Theo Paphitis: Business adventurer

Updated Saturday 1st May 2010

Theo Paphitis tells Sesame magazine about his new role - and suggests we're living through a revolution.

Theo Paphitis sat by a globe Copyrighted image Icon Copyrighted image Copyright: Tiger Aspect

Theo Paphitis is one of Britain’s highest profile businessmen, the head of a string of successful companies, including Ryman, and a star of the hugely popular TV business show Dragons’ Den.

The hard-working, straight-talking 50-year-old will soon be seen in a new BBC/OU co-production Theo’s Adventure Capitalists, as he scrutinises a number of British entrepreneurs as they try to make it big abroad...


What would you consider to be the basic dos and don'ts of establishing a joint venture abroad?

We’re sort of transgressing onto areas of the show, so I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s no question that local knowledge should not be underestimated. And sometimes local knowledge does come with local partners.

Some of the emerging markets have a different culture in the way they do business. So, it does look like a big benefit, but you’ll have to watch the show to see if it really is a benefit.

Can lessons learned from doing business in one country, such as Vietnam, be useful in exploring opportunities in another, such as China?

The answer is no. I think any lessons you learn from doing business abroad are lessons you learn doing business abroad. All you can say about Vietnam and China is that they are abroad.

I don’t think you can look at the cultures and pigeonhole them. Vietnam’s a nation of almost 90 million people – that’s a lot for us, but in China terms it’s squiddly squat.

They are very much a different type of culture. Each country is shown quite clearly that they have their idiosyncrasies and characters. You can’t lump them together.

What you can do is say I’m working abroad and when I’m working abroad I’m going to experience a different culture: a different business culture, different social culture, religious culture – and how much of that am I going to take into account in the way I am doing business in that country. Or am I just going to do business the way I always have, my way, the English way, and lump it?

Is Britain now a nation of entrepreneurs?

We are, truly. Because you know why? Napoleon said Britain is a nation of shopkeepers and a shopkeeper is an entrepreneur – he or she is a small business person. That’s exactly what we are.

We just need to be really hot at it. And we need to get the odds stacked in our favour.

And how do we get the odds stacked in our favour?

By education. Quick education. It’s not a very complex issue. We need to make sure before people start businesses that they understand. If a business can get through its first year, it’s likely to get through a lot more.

So we haven’t got a big job to do if you think about it. We got to make sure they think it through, have the right finance available, work with the right institutions, work with government, and work with the educational institutions.

Going back to Theo’s Adventure Capitalists, when you see it you will see that what I’m saying is absolutely right – you can’t survive on passion alone. Passion is important in business.

I keep telling people that without passion you are not likely to be very good, but passion will only carry you so far.

You’ve said that the internet has unshackled the business world; is one of the downsides that it's resulting in the death knell of the High Street?

This is a subject we could go on about all day but summarising, the internet is fantastic, it’s allowed businesses that in the past had the excuse not being able to do their research, didn’t know markets existed – it’s opened it all up to them.

You have no excuse to not start a business and for it to fail because you haven’t done your homework. Now everyone has the knowledge, it’s phenomenal. What it will have is an effect on every part of your life. It’s going to change the way we do business.

We have to adapt, with technology and the changing characteristics of the consumer. This is the industrial revolution Mark 2.

For more on Theo Paphitis and Theo's Adventure Capitalists, see the Winter issue of Sesame magazine.

Theo's tips from the top

Theo Paphitis shares some of the lessons his adventure capitalists learned during their attempts to do business overseas - and one or two they didn't.


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