This month, Amanda interviewed Duncan Bannatyne, the richest of the 5 current Dragons on BBC’s Dragons' Den.
I was interested in how the former naval man went from being an ice cream man to ranking 167th on the Sunday Times Rich List 2009 – a rise of 100 places in a year, and with an increase in his fortune of £10million, from 2008, taking it to an estimated £320million. Duncan, 60, is divorced, and has 6 children – 4 by Gail, his first wife, and 2 by his second, Joanne.
Getting straight to the point, I asked him how an ice cream man got from there, to where he is today.
I spotted a gap. There was about to be a change in the law, all about care for the elderly. Having looked at the figures I realised it was a venture that would make money.
How does an ice cream man spot that sort of opportunity? How were you aware of the change in the law?
The ice cream business was cash rich and, as the fleet got bigger, I started investing the money in property – I was buying terraced houses and renting them out. People knew me, knew I was always looking for property, and a friend told me about the change in law. When I looked into it further I realised that it was a very viable business.
I started to look for a property to purchase, but soon realised that it was easier to purpose-build. I found the plot, built the first nursing home, and it grew from there. The business grew but, about 5 years in, I realised there were several million pounds of debt in my name, so I floated it, retaining 49%.
You also went into nurseries – was that something you saw as a natural progression?
No, that business arose out of need. My wife and I both worked, and we needed childcare for 2 of our children. We simply could not find a nursery placement for them locally, so I realised there was obviously a shortage. I approached the board of the company running the nursing homes, but they were not interested, so I set it up alone.
I found an old garage, and built the first of them on there. That was also a business that grew, and was soon a chain, but I made a mistake with the land that I had purchased for the nurseries – I bought too much. I was at the gym one day at the time, and worked out roughly how much money a gym makes – that led to my current business, the Bannatyne Health Club chain, which is still growing.
You are known for suggesting that it is easy to be an entrepreneur.
Business is easy. All you have to do is spot the opportunity, and make it happen. I am quite thick, but I can recognise an opportunity and follow it.
Aside from your own businesses you have invested in several in the Den. Any particular favourites?
My last Den investment was MagnaMole – that is a fantastic product, and Sharon Wright is a fantastic woman. She was a single parent who only needed our help to get the product to a wider audience. Again, her idea was simple – she saw an opportunity and made it happen.
Given your wealth do you ever think about giving it up and retiring?
No. I have far too much fun. I don’t ever get fed up of it.
Outside of the world of business what do you do to relax? Who is Duncan Bannatyne, the man?
I am just a family guy. My favourite days are those spent with my wife and kids – the youngest of whom is 8. We just do normal everyday family things.
Are you prepared to talk about your divorce?
There is nothing to talk about. It happened; it was a long time ago. But I will say that there is life after divorce and that often you are a better person when you are through the other side. Certainly that is true for me, and for all of my friends I have watched go through it. You really do just need to get through it, like anything else that is not pleasant, and don’t look to apportion blame, that isn’t worth it, it is just life.
I’m sure you can understand that for our readers, the other side of a divorce can appear daunting, especially those coming out of long marriages.
Yes, absolutely. We were lucky, money was obviously not an issue in our case, and I understand that it can be hard, especially if you have been a wife and mother for a long time and suddenly that is gone. However, I would say those women should have great confidence – they have 20 years or so experience doing the hardest of jobs, and have lots of skills.
As an employer, if you were approached for a job by a women who had been out of the workforce for say 20 years, would you be interested?
Yes, completely. They have a great many skills to bring to the workplace. I am a great believer in people working their way up – it doesn’t matter where you start, opportunities are there if you are prepared to work at them and grow. We have people who start working for us as cleaners for example, but who take the right courses and who move up our ladder. Anyone can do it, you just need to have the confidence in yourself.
And on that note Duncan had to get to his next appointment – appointments which it seems, are never ending in the somewhat hectic life of this Dragon.
Wikizine would like to thank Duncan Bannatyne for taking time to talk to us.