Business Leader Insight interviews and be sure to check our events page for upcoming interviews and events.

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