Born in Cyprus in 1959, Theo Paphitis enjoyed a humble upbringing surrounded by a large family. Benefiting from the Cypriot membership to the commonwealth in 1961, the Paphitis family took advantage of free movement and emigrated to England in 1965. Moving to a foreign country at such a tender age might have been a substantial shock for most children but for Theo he recognised that his whole family would enjoy a better life. This was the sixties and London was full of hope, positivity and more importantly love, somewhat of a culture shock compared to the Cypriot lifestyle. Yet Britain was itself in a state of recovery, still rebuilding after the atrocities of the Second World War. It had merely been ten years since the end of rationing and the economic climate was still awaiting a needed financial boom.
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The Paphitis family settled in Manchester and were suddenly the subject of racial stereotypes among white working class families. Isolated and without the support of their wider family, it looked bleak for the Pathitis’ attempting to integrate into the British way of life. Yet it was this struggle which helped Theo find his inner strength which in turn put him on the path to success. By ignoring the clear prejudice and discrimination which his whole family suffered, he was able to channel his energies into something positive.
Living and growing up through the political unrest era of the 1970’s gave Theo the determination to use the social climate to his advantage and by the 1980’s he had followed the wave of economic success. The 1970’s had been testing times for Britain; general strikes, the three day week and mass unemployment each contributed to the somber mood of the nation. However, the eighties signalled a change with the first female prime minister and the new welfare initiative. For Theo, it was like the swinging sixties as there was a fresh positivity in the air and it seemed that anyone could achieve anything. Suddenly social mobility was possible and people could better themselves.
Theo was promptly able to take advantage of this new wave of social mobility and after a short stint working for the mortgage broker Legal and General, in 1995, he bought the stationery outlet Ryman. To many, Ryman was a failing organisation but Theo knew that with the right business acumen he could turn it around and today the company turns over in excess of £120 million per year. It’s clear that the business tycoon knows exactly what he’s doing!
His entrepreneurial credentials were slowly getting him notoriety among social circles and in 2005 he was approached by the BBC to become part of the fierce panel on BBC2’s Dragons Den. For Theo, this was a totally new experience which threw him out of his comfort zone; he knew a lot about growing a business but was a total stranger to television. Forever up for new challenges, Theo embraced his new role but was shocked at just how many hours go into a days worth of filming. There was no secret to investment but if Theo liked the person pitching, it made it easier to get excited about the product they were selling. After six years and a string of successful investments, he declined to call it a day in the Den in 2012. As he states, when he feels totally comfortable with a project then it’s a sign that he should move on and that’s exactly what he did.
Beyond business, Theo’s other great passion is football. A childhood Manchester United supporter, Theo was offered the chance to switch allegiances and become chairman of his other boyhood team Millwall FC in 1997. Going against his own advice to never get involved with a professional football club, Theo oversaw the runnings of the club for eight years which climaxed in the 2004 FA Cup Final. The perfect way to bow out of the club he loved!
Stepping down from the board of Comic Relief has allowed Theo to accept new challenges and in 2018 Paphitis has recently been revealed as the new chancellor of Solent University; a role which he is relishing. To inspire and encourage the new generation of business minds is something very exciting and is the latest initiative in a highly successful career. The young Cypriot immigrant has definitely done well. It was a great pleasure to meet and interview Theo Paphitis and wish him all the very best for the rest of his glittering career.