Tej Lalvani joined Dragons’ Den when newcomer Steve Parish unexpectedly quit the show, leaving a seat free for the taking.
Lalvani and fellow newcomer Jenny Campbell join veteran Dragons Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones and last year’s addition Touker Suleyman on the panel of investors.
As he settles in to his seat and prepares to breathe fire when the series returns on BBC2, the investor tells RadioTimes.com how it feels to be on TV for the first time – and what irritates him in an entrepreneur.
From forklift driver in the family business to CEO in the board room
Tej Lalvani’s scientist father Professor Kartar Lalvani founded his company Vitabiotics in 1971 and remains the company’s chairman. Over the last 20 years Tej Lalvani has led the company and driven up turnover from hundreds of thousands of pounds to over £300 million per year.
“I’ve been fortunate growing up with an entrepreneurial family,” he tells RadioTimes.com. “My father and his brothers have also got their businesses. So as a kid growing up, I was exposed to that.
“My father himself is a very determined man. I mean, he saw my mother on TV and decided he wanted to marry her – she was a Miss India, a Miss World runner-up. He saw her on television and said, that’s the girl I want to marry.
“So that sort of determination inspired me to be focused and I started way back then driving forklifts and working the warehouse, and going to every single department. So it was a real experience in seeing how I could improve areas within the company up until running it.”
Becoming a Dragon and filming in the Den was surreal
Lalvani is a Dragons’ Den fan so he was super excited to be approached by the BBC and asked to come in for screen tests. Even better, he was eventually invited to be on the panel of investors.
“To be honest, the first couple of days were quite overwhelming because I’d never been on TV before,” he admits.
“You’ve got these seven, eight cameras there, things are going on, you’ve got this wonderful chap Billy coming and patting your suit down every couple of minutes to make sure there’s no dust, so – it was quite a surreal experience.
“But you get focused, you’re here to make investments with your own money so you need to be on top of it and on your A-game.”
He considers himself a “shrewd investor”
“I guess I love to negotiate, to get deals done, I’m always looking for a good deal pretty much every day in whatever area I’m in,” Lalvani says.
Despite being a newcomer, Lalvani is actually the Dragon who invested in the largest number of projects during the series.
He’s a pretty calm and thoughtful Dragon – unless you irritate him
“As a person I guess I’m quite thoughtful,” he muses. “But if someone’s not got their numbers right or if they’re incompetent or they’re not well prepared enough then that can be annoying, and they’re asking for a ridiculous valuation without any basis, then that’s when I’d probably step in and start breathing a little bit of fire.
“Otherwise, I’m a calm person in general.”
He also has another pet peeve: “Not taking on board some of the advice the Dragons give. The Dragons are there to help you and they’re advising you, you say how about this, and they just say ‘No’, and then you think: ‘Would I really be able to work with an entrepreneur who’s not willing to take on board advice?’ I mean, why are they here in the first place?
“It’s give-and-take. And they’ve got to have the balance of being very persistent at the same time because as an entrepreneur you need to be. So it’s finding the right balance.”
Peter Jones gives him the giggles with sly comments
“I sit right next to Peter, and he makes these funny jokes, and says them so quietly so nobody apart from me hears them, and I end up laughing in the middle of it,” Lalvani says. “They’ll say, ‘What are you guys laughing at?'”
Dragons Den returns to TV screens soon