James Caan

British-Pakistani, multi-millionaire entrepreneur and UK TV show Dragons’ Den alumni James Caan talks to Vision about inspiration, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and why he admires Dubai

My father was my biggest inspiration and gave me some valuable advice that I still live by to this day. He was a very driven and hard-working man. He came to the UK without any money and didn’t even speak the language. And yet he was able to build a successful business from scratch. The most insightful thing he ever taught me was to “observe the masses and do the opposite”. It’s a mantra I use at Hamilton Bradshaw, my private equity company; I don’t usually take the easy route and follow the crowd. It’s not about taking risks, it’s about being able to spot an opportunity when others are looking the other way.

I love to keep up-to-date with the latest technology. It’s so beneficial for my business. I now oversee more than 30 different businesses so you can imagine how many board meetings I attend every month. I use my iPad to read the board packs now rather than ploughing through a pile of paperwork. We’ve also just moved our servers to the cloud – not only is our data more secure, I’ve been able to slice some costs from my bottom line.

I’ve always worked at least a six-day week. I start at around 7am and rarely finish before 10pm so some would say that’s not a good work/life balance, but I absolutely love what I do. My business is my passion.

Any spare time I get I spend with my wife and my two daughters. As a family we enjoy nothing more than going out for dinner together or having weekends away to our second home in Cannes, in the South of France. Because of my schedule I am a firm believer that you have to have regular periods of ‘time out’. It enables me to stop and reflect on my life, my business and helps me hone in on important decisions that need to be made.

Writing my autobiography was hard work, but it was a very fulfilling experience. It enabled me to re-live some important milestones in my journey and appreciate how far I’ve come in life.

Because my wife is a talented artist, art is a big part of our lives. I have quite a few pieces of art for pleasure, but I have one or two for investment.

Philanthropy is extremely important not just in life but also in business. Philanthropy should be practised regularly both on an individual and on a collective basis. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes in businesses are an excellent way to give back and it’s also a great way to put your company on the map not just as a competitor to watch out for, but also as an entity adding value to the industry as a whole.

The James Caan Foundation (JCF) is a classic example of CSR at work. We have three main areas of expertise: Education, Entrepreneurship and Development. At the JCF we see every pound spent through the foundation as an investment in a cause. And, every investment must have a return – but social rather than financial. With this in mind, we support projects where we believe the impact of the donation will be significant – be it in the numbers of children educated, the reach of research or the creation of jobs for more young people.

Dubai was probably the first city in the Middle East that attracted me to the Arab culture and inspired me to see where I could fit in the Middle Eastern market.  

I enjoy the diverse culture in Dubai. It’s an international business hub and it brings together different people, different industries and different cultures to grow and develop harmoniously. It’s beautiful.  

I’m Chairman of 90 North Real Estate Partners. 90 North are regular visitors to the Gulf and have travelled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar over the last six months to both speak at conferences and to discuss the UK real estate market.

What advice would I give to budding entrepreneurs? Never let go of the passion that drives you to succeed.