How Peter Jones made £220m

He’s now one of the most-recognised businessmen in the UK, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Peter Jones.

‘Dragons’ Den’ star Peter Jones snapped up camera retailer brand Jessops last month, seemingly planning to run it as an online retailer.

It’s the latest in a long line of investments for the serial business owner who bought the Jessops brand, but not the 187 high street stores, for an undisclosed sum.

The business tycoon made his name in the mobile and leisure sectors but his career has not all been plain sailing, with plenty of ups and downs along the way.

At a strapping 6 foot 7 inches Jones was a keen tennis player as a teenager. He moved into coaching and had set up his own tennis academy by the age of 16.

“This allowed me to combine the two subjects I loved the most: Sport and economics,” he says on his website PeterJones.com. “It was the start of my entrepreneurial journey.”

By the time he was 22 Jones was living the dream. He had his own home with a BMW and Porsche parked in the driveway. The self-confessed car fanatic was also married to his first wife Caroline.

But things slowly started to unravel, both professionally and personally. Jones set up a computer business manufacturing PCs under his own name, but the recession of the early 1990s saw the business go under.

"The reason I lost the business was naivety,” he has said since, “I had an opportunity to take out credit insurance, but didn't. Companies I was supplying started to go bust, then I got hit. It was like a snowball."

Along with his business, Jones lost his home and his beloved cars and his marriage collapsed. By now the couple had two children and an acrimonious battle over access ensued.

Meanwhile Jones had also opened a bar in Windsor, based on the 1988 Tom Cruise film ‘Cocktail’. That venture failed too, costing him almost £200,000 when he sold up.

At almost 30 Jones was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in his office. But he hadn’t given up.

Second chance

In 1998 Jones went to work for telecommunications company Siemens Nixdorf. He was so impressive that within a year he was head of the UK division.

It was while at Siemens Nixdorf that Jones had the brainwave that would make him his first million: He decided to become a specialist distributor in mobile phones.

His company, Phones International Group, was a runaway success. The core of the business was a distribution model called Single Brand Distribution and the single brand he sold was Ericsson.

In its first year of trading, the group’s turnover was £14 million, which grew to £44 million in year two. Phones International Group was named as one of the fastest growing companies in the UK and Jones once again owned a house and car.

Today the business operates under the brand name of Data Select. Other related companies also grew within the group, including Generation Telecom, which was sold to one of the world's largest companies for millions of pounds within two years of starting up.

From fortune to fame

In 2005 Jones, along with Duncan Bannatyne, became one of the original dragons on reality TV show ‘Dragons’ Den’.

The same year Jones teamed up with fellow dragon Theo Paphitis to buy gift experience company Red Letter Days from fellow panellist Rachel Elnaugh, under whose ownership it had collapsed.

Meanwhile Jones was busy cooking up his next project: to become a TV star across the pond. He dreamt up the idea for ‘American Inventor’, a reality show jointly produced by Jones and Simon Cowell. On the show inventors competed to be the overall winner.

It ran for two seasons, beginning in 2006, after which Jones switched his attention back to the UK and launched his own ITV show called ‘Tycoon’.  On the show Jones searched for entrepreneurs with ideas that he then helped turn into profit-making companies.

However, the show didn’t go down well. It was soon kicked out of its primetime slot and its episodes were cut in length and number.

But over on BBC2 ‘Dragons’ Den’ was thriving. Successful investments Jones has made from the den include Alf Turner Sausages, Love Da Popcorn and The Present Club.

But perhaps the most famous and successful investment from the show is Levi Roots' Reggae Reggae Sauce. Levi appeared on the show in January 2007 where he famously sang about the virtues of his Reggae Reggae Sauce, which his grandmother had taught him to make in Jamaica in the 1970s.

Jones and fellow dragon Richard Farleigh invested in the sauce and within six weeks it was being sold exclusively in Sainsbury’s.

Since 2009 Jones has been developing a public role focusing on nurturing Britain's entrepreneurial talent. The Peter Jones Enterprise Academy opened its doors to students aged 16 upwards offering BTEC courses in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurs are not born, they made” is the academy’s strap line. And who better to make the next generation of entrepreneurs than Peter Jones – a man who has seen his fortunes rise, fall and then soar to £220million, according to the ‘Sunday Times Rich List’?