In an interview setting there’s something honest and effortlessly likeable about one of the UK’s most successful women in business.
She has an eye for business that even retirement won’t cure, and she’s no less meticulous when it comes to fashion. Can this really be the same Deborah Meaden who has delivered some severe dressing downs in the Den?
“I’ve said it before, but I am driven, I am direct and I am honest! Being dishonest or beating about the bush is a waste of time, and actually unfair on everyone!” Meaden begins, with considerable might.
“Knowingly leaving somebody believing the wrong thing – even if your words weren’t an actual lie – is the same as lying.”
“We have to be clear and concise, and at the end of conversations I always double check with people that we both understand what we have agreed. It’s the only way. And none of that means we can’t have fun at the same time.”
When Dragons’ Den returns later this year, mainstay Deborah Meaden – like fellow entrepreneurs Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne – will have clocked up 11 series in front of the cameras.
That’s an impressive commitment to make considering she and other members of the assorted cast have their own existing business interests to return to. And of course, along with the respect afforded to some of the most engaging business brains in the UK, there’s a celebrity status to uphold too.
“I guess that’s one of the really interesting by-products of Dragon’s Den,” begins Deborah. “We were all successful business people, but as soon as you put yourself on that platform, your celebrity reputation becomes almost more important than your business reputation – in the eyes of some, at least. What you wear and how you behave are scrutinised all of the time.
“It’s something I’ve definitely got used to over the years – it’s certainly not something I had to worry about at Weststar,” she laughs. Weststar Holidays, of course, was where it really began for the self-made multi-millionaire, back in 1992. Her ability to take an ailing holiday park business and transform it into an enterprise turning over more than £10million a year provided a foundation for future riches.
But for someone who is always so immaculately presented on our screens – both in terms of appearance and delivery – and as a leader who has been pitched to many hundreds of times, is there certain type of entrepreneur who succeeds?
“Well any entrepreneurs will need to have the basics – an idea, commitment, belief, dedication, intelligence – all of those things. If you’re asking whether great business people come dressed in certain ways… well, I’ve seen them all over the years. Smartness doesn’t have to mean a suit and a tie, but your idea is going to have to impress that much more if you rock up in jeans and a t-shirt.”
So would ladies suits be regarded as the staple diet for those wanting to pull off the corporate look?
“I think that ‘corporate look’ you mention has become rather more relaxed in recent years. Business suits, for women especially, are perhaps more feminine than they once were, because the reputation of ladies in business these days stands up for itself, and doesn’t need to be artificially enhanced in the way we look. I think that’s a really important thing and something we can all be proud of.”
So how does Deborah describe her own look, besides the signature necklaces and rings that glow under the studio lights?
“I’ll always go for what I term ‘smart casual’. I know it’s a tired phrase, but it suggests to me you’re there to work, yet you’re not going to be constricted by an outfit that is taking your attention, when that attention should be on a business presentation, for instance.
“I’ve always liked cotton, and light shades in suits and, you know, feeling good and looking good go hand in hand – and you need to have both in business.”
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