The dragon with a heart of gold
With more than 40 years experience as an entrepreneur, Touker Suleyman became a household name in the UK thanks to his participation in Dragon’s Den, where he has invested in numerous businesses, helping promising entrepreneurs realise their dreams. In the business community, he is best known for taking fashion brands Hawes & Curtis and Ghost, from the brink of bankruptcy to full financial health. Other entrepreneurial interests of Mr Suleyman’s besides commercial property ventures through Low Profile Holdings, include investments in Matchstick Monkey (Baby Brand), Healthista (Women’s Health Website), and property management company Air Agents.
Warm and approachable, Touker Suleyman seems to look at life through the eyes of experience and the smile of those who are still excited about what the future may hold for them.
I-M: You arrived in the UK at the age of 5, and grew up with a strong work ethic and values, transmitted to you by your parents –hard work, determination and family. What other factors you’d say have contributed to your success?
T.S: My family came as immigrants from Northern Cyprus in 1959, with four children and went straight into the restaurant business. In my head, all my life I have wanted to be in business, wanted to succeed.
If you want to succeed in life you got to have a passion, a goal and hard work. Hard work is something which we’ve all got to do at a young age and hopefully, as we get older our minds react quicker and we don’t have to do everything based on hard work and hard work only. With age, you develop a kind of muscle memory for business.
I-M: By the end of the 70s, you had already made a small fortune and lost it with Bamber Stores. What did you learn from that experience?
T.S: I was in my 20s and the stock market was crazy. I got involved in Mellins, a company with a share price that went from 6p to £4. The stock brokers got me involved with Bamber stores, which was probably the catalyst of my demise. When we looked at them, Bamber stores seemed to have £500mill in assets, but the stores needed to raise more money. We appointed Coopers & Lybrand (PWC nowadays), and one day one of their senior partners came in to tell me that we were bust, that everything had been massively over valued and as a result, we were £25million in the red. I still have that report.
From there, everything went down like a pack of cards. Mellin had a stake on Bamber, so did I personally. I lost everything. Luckily, I bounced back quickly with the help of my brother and my sister, who had a small business. Together we grew it to become what Low Profile Holdings is today, which has commercial property and fashion companies.
What I learnt from that terrible experience is that due diligence is fundamental. When you acquire a business, or doing anything that could have a major effect in your life, do your due diligence. I also learnt that cash Is king.
I-M: When is cash flow enough? When is it too much? Is the principle the same for an SME than for a large corporation?
T.S: Today, if you don’t have the working capital to run your business, you don’t have a business. For example, you could buy a private jet for £1, but if you don’t have the money to run the jet, it is as if you didn’t have it at all.
Your business has to generate cash, to either invest back in the business, or into bricks and mortar, or something else. Unfortunately, today we have an environment in which is maybe too easy to raise money. There are Venture Capitalists, Crowd Funding, Angel Investors… in the 70s, there were only the banks, which in those days, were far from lenient.
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