Cyprus Mail

Success born of pointing out the obvious

theo paphitis (1)

In a chaotic time to launch something new, PAUL LAMBIS speaks to one of the UK’s leading businessmen who would encourage all to find your passion

Cypriot-born Theo Paphitis is one of the UK’s most prominent businessmen. Paphitis discovered his ability to point out the obvious and apply common sense at a young age, and in no time, he was assisting troubled businesses, which soon turned into a full-time profession. “I was lucky to find my passion, retail, early in my career and I haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Paphitis became well-known to British audiences as the straight-talking but approachable and sincere ‘dragon’ over the course of the popular TV series Dragons’ Den, where he served on the panel as one of the most prolific investors from 2005 until 2012.

Paphitis was born in Limassol in 1959 and moved to Gorton, Manchester with his family when he was six years old. “My father used to work as an electrician at the British army base in Cyprus, and once the British occupation of Cyprus ended, there wasn’t much work for him, so my family decided to make a fresh start in England,” he said.

Paphitis, his parents and brother were the first of their immediate family to emigrate, while his close relatives who remained in Cyprus enabled them to maintain close ties with the island. “We also had our grandmothers come to the UK to look after my brother and I during the summer holidays when our parents were working.

“Even though I am a clear anglophile, the Cypriot in me was never, and never will be, diluted,” he added.

rymanLeaving school at 16 with no qualifications except for a Scottish certificate for colouring in maps, he was employed as a sales assistant, and his love affair with retail began. “I still remember that penny-drop moment on my first day. I liked people coming in, and I enjoyed serving them and talking to them and hearing their stories”.

Paphitis, like most self-made business magnates, admits to having several bumps and setbacks along the way but by the age of 23, he launched his own business centred around property and corporate finance.

But it was in 2005 that Paphitis became a household name as a stalwart on TV’s entrepreneurial show.

Dragons’ Den was a unique experience and showed you the good, bad and ugly of business pitches, ambition and reality,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “I admire any entrepreneur who has the guts to enter the den and pitch to the dragons, which takes courage.”

The most memorable pitches for him are those in which he invested, such as Tiny Box and Magic Whiteboard, “but there are, of course, a few less-investable ones that stick in my mind but for all the wrong reasons,” he added.

He was approached to join the show pulling Milwall FC out of administration and into the Championship, then to the FA Cup final for the first time in their history, “a feat that had never, and still hasn’t, been accomplished before.”

Although he still works with companies to turn them around, Paphitis believes starting a firm nowadays is difficult, having evolved over the last century. “At the moment, the waters are choppy, and macro instability, combined with rampant inflation and political turmoil, has made it a hugely challenging and a chaotic time to launch something new. Having said that, I’m a firm believer that where there is chaos, there is opportunity – and it’s up to us to find it.

“Right now, I’d advise any aspiring entrepreneur to be agile and not be afraid to adapt. The business landscape is evolving at breakneck speed, and the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has only accelerated the process. That is why, now more than ever, agility and the ability to adapt your plan to changing conditions are critical.”

dragons' den
Dragons’ Den

Throughout his stellar career, Paphitis has always been passionate about giving back and supporting people in need, founding the Theo Paphitis Charitable Trust in 2005. “Dyslexia is also a subject particularly close to my heart, and that’s why I recently became a Dyslexia Empowerment Patron for the British Dyslexia Association and also launched the Theo Paphitis Dyslexia Bursary, offering free training to teachers and teaching assistants from state schools around the UK, in partnership with the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity,” he added.

“Ultimately, the message I hope to convey through my philanthropic initiatives and charitable work is that together we can really make a difference and move mountains just by everyone doing their little bit.”

When it comes to Cyprus, Paphitis believes the island has unique characteristics that make it ideal as an EU business hub connecting to the rest of the world. “With English being its second language, its strategic geographical location, and its ever-growing entrepreneurial community and network, its potential is far more than just as a financial centre, but also one of enterprise.”

And behind this and his success, he believes is passion. “We’re all on this incredible journey that we call life for just a nanosecond in the grand scheme of things, and that’s why it’s absolutely vital to find your passion and never let it go because that is the thing that’s going to get you bouncing out of bed in the morning.”

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