James Caan on investing in people

James Caan is without a doubt a successful entrepreneur. In an insightful piece in the FT, James Caan opens up about working with people, how he makes decisions, and changing his name.

The reality is that James Caan isn’t really James Caan. James Caan is actually Nazim Kahn. Born in Pakistan in 1960, Nazim changed his name as a teenager to James Caan, as he is now universally known, in a “humorous homage” to the Godfather star that stuck with him.

“Didn’t Freddy Mercury, Cliff Richards and Elton John do the same?” he asks. “Isn’t being an entrepreneur a bit of showbiz nowadays?”

For James Caan, it is – very much so. The entrepreneur shot to stardom by joining the Dragons’ Den panel in 2007. And it’s in Dragons’ Den that James Caan is in his element, despite the challenge of having to make an investment decision in a 20-minute time frame.

“The typical timescale for an investment is 12 weeks,” James Caan explains. “Generally you would have met the entrepreneur at least ten times, got to know them, understood their business, done financial analysis, market comparisons and a lot of work on valuations.

“You’d have got to a point where you were easily comfortable with the decision you made. When you try to condense 12 weeks into 20 minutes, it doesn’t matter how good you are; it really isn’t easy.”

He adds that at the end of the pitch, it comes down to making a decision based on character.

But that’s not a problem for James Caan, he’s very good with people. For example, when Caan attends Real Business events, he works the room brilliantly, speaking to everyone.

People is also where James Caan made his £65m fortune, in recruitment. His investment business, Hamilton Bradshaw, now controls 14 recruitment brands with a collective turnover of £400m. “It’s a really fun sector to work in,” he says.

Ultimately, adds James Caan, business is about personal relationships. “I’ve never really been a widget person or a product person. I find it far more inspiring to invest in companies that are based on people. That’s my core interest and my passion.”

That’s an interesting thought. How much does character play on your decision making? Caan is undoubtedly a successful entrepreneur, and he knows how to make money.

Do you base any of your investments and ideas on people? We’d be keen to hear your thoughts – just leave them below.

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