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How James Caan Came From Sales Agent to Building the Largest Investment Company in the U.K.

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Let us witness the success story of James Caan. How he started from door-to-door sales into founding the Hamilton Bradshaw Group, which is the leading advisor for investment in UK recruitment businesses. His story gives an important lesson to our young and budding entrepreneurs that, when you put all your energy into something that you’re good at, then success will really come to you.

Who Is James Caan?

Caan was born on December 28, 1960, in Lahore, Pakistan. His real name is Nazim Khan. Caan’s family emigrated to the United Kingdom when he was 2 years old. His father came to the UK without any money and have no idea how to speak the language, but he was able to build a successful business from scratch. He subsequently established a clothing company in Brick Lane, East London. His father had intended Caan to join the family business once his formal education was completed, but he decided he wanted to find his own way in the world. At age 16, before he had begun his O-Levels, he left home and moved to a flat in Kensington. This led to Caan being estranged from his father for a long time.

Caan did not excel at school and did not attend university as an undergraduate, but attended the 7-week Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School in 2003.

Business Career

Other than a Saturday job at Mr. Buyright, Caan had no formal experience of work, so went to a recruitment agency to find some. His first job was door-to-door sales, which he found tiring. At this point, he knew he wanted to work in an office. He went back to the recruitment agency and asked for something that was indoors and saw a job for Grand Metropolitan. He worked for several recruitment companies and started a fashion boutique with his wife before deciding he wanted to start his own company. Caan initially achieved success in the recruitment industry and he founded the recruitment company “Alexander Mann” in 1987. His first office was in Pall Mall but it was so small that the door could not be fully opened as it was blocked by his desk. He deliberately chose the prestigious address to add credibility to his business. In 1993 Caan co-founded the executive headhunting firm “Humana International” with Doug Bugie, eventually growing the business to over 147 offices in 30 countries. In the same year, Caan launched the trade magazine “Recruitment International”, which he later sold in 2000. In 1996 Caan co-founded the business process outsourcing company “AMS” with Rosaleen Blair.

In 2002 Caan sold his interests in Alexander Mann, which by that time had a turnover of around £130m. In 2004 Caan established the London-based private equity firm, “Hamilton Bradshaw”. Hamilton Bradshaw is an investment group that specializes in Seed Capital and Growth Capital for recruitment businesses. Hamilton Bradshaw has invested in more than 30 portfolio businesses across 46 offices in the UK, and in 2014 reported more than £300 million in turnover. Founded in 2013, Recruitment Entrepreneur is the Seed Capital arm of Hamilton Bradshaw which provides the seed funding and support for ambitious, experienced recruitment professionals to start, or scale, their own recruitment ventures. In the same year, he invested in the managed office provider Avanta, which he sold three years later to the private equity company Kenmore. In 2007 Hamilton Bradshaw acquired the recruitment specialist Eden Brown and Caan sold his remaining interest in Alexander Mann Group to Graphite Private Equity in a management buy-out led by Rosaleen Blair.

In 2009 Caan launched HBRIDA, with his then business partner Helen Reynolds (ex ACEO of the REC). HBRIDA worked with SME recruitment agencies to help them achieve growth and led them to an exit. Reynolds performed a management buyout of the business in March 2012. In 2010 Caan launched The Entrepreneurs Business Academy and became a non–Executive Director of McCann London. In 2011 Caan founded Hamilton Bradshaw Venture Partners. In 2012/13, Caan launched Hamilton Bradshaw Real Estate (HBRE) to invest in “disruptive property start-ups”.

Caan is also active in social media advertising. In 2011, he launched his mobile app “James Caan Business Secrets”. Within weeks of launching, the app rose to Number 1 in the iTunes chart and later became the fastest downloaded Business app of the year. Additionally, In October 2012, he was approached by LinkedIn to be one of 150 LinkedIn Influencers. By June 2014, Caan surpassed 1 million followers on LinkedIn. As a LinkedIn influencer, Caan blogs about career advice and provides tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners on growing their business and leadership.

