Meet Hilary Devey, the new Dragon in the Den
- 28 July 2011
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Hilary Devey, the multi-millionaire CEO of a freight haulage firm, is determined to make her mark as the new Dragon in the Den.
"I would not say I'm ruthless at all - and never have been - but I'm quite capable of telling people what I think," says Devey.
As the new Dragon, you could be forgiven for thinking that the 53-year-old might feel apprehensive. But she maintains she is not one to be intimidated by co-stars Duncan Bannatyne, Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis:
"I wasn't nervous at all. I know I can compete with them on a commercial level any day of the week.
"It was just kind of the 'new girl at school' scenario - dropped into the middle of it, with people who had worked together as a team and knew each other's idiosyncrasies," she adds.
"To put a less strong character in there than myself would not have worked. I had to fight my corner."
Fair and firm
Devey replaces entrepreneur James Caan on the show and said she hopes the public react well to her.
"I hope that I come over as what I really am - which, I think, is fair and firm," she said.
"I have got genuine compassion for people and I genuinely like to help, but I'm also very much a commercial animal."
Devey says she is more likely to invest in the person, as well as the product.
She says she wants to find entrepreneurs who share the same work ethos, passion, drive, enthusiasm, tenacity and focus as her.
But she does not suffer fools gladly.
"I would not make a very good poker player, as when I'm angry I just shout."
Devey has had to overcome many challenges on her path to success.
Three years after her birth, in Bolton in 1960, her father's heating business went bankrupt, prompting a dramatic change in the family's living conditions.
"One minute we'd got a nice comfy sofa and a television, and the next minute we'd got orange boxes with jaffa signs on the side of them," she says.
Her father was unable to own any assets and so took on the tenancy of a pub in her mother's name, which gave the family a home and an income. Devey worked from the age of seven in the business.
Growing up she had aspirations to be a vet or a writer, but claims her father did not believe in educating girls.
"Unfortunately I had a very northern, misogynistic father who said: 'I'm not paying for your education - because you're a girl and some man is going to come along and marry you, and he'll keep you,'" she recalls.
"I'm still waiting for that man to come along."
At the age of 20, with no formal training, she went to work as a sales clerk in the offices of a distribution company and from there began her journey, working her way up in the logistics industry.
In 1996, she launched her own business, Pall-Ex - a pallet distribution company which she has turned into a multi-million pound empire.
Working out of a disused aircraft hangar, it was a struggle in the early years.
"I literally did everything myself. I couldn't afford typists, I couldn't afford to even photocopy documents.
"And it was quite challenging, juggling three dresses to make myself look smart and presentable every day."
Working within a male-dominated industry, she also faced some hostility, but dealt with it in a matter-of-fact way:
"I shrugged my shoulders, laughed and got on with it.
"When I was asked 'can you drive a truck?' I'd say: 'No love, I can't, but I can run your business better than you can.'"
As a single mum, Devey said her main focus was to feed son, Mevlit, and keep a roof over their heads.
But discovering that Mevlit had become addicted to heroin, at the age of 17, was one of the hardest times of her life.
"Getting [Mevlit] off heroin and going with him on that journey - and seeing your child weeks away from death - is probably the most challenging time in my life," she says.
Her world was further shaken when, in 2009, she suffered a stroke.
"To wake up the following morning and not even be able to spell the word 'the'... to have your brain scrambled so I couldn't even talk coherently… is something that nobody can comprehend unless they've actually gone through it," she says.
The stroke left her arm paralysed and she lost her peripheral vision, and she is now a keen supporter of The Stroke Association.
So - with all that life has thrown at her - what is the secret to Hilary's success and fortune?
"I have a capacity for work that can be seldom equalled," she says.
The new series of Dragons' Den begins on Sunday 31 July at 2100 BST On BBC Two and BBC HD