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Duncan Bannatyne: Investing Up

On British TV, Bannatyne is the cool, aloof Dragon, who says what he thinks, without concern for feelings, flattery or getting a laugh. He never looks like he feels he has to prove himself. Maybe that’s because he has form!

Duncan Bannatyne

Short Biography

Duncan Bannatyne was born in 1945 and grew up on Clydebank in Scotland. His was not a privileged start and so, not having a bicycle, he set out to earn the money he needed by doing a paper round. When there was no round, he accepted the challenge to build one, by knocking on doors and securing 100 new orders. He got the paper-round and bought the bike.

Characteristically, he later observed that the more entrepreneurial approach would have been to sell the list and invest the capital.

Having left school without qualifications, he joined the Royal Navy in 1964, but was dishonourably discharged in 1969. After a series of jobs in Clydebank and a brief move to Jersey in 1974 (where he met his first wife), he moved to Stockton on Tees, where he bought an ice cream van for £450. He later sold his ice cream business for £28,000 and invested in a care homes business, Quality Care Homes, and then in a nursery business, Just Learning. He sold these in 1996 for £26 million and £22 million respectively.

He took that money and invested it in his current primary business, Bannatyne Health Clubs, which is currently the largest such chain in the UK. He gained fame in 2005, when he joined the first cast of BBC Television’s business show, Dragon’s Den, where he remained (as the last but one of the original Dragons) until 2015.

Along the way, he has written seven books, which are much praised for their pragmatic advice.

Business Lessons from Duncan Bannatyne

Here are the lessons I like best from Bannatyne’s various books.

  1. Keep it Simple
    Too many businesses grow and become complex. I think Bannatyne is right to advocate a balance between necessary structure and simplicity.
  2. Invest Up
    Bannatyne’s success has grown by taking a weak businesses, growing it to success, and then cashing in by selling it and using the capital to invest in a new business. This limits the need for debt to start a business, but also avoids the limitations of stagnation from a business that has reached the end of its growth period.
  3. Get Good Advice
    Bannatyne’s books dispense plenty of this, and he is a true believer in the need to seek out specialist help, to avoid making avoidable mistakes.
  4. Take Responsibility, but Delegate too
    Another apparent paradox is his advocacy for taking personal responsibility in your business, but also training and developing people so you can delegate to them. This frees you up to do the true leadership and visionary work. But at the end of the day, if you delegate badly, the fault is yours, so take responsibility.
  5. Get out from behind your desk
    No one can lead or manage a business sat behind a desk. Get out and meet your people, your customers, and your suppliers. You business is dependent on all three, and not on you doing the paperwork.
  6. Make your own chances
    As true entrepreneur, Bannatyne believe we make our own chances, or we do not progress. There is a lot of luck in business success, but with hindsight, those who, like Bannatyne, succeed, are the ones who take the luck they get and convert it into success through hard work, careful observation, learning as they go, and ultimately, applying the acumen they develop.
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