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34 GREEK CYPRIOT ENTREPRENEUR Exclusive Interview Theo Paphitis by Nikki Costa NC: “Theo, how did it all start?”. TP: “I was a tea–boy…no, actually I was ‘assistant tea-boy’ for an insurance company”. NC: “What made you decide to go into business?”. TP: “It’s something that’s either in you, or not”. Some people are more comfortable in a working environment where decisions are made for them and some people are more entrepreneurial, less structured and like to control their own destiny”. NC: “Theo, you’re clearly very driven, how did you get involved with Millwall FC?”. TP: “Well, it was when I first left the ‘sunny climes’ of North London and I met a young lady who lived in the Oval area. Millwall soon became my local football club and the administrator contacted me. This was over 11 years ago and I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to get involved with football. Football is a procurement–type business, however, the administrator contacted me again and told me that if I were still uninterested, the club would have to go into liquidation, so I agreed to bail him out. We had an absolute ball, excuse the pun!”. NC: “And a very good pun it was! You enjoyed lots of success with the club and Millwall reached Division One, didn’t they?”. TP: “Yes. We made the FA Cup final for the first time in history, we made Europe for the first time in history and we played at Wembley for the first time in history, so we achieved lots of ‘firsts’”. NC: “Theo, any other business interests you’re currently involved in?” TP: “I have the concentration span of a gnat! I sold ‘La Senza’ lingerie, in the summer of this year and I also recently agreed to sell ‘Contessa’, also lingerie. I’m still Chairman of ‘Rymans’ and I still have a half share of ‘Red Letter Days’ with my fellow ‘dragon’ Peter Jones”. NC: “Speaking of ‘dragons’, how did you first become involved in BBC Two’s ‘Dragon’s Den’?”. TP: “It was shortly after I stepped down as Chairman of Millwall FC. I wanted to get away from football completely. I received a phone call from the BBC asking if I wanted to do the programme. I told them I wasn’t sure– because I’m not very photogenic! They managed to persuade me – I’m a weak individual! It was also a chance for me to get involved in business again, which is really what I love doing and to bring some humour into it, as it was a bit serious to begin with”. NC: “So which projects from ‘Dragon’s Den’ have become successful as a result of your input– and humour?”. TP: “Yes, we mustn’t forget my humour! They are all ‘fledgling’ businesses at the moment but the broadband provider for boats and marinas has done well. The website–mixing ‘Dance’ music– which my kids think I’m mad to be involved in, called ‘Mix Album’ is going from strength to strength and early next year, we’ll be making some fantastic announcements”. NC: “That’s good to hear Theo. Has there ever been a moment or a point of realisation where you’ve thought, “Yes! I’ve actually made it?”. TP: “Personally, I don’t think you ever ‘make it’. That’s what drives you to do more. The only time you’ve ‘made it’ is when you retire or when you’re dead.” Naturally, TP says this with another reassuring chuckle. It’s hardly surprising that by the age of 15, the down–to–earth and amiable Theo Paphitis was running the school tuck shop. Not bad going for a six year old Greek Cypriot boy who came over from Cyprus with his parents in the 1960’s – with next to nothing. Interview with In an exclusive interview, the light–hearted Theo Paphitis laughed and joked as he told me how he has come to be a firm favourite on the panel of BBC Two’s ‘Dragons Den’ and what exactly spurs him on to continue his efforts to ‘make it’ in business, albeit earlier this year he made the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £135 million. engage | uk ISSUE THREE 2007