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Enter the dragon

IMPRESS ME: Piers Linney will decide the fate of would-be entrepreneurs

OUTSOURCERY IS the company on the top floor of a building in a discreet side road near Goodge Street, in central London.

And like its name suggests, this is where the business magic happens for Piers Linney, the computing firm’s co-founder and chief executive.

In the world of television, Linney is hot property and has been for the last few years with producers frequently reeling him in to offer a fresh take on shows where money does the talking.

A few years ago, the 42-year-old, whose mother is Bajan and father is from Manchester, went undercover for Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire, an experience that enabled him to visit a young offenders’ institute where “everyone” looked like him.

Although he may not yet have reached the broadcasting heights of Lord Alan Sugar, Linney is about to cement his position as a household name – he has just finished four weeks of “intense” filming in Manchester for the new series of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den.

Taking time of out his usual working day, the casually dressed Linney – he does not do formal suits and ties – welcomes The Voice to his spacious office where walls are kept to a minimum.

EXPERIENCE

“It’s been a massive experience. I didn’t realise how big it was until I got involved in it,” he says of his time working alongside regular ‘dragons’ Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne.

Yet it was the chance to hear new business pitches that really stimulated his interest.

“It was great to interface with entrepreneurs again, because I’ve mostly been focussed on my own businesses for the last five years,” says the Lancashire-born investor, who employs 125 people across his company.

“I probably saw over 100 pitches, and I made four investments.

“The ones I tend to go for are already an established business – small, but they’ve proven they can sell a product and that there’s a market for it, and I can see their potential,” he explains.

In the flesh, Linney appears younger than his age, and he emits boyish charm and enthusiasm when he talks about his impact on the show.

“It was important for me and the producers to mix it up a bit, quite literally,” he says, laughing about his dual heritage and being the first black dragon in the den.

“If you saw the last series or the one four years ago, you probably couldn’t tell the difference [between the dragons]. Whereas this time they have refreshed the format – there’s a new sort of way of doing things in the den.”

Being mixed race and “having two cultures has been a gift,” he says, despite kids finding it “quite easy to pick names to wind up” the only child of 2,500 with West Indian heritage at his old school in a small Lancashire mill town.

CHANGE

Linney remains wound up by race, but in a different way. “I still don’t see enough people at business meetings and events who look like me, and that still annoys me – it needs to change,” he says.

“It’s very rare in my daily life to walk into a room and see anyone that looks like me, and by me I mean someone with West Indian heritage.

“I walk into a young offenders institution, and everyone looks like me.”

It is an issue that has been at the forefront of politics; charities helping young people find work have accused the government of cutting their funding, and the Office of National Statistics revealed that 49 per cent of black males aged 18 to 24 are unemployed.

The married man of 10 years who has two young daughters believes there is no easy fix to the problem.

“What I learned [the problem] is you could throw a billion pounds at it and it would bounce off,” Linney says. “With things like that you realise it needs systemic change from the top down, and it’s very difficult for one person to make that kind of difference.”

He mentions billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Richard Branson, who have pledged millions to good causes. “Even there, they can struggle to make a real impact,” he believes. “The question boils down to: you can only do what you can do, and I think if everyone did their bit, it would aggregate into change.”

His philosophy on money is pragmatic; he has no chip on his shoulder about being wealthy, and he clearly loves creating companies.

“Building businesses is a means to an end, and the end is to make money, to be honest with you,” admits the University of Manchester law and accounting graduate.

“The reason to make money is to provide for my family and have some fun with my friends, because in 100 years no one will care.

“It’s as simple as that.”

Once Linney has achieved his business goals, he says he aims to expand his charitable work. “Philanthropist is probably the wrong word for me,” he says. “I want to create something that is not just about giving money away, but is a self-sustaining business.”

For the 13-year-old boy who started his own profitable newspaper round business that he sold on, and the teenager who was “bright” but “didn’t always apply” himself by getting “easily distracted by members of the opposite sex and nightclubs, Linney has come a long way.
Yet he does not see it like that.

“I’m just getting started, it’s only now I’m beginning to find my feet.”

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