Caan's Secret for Success: Observe the Masses and Do the Opposite. GROWTH CAPITAL HOW LONDON'S ENTREPRENEURS ARE BUCKING THE ECONOMIC GLOOM

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 12, 2012 | Go to article overview

Caan's Secret for Success: Observe the Masses and Do the Opposite. GROWTH CAPITAL HOW LONDON'S ENTREPRENEURS ARE BUCKING THE ECONOMIC GLOOM


Byline: Lucy Tobin

THE smart Mayfair headquarters of James Caan's privateequity business is designed to impress. Outside, the personalised number plate on a black Ferrari shows the ex-Dragons' Den investor is enjoying the trophies of success. Inside, a silver name plate on Caan's office door leads to a room carpeted in a deep-pile purple; a large desk is dwarfed only by an imposing boardroom table, there are orchids, pot plants and statues of bears. Yet in this Mayfair office, he is not the only James Caan.

"Is it James Caan with a C or a K?" I'm asked by the secretary. Turns out that James Caan-with-a-C has hired Khanwith-a-K as a property consultant at Hamilton Bradshaw. But as soon as I arrive upstairs in Caan's lair, it's clear who is in charge, and that the entrepreneur who quit Dragons' Den is still bubbling with enthusiasm at the opportunities available to start-ups.

"Now," says Caan, "is the time to take advantage, people complain there's no money out there, it's tough, the markets are challenging -- but that's the time to strike. Observe the masses and do the opposite, that's my motto. Everyone else is complaining about conditions and looking the other way, but you get in there."

He is speaking from experience. After Caan -- then still known as Nazim Khan -- moved from Pakistan to the UK with his family, he spent his teenage years selling some of the leather jackets made by his father's business direct to his friends in his free time while still at school -- "for a good profit", he writes in his autobiography. Afterwards, a spell working at a small recruitment agency in Holborn inspired the entrepreneur to set up his own agency, Alexander Mann, from a windowless former broom cupboard in Pall Mall because it was the only way he could afford an impressive address. By 24, Caan, who changed his name by deed poll after seeing an actor of the same name listed at the end of The Godfather, had his own Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit. He went on to sell Alexander Mann to a private-equity firm in a [pounds sterling]93 million buyout.

With so much success so young, little wonder Caan was asked by the Government to head StartUp Loans, paying out [pounds sterling]2500 student-style loans plus training for young entrepreneurs, in an effort to tackle youth unemployment.

"To be given the opportunity to work with Government and give young people the opportunity to start a business is an honour. It's not just about the money, it's also experience, you get mentors alongside the capital. It will create thousands of businesses and jobs. It's not a handout, but a business loan, and it will reward the taxpayer too," Caan says.

He picks Prince Charles' Prince's Trust as an inspiration. "It recovers nearly 60% of its loans, there's no reason why we shouldn't see the same, or better," he says. "I passionately recommend mentorships -- because in business, if anything can go wrong, it does. …

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