Deborah Meaden - entrepreneur, BBC Dragons' Den
Deborah Meaden, 53, is a business woman and star of BBC Dragons' Den.
Having launched her first business aged 19, she went on to run a franchise for an Italian footwear and clothing company, a bingo concession at Butlin’s and a number of successful leisure and retail companies.
Today she invests in a wide range of businesses, from solar power to woollen clothing.
Deborah is Campaign Ambassador for Friends of the Earth’s Clean British Energy campaign, and has recorded a video urging people to switch their electricity supply to a clean energy provider like Good Energy or Ecotricity.
Deborah lives in Somerset with husband Paul, a cat, 2 dogs, 5 horses, 11 chickens and 4 ducks.
Why did you get into business?
I always knew I was going to go into business. I think I just don’t like taking instruction from anybody else.
Who or what was your inspiration?
I’m not that kind of person – I just think you get on with stuff. Most inspiration comes from meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things all day, every day.
What are the best and worse ideas you’ve seen on ‘Dragons’ Den’?
The worst are easy. False finger nails for cats, the one-handed glove.
I've got a couple of really great businesses that I’m really proud of because they change things – take the plumber who cleaned tanks every day for a living and thought, hang on, there must be a better way to do this. He invented a shower head that kills legionella, the bacteria that causes legionnaires disease. Three years in development and we’ve just been adopted by the NHS.
Who is the scariest Dragon and who’s the biggest pussy cat?
I don’t think you could apply the words pussy cat to any of the Dragons. I think scary is all relative isn’t it. Some people think I’m the scariest Dragon and others think Duncan is – it’s all relative.
Is there much competition between you and other Dragons?
Absolutely. But we’re grown-ups so what goes on in the Den stays in the Den. We all get on very well.
What is Spoof?
We go out for dinner most nights when we’re filming and we come to settle the bill. Well Dragons can’t split bills can they? So one night the boys suggested we play Spoof for it. Everybody is sat round a table, you have between nought and three coins in your hand, and you have to guess the total number of coins round the table. I thought it was just luck so I was just shouting random numbers. Well it’s not luck as I lose every night – it’s costing me a lot of money.
You're known as the ‘Green’ Dragon – why do you think renewable energy is good for business?
It’s just so obviously important. I wouldn’t sit in a boardroom and decide to do something that was completely unsustainable and would kill my business in the future – that would be loopy. But that’s exactly what we are doing if we don’t invest in renewables. We’re making a decision to allow a resource to run out and to damage the planet.
What would encourage more people to invest in renewable energy?
There’s a misconception about the renewable energy industry because some people think renewable energy doesn’t work. Well it does work. It’s an investment of the future – while others are dying this is an industry in its infancy. People need to take the time to understand it is a viable long-term investment. Those people who get it at ground level – they’re going to be the winners.
Is cost the biggest barrier for companies switching to a clean electricity supplier?
Cost is one thing, but confusion is another. In a recession people kind of batten down the hatches and do what they’ve always done. Oddly I think it’s the very time people should say well hold on a minute, what we’re doing isn’t working, now is the moment to change. And when you start making changes in an organisation it’s amazing how your whole company puts its shoulders back, starts being proud and starts looking forward again.
You live in the countryside – what do you think of people who say wind turbines spoil the view?
I think there are appropriate and inappropriate places for wind turbines – I say the same about buildings. I used to drive down to Cornwall quite regularly and there are a lovely group of windmills on the A30 on the crest of a hill that look absolutely beautiful. But there are other places where I think well, probably not.
What are your top tips for developing a green business?
I think the most important thing to remember is that the environment and green issues are rarely the primary reason to buy anything. I buy things because I like them, I want to buy them, I need them. Things can’t be less, worse, ugly and green – they’ve got to be lovely, better, nice and green.
Do you lead a fairly green lifestyle?
I try to. I’m quite good at what I buy – I use Ecover to clean with. My husband hates excess packaging. He once caused a huge queue in Sainsbury’s when he insisted on standing at the till and unwrapping all these apples.
How do you relax?
I like to get up, feed the ducks and the chickens and wander round barefoot, whatever the weather’s doing. Simple isn’t it? But I think it’s wonderful.
Interview by Marie Reynolds, Friends of the Earth Communications and Media officer