My Way: James Caan reveals his tips for success in the workplace

'Those who are confident tend to do better'


James Caan is CEO of the private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw. Last year, he joined the panel of BBC2's Dragons' Den.

What did you want to be as a child?

A businessman; it was my passion and ambition. I knew from watching my father, who had a textile business, that it meant I could be in control, do my own thing, and that it was a chance to make more money.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

I didn't see any option other than that, but at the time I just didn't know which business or sector.

Did you work in the family business?

No, I was a massive let-down to my father, but because I was expected to do it I wanted to do the opposite. At 16 I left school and went into the big bad world, doing office jobs and working in retail and sales. Then I stumbled upon recruitment and I found my forte.

In 1985, you founded the Alexander Mann Group. What did it take to set up on your own?

A lot of balls! I was 24 and I didn't have much money and my father wouldn't back me. The bank wouldn't back me either because it said I had no assets and no experience, so I used my credit cards and rented a broom cupboard in Pall Mall for £50 a week.

What gave you the self-confidence?

I thought I'd found a niche in the market; in the mid- Eighties, recruitment was segregated into high street, selection agencies and headhunting. My idea was to headhunt in the middle employment range. No one was doing this, so it was unique.

How long before you knew you were right?

Six weeks later, when I headhunted an optometrist. In the first year, we took £400,000. It was really a question of right place, right time, right economy.

At the age of 40, you went to Harvard Business School. Why?

The one thing lacking in my career was that I'd never finished my education. I had two daughters at private school and I lectured them on the importance of education and yet I hadn't practised what I preached.

At 40, I finally had the time. The Advanced Management Programme was incredible. I'd recommend it to anybody.

Do you consider yourself successful?

Is the Pope Catholic?

When did you first realise this?

I remember being in a restaurant with friends having an incredible meal and not opening the bill when it came, I just put a credit card on top of the wallet as if it didn't matter what it cost.

What are your interview tips?

People think that because they have an incredible CV, that's everything but don't rely on it because it's you you're selling. People who are confident tend to do better; those who capitulate tend to do worse because they're not well rehearsed. Preparation is critical.

Who are your heroes?

I'm quite a big fan of Stuart Rose. When Philip Green tried to buy M&S, I was impressed by the way Rose had a vision. It seemed a bit flaky at the time, but he's restored the business and the brand.

What's the best perk of your job?

The yacht, I love the yacht.

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