James Caan on philanthropy

James Caan has numerous business, philanthropic, and governmental interests, plus Dragons’ Den investments and maintaining his media profile. But it's philanthropy he'd like to devote more time to


Ask celebrity entrepreneur and investor James Caan which ball he feels he’s dropping amid business, philanthropic, governmental interests, Dragons’ Den investments and maintaining his media profile and the answer comes fast. “I’d probably like to do more on philanthropy.”

In December last year, Caan was appointed chairman of the Big Issue, the social business set up by John Bird and Gordon Roddick to support the homeless. “Organisations are not attracting as much, but those issues haven’t gone away.”

With a weekly circulation of 136,018 the magazine generates around £8m for vendors. You’d be forgiven for thinking Caan must be struggling to meet his pledge of a 100% improvement in profitability in his first year through increased online presence, corporate involvement and international growth. But no. “We are bang on track. You made the point that it’s a publishing business. Most charitable organisations don’t see themselves as businesses. Generally, they’re not set up by business people. Their drivers and measurables are different. I’ve gone in and looked at it as a publishing business, not a charity.” Cover price, productivity, operational efficiency, advertising, Caan’s taken a close look at them all.

So what’s the biggest missed opportunity? “I don’t think there’s any one,” he responds. Better operational deployment of technology, an enhanced web presence and a performance-based culture are at the heart of changes. “I’m doing a complete financial review that enables me to bring expertise to each of those functions, whether hiring or managing people, tracking them, buying print or paper, what you’re paying for your telephones, mobile, cars, how you’re distributing. If you can find efficiencies in each of those areas you can deliver a much better performance. It’s a fantastic brand and has been around 18 years and there’s a place for it in society.”

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