The Start-Up Loans Company

In May 2012, Caan was approached by the British Government to become Chairman of the Start-Up Loans initiative. It aims to support young people with funding and mentoring to start up new businesses in the UK. Over £112 million of loans were to be offered to 18 – 30-year-olds over a 3-year period. Caan and his board of entrepreneur ambassadors head up the government scheme, providing loans of around £2,500 to the 18 – 30-year-olds to start their own businesses. Originally, the goal of Start-Up Loans was to help 1,000 businesses obtain government and private sector investments to fund these new ventures, however, as of 2014, Caan has helped provide funding and mentorship to more than 18,000 start-ups.

Recognition and Other Activities

As a figurehead in the UK, James was recognized in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list with a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to entrepreneurship and charitable services through the James Caan Foundation; a charity set up to support projects across the world that look at the enterprise to provide people with a better future. Caan, Chairman of Start-Up Loans, which has supported thousands of people with funding and mentoring to start their own business was “delighted and privileged” to receive the accolade. In 2013, he was named Chairman of the Year at the International Business Awards.

In 2007, Caan joined the panel of Dragons’ Den judges for the fifth series of the show. Through his role on Dragons’ Den, Caan worked with Children in Need for many years. In 2008, Children in Need filmed a ‘Youth Dragons Den’. ‘Look for Loneliness’ was his initiative to reduce bullying and get children to understand what it is like to feel isolated. Caan went on to work with Children in Need in 2009, helping to renovate a Community Centre for young people to visit before and after school. In 2012, he was approached by CNBC to host The Business Class, a series that sees him joined by experts from a cross-section of industries, looking at the challenges and opportunities faced by UK SMEs. Each 30-minute episode featured an innovative business that was seeking guidance to help it grow in the marketplace. The popularity of the series saw it recommissioned for a second series in October 2013.

Caan has written several books on business and his life. The first book covered his life story and was published in 2008 called “The Real Deal – My Story from Brick Lane to Dragons’ Den.” Following publications focused on business and entrepreneurship with “Get the Job You Really Want”, “Start Your Business in 7 Days”, and most recently, “Get the Life You Really Want.”

Caan founded the James Caan Foundation (JCF) in 2006 after he took a ‘gap year’ to visit his homeland of Pakistan. The JCF supports charities in the UK and seeks to promote greater awareness of issues facing the developing world, with a primary focus on children’s access to education and healthcare. The JCF has funded the construction of a new school at his birthplace Lahore. Since first purchasing a barren plot of land and opening the 16-classroom school in 2005, the TCF School, named after Caan’s father, educates over 420 children aged between 5-11.

In July 2010, Caan flew to Pakistan immediately after the worst flooding in the country’s history and personally purchased, prepared, and delivered emergency food parcels to families in the Northern village of Nowshera. Upon his return to the UK Caan partnered with UNICEF to provide urgent food, medical supplies, and water and hygiene kits to 1,000 families in the affected area. Caan also undertook an extensive media outreach campaign and his trip was widely covered in national newspapers. After just two weeks, Caan had raised £100,000 for UNICEF. Caan and the James Caan Foundation subsequently undertook a project to rebuild a village in Pakistan, including schools, hospitals, homes, and all infrastructure and water supplies. Aid agencies including UNICEF, Oxfam, Islamic Relief, Muslim Hands, and Mosaic were also involved in the project.

3 Tips to Young Entrepreneurs From James Caan

“Your first idea is all part of the journey to finding the right idea. If you’re determined to become an entrepreneur, don’t lose hope.”

“The one most important lesson I would tell my younger self is failure is part of the journey to success. Too often entrepreneurs hit the first hurdle and give up. I am happy to admit that I’ve had many failures throughout my career and invested in a number of businesses that sadly didn’t prove to be successful.”

“To me, entrepreneurial spirit is the freedom to think outside the box; to express yourself. It’s the opportunity to be different. The entrepreneurial spirit means there is no box; you have to think outside the box. It’s given me the opportunity to create something with my own ideas and thoughts. The freedom to do that is what I regard as the entrepreneurial spirit.”

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