"Don't hang around": Dragon tamer Neil Westwood, Magic Whiteboard
The stationery whizz-kid behind Magic Whiteboard tells us how he conquered the BBC’s Dragon’s Den, and what fires up his approach to management and leadership
Neil Westwood is one of the most successful entrepreneurs to have entered the Dragon’s Den. In August 2008, he girded himself for the challenge of persuading the panel of fiery business brains to back his Magic Whiteboard project – a venture that aimed to replace the traditional, cumbersome whiteboard on a stand with a temporary, one-sheet solution that could be stuck to any wall with static electricity. Since his Dragon-powered funding round, Westwood’s business has taken off so dramatically that it really does stand a chance of wiping the clunky, old whiteboard off the nation’s order books.
Here, he tells us about his management and leadership style, and why his business hero is Strictly inspiring…
1. What was your favourite subject at school?
I loved maths and statistics – anything that involved finding a logical solution to a problem.
2. What was your first job?
Working at my local Texaco petrol station, which was the first time I had to deal with customers. It taught me that even when they’re not, the customer is always right.
3. What mobile device(s) do you use?
iPhone 5 – however, I don’t find the quality as good as the iPhone 4, so I have held off upgrading for the time being.
4. What is your biggest achievement in business?
Setting up Magic Whiteboard and growing the business from £45,000 to £1.2 million a year. We are one of the most successful winners on BBC Dragons’ Den. Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis invested £100,000 between them, and we have now paid them back more than £400,000 each to retain their share of the business.
5. What is your biggest regret in business?
Not starting sooner. I went to university and then started a career as a trainer in the NHS, where I worked for 17 years. That’s where I came up with the idea for a Magic Whiteboard on a roll: much more convenient than having to lug a great big whiteboard around with you from presentation to presentation.
6. How has your business sector changed since you began your career?
Buying patterns have changed completely over the nine years I’ve been working in the stationery sector. Customers now order online rather than using paper-based catalogues, and even order via their mobile phones.
7. Who is your business hero?
Bruce Forsyth – seriously. He has had a very long career, has adapted to different formats over the years (comedian, entertainer, game show host, presenter) and he also works very hard.
8. What is the trait you most admire in other businesspeople?
Hard work, and the ability to deliver results without wasting money along the way.
9. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“What about if?”
10. What is the one thing about your job you could do without?
Interruptions from sales calls.
11. How would you describe your management philosophy in one sentence?
Common sense… provide customers with what they want, and don’t waste time or money.
12. What was your best holiday?
Hong Kong – the sights and sounds were amazing, and the views were fantastic. I loved walking along the Peak Trail overlooking Hong Kong Harbour.
13. What is your favourite day of the week and why?
Monday. I’m one of those annoying people who likes to get to work.
14. How do you unwind away from work?
I like colouring in – it’s very relaxing.
15. What is your favourite film?
The original Total Recall with Arnie Schwarzenegger!
16. What is your favourite smell?
The seaside, and also the aroma of a Nando’s when you first walk in.
17. What music do you like?
You can’t beat One Direction. My kids love their music, so I’ve had to learn to love it, too.
18. What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing. I’m a very good sleeper.
19. Which four guests would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Bruce Forsyth, Ali G, Margaret Thatcher, Frank Skinner.
20. What advice would you give to yourself aged 20?
Set up a business now and don’t hang around.
Conquering Dragons: How Neil made his pitch
Neil enters the Den at 2 mins 31 sec…
Picture: Neil (right) with TV Dragon Deborah Meaden