Our fascination with business as a new entertainment medium shows no signs of waning. The level of discussion prompted by shows such as Dragons’ Den and now American Inventor is comparable to that generated by X-Factor and Big Brother style ‘reality’ TV shows and soap operas. Entrepreneurs are now celebrities, and that’s not surprising: successful business people usually have an absorbing story to tell, and rags-to-riches has long been a favourite theme in literature and film.
Theo Paphitis is one of the best known of this new class of celebrity. Apart from his appearances on BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den, he is probably known mostly for his association with a range of familiar store chains, many of which he transformed from impending failures to robust companies with good prospects.
Every article one reads about Theo Paphitis mentions that his career began with a position as tea boy at Lloyds of London (well, who are we to break with that tradition?). Although he wasn’t dressed literally in rags, one must admit that the other cliché, that of starting at the bottom, certainly applied. From that modest starting point there was little for the young Theo to do but work his way up in time-honoured fashion.
It was knowledge he acquired while working his way through progressively more demanding jobs that equipped him for the business career that was to follow. After achieving a position in the finance department of Legal and General, Theo began working with commercial and residential mortgages. His interest and curiosity were engaged, and he quickly gained the experience and skills that enabled him to start up on his own. By the time he was 23, Theo had done just that.
As one might expect, Paphitis is not short of a few quid these days. He likes nice cars, and he chooses to personalise them with top quality private registrations. We were, therefore, delighted when he agreed to spare us a couple of hours for an interview and some photographs. It’s not as if he doesn’t have anything else important to occupy his time…
Home for Theo is in Surrey. His large house is everything one would expect from the residence of a successful businessman; and then, of course, there is a driveway full of cars. The vehicle that immediately catches the eye of our photographer is a Maybach bearing the registration RYM 4N.
Ryman the stationer played a significant part in the development of Paphitis’s business in the 1990s. His NAG Telecom company had a mobile phone concession within several outlets in the failing chain of stationery stores, so Theo had some knowledge of the company. He bought Ryman in 1995 and quickly turned its fortunes around. Since then, the brand has absorbed former competitors Partners and Stationery Box and, when rebranding of those premises is finished, the chain will boast 250 stores.
Paphitis has a reputation for taking failing businesses and turning them into profitable concerns. Another high street favourite transformed by his touch was the lingerie chain La Senza which Paphitis sold to venture capitalist Lion Capital in 2006.
His other lingerie business, Contessa, was later sold to the same company, who are merging both chains under the La Senza name.