Destined to be a successful entrepreneur, Deborah Meaden launched her first business straight out of college, before setting up one of the first ‘Stefanel’ fashion franchises in the UK. With several businesses in the leisure and retail sector under her belt she became Managing Director of Westar Holidays, overseeing its expansion from one to five holiday parks and leading a management buyout.
Deborah retained a 23% share of Westar Holidays when it was sold to Phoenix Equity Partners in 2005, before its eventual sale for £83 million in August 2007.
Perhaps best known for her appearances on the BBC2 series ‘Dragons Den’, Deborah joined the panel of investors for series three and has since invested in more than thirty businesses, ranging from market research to online antiques valuations and life saving equipment for hospitals.
Passionate about the environment in which we live, Deborah has judged the Observer Ethical Awards since 2008 and has invested in a number of ‘sustainable’ businesses and also supports a carefully selected group of environmental charities.
Deborah is a Fellow of the WWF, the world’s leading environmental organisation and also a Patron for Tusk Trust, which since its formation in 1990 has raised over £25 million for a wide range of projects across Africa, with The Duke of Cambridge as its Royal Patron. Deborah is an Ambassador for Lend with Care, The Roundhouse, Medical Detection Dogs, Marine Conservation Society and a Fellow with the RSA.
Deborah has received honorary degrees from the University of Exeter Business School, Staffordshire University and Bath Spa University.
In 2012, Deborah launched Friends of the Earth’s Clean British Energy campaign which calls on the Government to develop clean British power from our wind, sun and water and in the same year, acted as a Sustainability Ambassador for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
Deborah acquired Fox Brothers in 2009, a historic textile firm based in the South West which was on the verge of closure and in 2011 ‘The Merchant Fox’ was launched, an online venture selling an exquisite collection of British-made goods with provenance.
In 2013, Deborah appeared in series 11 of Strictly Come Dancing, the popular BBC 1 show that pairs celebrities with professional dancers to compete in a ballroom dancing competition.
It’s an honour to interview Deborah on the blog.
Describe a typical day for you?
I don’t really have typical days as I actually don’t have a job, but there are ebbs and flows to my life so I will try to describe those. We film Dragons Den for 20 days of the year up in Manchester. Those are 12 hour days, arriving at the studio early enough for hair and make-up so we are on set by 10 am. Pitches can last anything up to 3 hours and then there are short breaks in between to enable the next pitch set up so we have the chance for a tea/coffee and of course lunch but other than that, it is pretty non-stop.
When I come out of the Den, life gets pretty busy as my existing investments haven’t had much of my time and my new investments obviously need it too. Much of that time is spent either in London where I really cram my days full of meetings including over lunch and into the evening over dinner. Having been in the dark of the Den for so long I really crave the fresh air of the South West where I have a country home so I would prefer to really cram my days in London and try and get home for a long weekend.
Somerset is where I breathe. We have a small holding with horses, pigs, sheep ( all pets!!) dogs, cats chickens etc. I am a pretty late riser but first thing every morning I am out in the garden barefoot, whatever the weather, wandering with the cats and dogs. My PA knows not to put calls or meetings in before 11 am to give me the chance to wake up slowly and, weather depending go for a ride with my sister, who lives about 20 minutes away and where I keep my riding horses. After riding, I will connect with my (fantastic) PA who will outline what I have on for the days ahead and ensure I keep to any promised deadlines!!
I tend to wander in and out of my home office but I do try to keep my work thoughts there. Home is my bit of England where I control my time and pace.
What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
I generally either don’t carry a bag or, if I do it is pretty small..to avoid falling into the trap of lugging a load of unnecessary stuff around with me ‘just in case..’. I always have my mobile phone, purse/wallet…(big enough to hold my phone) lip gloss, anti-histamines, small brush and handkerchief in there. I do love beautiful bags and in the days of paperwork, my bags were larger but shoulder straps make my shoulders ache so any bags I have now are either clutch or hand held.
I sometimes play the handbag challenge with friends carrying a big bag whereby we each have to pull out an item and explain why we carry it around with us…..it’s quite revealing and I have several friends who now use this as a way of checking themselves and the contents of their bags!
What are your ambitions in life?
I really like to achieve but I am not sure you would call me ambitious in a traditional kind of way. What I really want from myself is to know what is important to me, to achieve the things I set out to do, affect the things I want to change or improve and value those around me. I worry when I meet people who really don’t really care about something or want to change something in the world beyond their own lives…it’s the caring, passion and the wanting to change things that really connects me to others and makes me feel alive.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
I actually think my lack of knowledge and understanding of what I shouldn’t or couldn’t do added hugely to my chosen path in life. We are born believing we can do anything and then life teaches us what we can’t do…which is rather a shame. We learn from doing and getting things right and wrong and I wouldn’t change any of the mistakes I’ve made, except if they have hurt others of course.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I have absolutely no idea where I see myself in 5 years time. Having spent my life planning for the future and working within business plans, the absolute joy of having no idea what I will be doing is really exciting. I have learned in life that the best things that happen are often completely random and unprepared for. For me, the most important thing is to keep my eyes open and scan the horizon for the thing which really grabs me, and then go for it. Having the space to be able to do that is quite a luxury.
What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur?
Be passionate but not blind, ask good questions of the right people, keep scanning the horizons and remember every single business has ups and down. What matters is knowing when to push on through and when to change course, but most of all…love what you do…if you don’t then no one else will.
Finally, happiness is…
…a warm fire in winter and a shady tree in summer but always with a cat on your lap.