British entrepreneur Peter Jones became a millionaire after honing his business skills running a tennis coaching school. The 53-year-old Dragon’s Den star is worth an estimated £485 million and owns his own television production company.
The lofty business mogul, who stands 6ft 7ins tall, was a keen tennis player in his teens, taking his inspiration from stars such as Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Aged 13, he spent hours practicing, until his tennis coach, John Woodward, held the teen up as an example of excellence at summer training camp.
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However, rather than pursuing a career as a player, Jones was more interested in the business side of tennis. He studied Woodward’s management style in running the tennis academy. By the age of 16, Jones felt confident enough to run his own – his first venture into the business world.
It wasn’t always a smooth ride for the multi-millionaire. Despite his first business idea going well, he also had some tough times during his climb to the top. Born in 1966 in Maidenhead, he always had big ideas. His friends were doing milk rounds to make some money while at school but getting up in the early hours of the morning to earn £35 a week didn’t appeal to Jones.
Hence his idea to open a tennis academy. In an interview, he said he wasn’t lazy – he just didn’t want to work so hard for only a little money. Woodward was also his English teacher and Jones spoke to him about a summer job at his tennis camp.
Between the ages of 13 and 16, Jones studied the way Woodward ran his academy, noting his customer base, the type of letters he sent to students’ parents, his marketing strategy and how it worked overall. Finally, he thought it looked “easy” and decided to set up his own tennis academy – even though he was still a 16-year-old schoolboy!
He described it as his “first step into the world of business” and an “incredible” time. After passing his Lawn Tennis Association coaching exam, he asked his local tennis club if he could use a court after school and on a Saturday.
Initially, he coached children, but over time, adults started booking lessons too. Jones charged the adults £25 to £30 an hour – he was amazed at how successful his tennis academy became. While his friends were earning £35 a week with a milk round, he was working for five hours every Saturday and earning quadruple the money.
He had earned enough to buy himself a car by the time he was 18 and carried on running the tennis academy even while studying for his A-levels. However, he then launched his own computer business, giving tennis lessons in his spare time. By the time he was 20, Jones’ computer business had taken over and he allowed the tennis academy to wind down.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the high-flying entrepreneur, who suffered a major setback when in his twenties. At the time, he was living in the suburb of Martins Heron in Berkshire. In a radio interview, he admitted making mistakes that left him sleeping on a warehouse floor!
He described how he “got carried away” and “made huge mistakes”, losing everything as a result with one of his businesses. Making and selling his own-brand computers ended in disaster and led to his downfall at the time.
He had to give up his home and his cars and revealed to Virgin Radio breakfast show host Chris Evans that he lived on a warehouse floor for a while. Speaking in August 2019, Jones admitted his failure came after people didn’t pay him the money he was owed.
He said it was “naivety” that caused the problems, as he had failed to take out credit insurance when offered the chance, but like every survivor, he started again, first getting a salaried job at the age of 28, before setting up Phones International Group and getting back on track.
Jones is a regular judge on the TV show, Dragons’ Den, on which would-be entrepreneurs demonstrate their inventions to a panel of millionaires in the hope of persuading them to invest in the business. The long-running BBC reality show first aired in January 2005.
Despite his vast wealth today, Jones looks back with fondness at his time as a tennis coach in his youth. He revealed how he had dropped into his old school to surprise his former teacher, Woodward, who hadn’t realised until then the long-lasting effect his mentorship had on his former tennis protégé.
Jones described his first business venture with the tennis academy as an “amazingly good time” that also taught him a “key lesson” – try to work at doing something you enjoy, as it makes the hours go by more quickly.
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