Piers Linney - the Dragon’s Den star with a love for Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 August 2015
Piers Linney grew up in Lancashire and his entreprenural spirit was clear from an early age. Mairead Mahon reports
Multi-millionaire Piers Linney is one of the country’s most successful young business men and is a familiar face on our television screens, first with Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire and more recently as one of the BBC’s dreaded dragons. But just how scary can a dragon be when he keeps goldfish as pets?
Although Piers was born in Stoke, he considers his roots are firmly in Lancashire. ‘My mum, who is a health visitor, is from Barbados and my dad hails from Manchester so when he was offered a job in Lancashire, the family didn’t have to think too long or hard before we all upped sticks and moved to Bacup,’ says Piers.
The striking scenery around Bacup gave Piers what has become a lifelong interest in bikes; he now owns six. In fact, it was his desire for a BMX that gave him a push to begin his first business.
The enterprising youngster gave up his week-day paper round and approached the wholesalers, persuading them to let him cut out the newsagent and deliver the Sunday papers himself.
‘It was worth it. I trebled my weekly income and, before long, I was the proud owner of a shining BMX bike. My friend, Rodney and I would regularly bike from Bacup to Burnley, sometimes to Todmorden and sometimes to Waterfoot. I love the Lancashire scenery, it is so picturesque and yet dramatic at the same time,’ he says.
The newspaper business was a success, with Piers eventually selling his round but he tasted disappointment too and it came in the shape of the 11+ exam. ‘To the shock and horror of my parents, I failed it for no other reason than I simply hadn’t done all the preparation that I should have done. As the local grammar school wouldn’t take me, I went to Fearns Community High in Bacup and got as good an education as I think I would have got anywhere,’ he says.
On a recent visit back to Fearns, Piers urged the pupils to think about what they love to do, to never give up and never be afraid.
It was that approach that got Piers a place at Manchester University to study Accounting and Law.
‘This was in the nineties and Manchester was, and still is, the coolest place in the country. It didn’t occur to me to move away from the north west in order to study. Why would I? Manchester University is a top place to study and it had happening clubs like the Hacienda right on the doorstep,’ says Piers.
Manchester and Lancashire are also full of history, yet another reason for Piers to stay.‘I studied history at ‘A’ level, as did my BMX friend Rodney, who is now a history teacher. As we got older, it was one of the topics that we would talk about on our bike rides. The whole county is steeped in it, whether it is industrial history, the Lancashire witches or political history. I have to say that I am glad that a plaque to the Peterloo Massacre in St Peter’s Square, giving better details about the event, has been put up. History is so important and whenever I have time to read, it is usually a history book that I fish out,’ says Piers.
After a successful University career, in which he won a prize for the highest mark in the final examination, in 1997 Piers qualified as a solicitor and later as an investment banker. However, he never forgot about his early newspaper deal and continued to be an entrepreneur, becoming successfully involved with a range of sectors from pharmaceutical research to dance music. He has also run his own corporate finance and alternative investment fund.
Today, he is CEO of Outsourcery: a computing business which is a cloud service provider. It leads the world in this area and has won a host of plaudits such as The Green Channel Company Award and Microsoft’s Worldwide Hosting Partner of the Year. It has also earned Piers a place on the prestigious Most Influential Black Britons list.
‘I am very proud of that but I also want to make sure that other young people are inspired to do as well as they can. I really do believe in encouraging our youth and I want to make sure that I put something back in to society,’ says Piers.
To that end, he has set up Work Insight, a not for profit company that aims to allow youngsters insights into the world of work, by creating a digital platform to connect 14-18 year olds with local employers. Not surprisingly, given Piers’ own experience of failure at 11, there is no selection process.
Piers of course is also known for his media career, which began when he was asked to take part in Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire.
‘I had to go incognito to a Young Offenders’ institution in order to try and help young people who had made very bad decisions. It was tough but it was worth it. One of those offenders now works for me. It opened my eyes to various issues such as the high levels of illiteracy amongst young offenders.
‘I had to live in a pretty awful ground floor flat, on £8 a day for all bills and food and without my mobile phone. Even on my honeymoon, I still had my mobile at my side so it took some getting used to. My wife, Tanya was pregnant at the time we made the programme, so it made it even more difficult.’
Being on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den isn’t quite so daunting, although that may not be true for the budding entrepreneurs who have to try and persuade a Dragon to invest in their fledgling businesses.
‘It has been great fun, although it could get very competitive amongst the Dragons. Sometimes, more than one of us would make an offer to an entrepreneur and it was always a good feeling to be the one that was chosen. Viewers only see a small snippet of each would-be business that comes into the Den but I admire anyone who tries to begin a business in a time of recession. They all have their own stories, involving dreams, risks and, often, personal sacrifices and I always respect that,’ says Piers.
It was this attitude which made him very popular with viewers but, earlier this year, he decided to leave the programme.‘I’ve heard over 200 pitches and made nine deals and it has been fantastic but now I want to concentrate on my ventures. That doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to support entrepreneurship. It is, after all, a passion of mine but time is limited and I do have a family.’
Married to Tanya for 11 years, she and Piers have two children, Tiger and Electra. ‘We live in London, luckily near a park, where we can take our bikes and my parents come from Lancashire to visit regularly. It is important to me that my children know their roots and they are familiar with Lancashire. I enjoy going back and a bonus of that is that there is no where that can make a hot pot so well!’
Education? Failed his 11+ and went to Fearns Community High in Bacup
First job? His paper round in Bacup
Further education? Manchester University
Money? Last year, according to Spear’s, his net worth was an estimated $100m dollars although the share value of his company has fluctuated since then.
TV star or business leader? ‘I was the first Afro-Caribbean investor on the show, which I’m very proud of. I wanted to raise the profile of the digital and creative industries, which I feel I have.’
Family? Wife Tanya and two children, Tiger and Electra
Outside work? A keen cyclist and mountain biking enthusiast