Peter Jones Interview by Ben Farrin
Firstly, can you try to explain how and when you realised that you were destined to be a successful entrepreneur? Was this apparent from a very early age? Not sure I can say that I was destined to be successful but I was driven to have a better life and dreamt many times of having a big house, nice cars and knew in order to get those things I had to be an entrepreneur – I loved business, and I used to play at being a businessman, swinging around in my Dad’s office chair and dictating letters to an imaginary secretary. I started by helping a local tennis coach with his business, and then I started my own tennis coaching academy as soon as I was old enough to pass the LTA exams at 16.
You’re obviously a very focused and determined person. Considering the financial security you now possess, what motivates you to get up every morning and drive your business forward? It’s as simple as I love what I do. I am passionate about all of my companies and helping the people behind them become successful. Recently I have launched the UK’s first National Enterprise Academy. We just had the first wave of applications to the Pathfinder – and it was fantastic to meet all of the students, and see how excited they are to learn about business in a practical way.
In your late twenties you lost your computer company and you were forced to give up your home and possessions. How did this affect you and did it represent a new outlook when approaching business since? I think it made me much more careful about dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s – I’m a stickler for detail, and a real perfectionist, because I have learnt from past experience how easily something can go wrong. I was obviously very upset but it was my own fault. I was still determined to start another business, but had no money or even a car so I applied for jobs with loads of big companies and managed to get an offer from a big corporate. After 12 months I was running the business in the UK and I gained so much experience and earned very good money that within two years I had enough money to start my own business again. I do have a very positive outlook in general and I think it must have something to do with the fact that when you lose everything there’s only one way to go and that’s upwards and onwards!
Within 36 months of going under you were turning over £44 million per year through Phones International Group. The company was described as one of the fastest growing businesses in Europe. Was it that the idea was unique, that your approach was different or that you hit the market at the right time maybe? I think the business was so successful so quickly because we focused on a niche in the market and became experts in what I call ‘single brand distribution’. My team and I worked 18 hour days to get the business off the ground; we constantly reviewed our strategy, looked at what our competitors were doing and created a very detailed annual operating plan. Putting in this level of work ensured we were prepared for any eventuality. I was 100% determined to make it work and my whole focus was making sure it did.
How does your drive differ between now and in your twenties? Have your priorities remained constant? I’m still as driven as ever! Although now I work in a broader range of businesses and because my companies are now more established, I have the freedom to get involved in other sectors – such as my charity which I mentioned before, the Peter Jones Foundation. I am also starting my own private equity business and companies like Red Letter Days and all my Dragons Den investments sit within that company. On Dragons Den alone I have invested in nearly 10 businesses including some of the shows greatest successes like Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce, Imran Hakim’s iTeddy and Huw Gwythers Wonderland magazine.
Would you agree that entrepreneurism is becoming fashionable these days? Definitely. Shows such as Dragons’ Den and American Inventor have really propelled entrepreneurship into the limelight. Starting their own business is the number one ambition amongst 18 – 30 year olds in the UK. However, there’s still a big gap between those who want to do it, and those who actually launch their own businesses. One of the big drivers for starting the National Enterprise Academy was to close this gap and teach young people how to reduce the risks associated with starting their own business.
How would you sum up what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur? I have what I call my 10 golden rules; these are the most important qualities that I think all entrepreneurs possess. These include: Vision, Determination, Persevere, Taking Action, Aiming for Results as well as trusting your gut instinct.
Do you ever instantly make up your mind if someone is investable or not despite the nature of their business? If so what do you look out for? One of my 10 Golden Rules is Use Your Intuition which I think is really important for entrepreneurs. I do occasionally get a good feeling about someone, and I really want to invest in them, as much as I do their business. A good example of this is Levi Roots. As soon as he walked up the stairs into the Den, I really liked him and could instantly see his appeal. It was lucky that I liked his product just as much! He is now the face of Caribbean food in the UK – testament to the synergy between his personal beliefs and his business.
What is your relationship like with the other Dragons off air; ultimately you are competitors? When we’re in the Den we are competitors – there’s bound to be some arguments when you put such strong egos in a room together! Ultimately we all get on really well and some of my favourite times are when the cameras stop rolling in the Den and we have a laugh together. Theo and I are particularly close; we have made several joint investments and co-own Red Letter Days. Our different approaches are really beneficial for the businesses we work with. Duncan and I haven’t always seen eye to eye but last series we got on very well but who knows what will happen when we start filming series seven later this year!
Do you feel at this point after such a degree of success in the business arena, that working 17 hours a day, 5/6 days a week is still required or do you spend more time pursuing other things? As I said earlier, now my businesses are more established, I have great teams in place who I can rely on to take care of the day to day issues which arise in the company and I can focus on other projects – such as the Peter Jones Foundation. I still have the odd 17 hour day but it is rare now.
