She’s no sourpuss – TV Dragon Meaden breathes fun into business

I don’t think there are any secrets to running a successful business. It really is a lot of common sense.

Perhaps one reason I’ve done well is that I get stuff done. I do my homework, do my research, and then get committed. I’m cool, calm and critical. But when I make a decision I always follow it through.

So says Deborah Meaden, the entrepreneurial investor on BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den. Meaden is portrayed as something of a sourpuss, but the reality couldn’t be more different.

Charming and funny in person, the reason for the TV persona is simple: “If someone with only the vaguest grasp of business reality was asking you for £250,000 of your own money, you wouldn’t be laughing either.”

One of Meaden’s best early work experiences was running a prize bingo concession at Butlins. “It was a real time and motion study,” she says. “The more games we played the more money we made. It taught me not to waste words and keep the customers interested – because if they didn’t like you or the service was poor, they could simply get up and walk off. It taught me all about customer service.”

She then took up a position in the family amusement arcade business before moving across into the holiday park side of the business, Weststar Holidays. Within two years she had been promoted to managing director and grew the company from one to five holiday parks.

“In 2003, I was approached by some people who wanted to make me an offer for Weststar Holidays and early on we discussed and agreed on the price. At midnight the night before, they put in a lower offer thinking I would accept, but I turned them down. That surprised them but it’s me all over.

“I think many people, when they come to selling a business, are half thinking about retiring to sit on a beach and they will accept a last-minute reduction in the offer. But not me. I wasn’t heading to the beach. They misread me.”

Meaden sold the business in 2005 in a deal worth £33m while retaining a 23pc stake and an active role within the firm. She sold her remaining stake in the business when Weststar was sold to Parkdean Holidays for £83m.

For Meaden, business is simple. “It’s important to do what you say you are going to do,” she says. “I also want people to push boundaries when they work for me. I’m happy for them to make mistakes if enough planning and research have gone into something.”

She says it is important rewarding people who do well for you, but also to tell people if they have made a bad move. “I want people to know they have done something wrong,” she says.

“Ultimately, though, I have a lot of fun in business – always have and always will. People don’t think that about me when they see me on TV, but you couldn’t work at a holiday park for all the years I did without having a sense of humour.”

By Jamie Oliver and previously featured on the The Telegraph Business Club