A lot of young adults out there do not always have the same opportunities as others. The Peter Jones Foundation is there to help this cause. Can you tell us more about it please? I started the Peter Jones Foundation to help young people in the UK in two ways: one comes under the umbrella of Forgotten Children which provides support for those who fall through the network of support in place in the UK for example we help with sustenance for terminally ill children and with respite for children from troubled homes. The other area is through education with the National Enterprise Academy which aims to equip young people with the skills they need to be more enterprising and even start and grow their own businesses.
The National Enterprise Academy has been launched ready to take it’s first students on for September 2009. Can you tell our readers how they go about joining NEA and what is involved? At the National Enterprise Academy, we’re looking for young people who want to be enterprising in some way. Those who demonstrate a real ‘I can’ attitude are the ones that catch our eye. The world of business can be tough and as such, the selection process is rigorous. We’ve recently conducted assessment days for the 6 month Pathfinder course that started in January this year. Each day was intensive, with practical challenges being set for each candidate. We not only looked at the creative ideas that people came up with, but the way in which they approached each task. The process for the full course in 2009 will be similar. Those interested in joining the NEA in September should visit www.peterjonesfoundation.org for more information.
Many school curriculums do not necessarily give students the skills required to be a success in the business world once they have left education. How does the NEA combat this? The NEA will prepare students to become enterprising individuals in the hope that they might either set up their own business or work for another organisation that sees the real value in employing entrepreneurial people. Essentially, I hope to bring the boardroom into the classroom. It’s a unique concept that I’ve been working hard to develop for a number of years. Students will learn through a combination of experience and skill development, and crucially they’ll be taught by real entrepreneurs like me and even some of my fellow Dragons’. From speaking to young people, I know there is a real hunger to succeed in business and that’s where the NEA will come in. Its mission will be to equip young people with the skills to see their ideas through to commercial success.
Would you like to see more business development classes taught in schools? Definitely – it’s great to see some UK schools already actively promoting entrepreneurialism but more need to get involved. In the UK, we need to do more to equip young people with the confidence and skills to develop new ideas and see them through to commercial success and I hope that in the future, elements of the NEA course will be introduced into other educational establishments. It’s important that we excite young people about the business world and by encouraging them to develop and progress new business opportunities in this way, we can begin to foster the next generation of entrepreneurially minded young people.
How did you perform at school? I focused more on running my tennis academy at school than on the academic side of things! I did enjoy economics though.
What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school? Probably running away to my father’s office when I was at primary school…that was where I could play my favourite game, running an imaginary business empire.
What do you on a typical weekend if you are not working? Weekends are dedicated to my family. My children are so important to me and we like to spend the weekends doing typical family things, playing games, having long lunches and going for walks.
I read in your book that when you reached your profit target that you were going to take 20 of your closest friends and family to Richard Branson’s Island………How did it go? It was actually my 40th birthday present – I took my friends and family to Necker Island. It was probably the most extravagant, and the best thing that I’ve ever done! We had such a great time. I hired the whole Island exclusively and even Sir Richard himself had to stay on his yacht on another island!
What music do you listen to? I love Jamiroquai – and Jay Kay is also a great friend of mine. We share a passion for cars, and as he lives near me we often meet up to drive together. I met Dizzee Rascal recently and we got on like a house on fire so I think his music’s great now too!
One of your investments was in a Cambridge based band called Hamfatter? How are the boys getting on? Hamfatter are doing really well – Dragons’ Den launched them nationally and now they are on the verge of signing a major record deal. They have also just released a new album.
The businesses you invest in vary a great deal. Do you feel it is important to have a varied portfolio or concentrate on what you know best? I think that business skills are transferable so although I like to invest in sectors that I know well, I have also made successful investments in unfamiliar areas. That’s why I enjoy Dragons’ Den so much; the variety of pitches that we see is huge. You can’t possibly know everything about all of the different industries, but you can apply what you do know and see how your skills match that of the entrepreneur who is pitching.
What is your most expensive luxury item, (apart from your home) and how much did it cost? My cars. I’ve got a Ferrari Marinello which I love, a Maybach and a Bentley. I love driving, as you may have seen from my appearance on Top Gear! Not going to talk about money because it’s not right. Let’s just say they’re bloody expensive toys!
We all know you have a desire for brightly coloured socks! Do you have a lucky pair and are you superstitious at all? I don’t have a lucky pair of socks, but I will always wear stripy ones! I am launching my own range on 16th Feb at the NEC in Birmingham because so many people have commented on them and asked me to bring out my own range so I am doing it. I am “taking action”. Check out my web-site www.peterjones.tv for details of where you can buy them
You have obviously achieved many of the goals you set out to achieve. Where do you see yourself concentrating your efforts over the next few years? I look forward to growing the National Enterprise Academy from its first conception in the South East, to an international organisation of excellence in enterprise.
Please sum up Peter Jones in 3 words. Caring, energetic and passionate.
Thank you for your time Peter. If you could leave one lasting message to our student readers what would it be? Make your dreams become reality!