Top 10 Lessons learnt after meeting James Caan

A couple weeks ago I had the genuine pleasure to spend some time in Monaco with the inspirational business tycoon James Caan, an individual I’ve looked up to for many years. Cruising along the French Riviera, James generously hosted my wife and I in his stunning private yacht, sharing a lifetime of lessons over a hearty lunch.

Having dipped into his autobiography, witnessed his unique charm on screen (and at a variety of community events) and now finally enjoyed quality 1-2-1 time with James in his own environment, I have listed below 10 lessons I have taken to heart from his incredible journey.

1.    “Different, not better”

It was humbling to hear James praise the strong team of leaders he has assembled around him. He rejoices in fact that each of them out-skill him in their areas of expertise. As the leader he doesn’t feel the need to be better than everyone else, rather each of them are the best in their fields and each offer something different. James provides the unique vision that holds them all together and his career is a testament to the success of this.

2.    “Success in Failure”

It’s been said before, and it can’t be said enough. Too often, especially amongst Asian communities, we’re taught failure is a terrible thing, but James is clear it doesn’t have to be that way. Failing does not make you a failure. You learn in failure lessons you can never learn in success. James has taken each of his failings as moments for him to introspect, learn and anchor himself ready to launch again. My time with James has moved me to better accept mistakes as an essential part of one’s journey.

3.    “Keep it simple and stay focused”

James reflected on some of the most successful businesses in recent times; Uber is not a complicated or confusing thing. It’s a taxi service. Likewise, AirBnB has a simple business model and yet these companies are worth billions. Sometimes we get caught up in complexity, when more than not simplicity and ease win the day. As entrepreneurs, we need to be careful not to fall for fluffy words and complex business plans that in reality can hinder your success

4.    “Quality time”

The quantity of our time is limited, but the quality is something we can work to improve. James attributes much of his success on making good decisions and you will make your best decisions when you are in your best form. Physically, emotionally, spiritually – James has always struck me as an incredibly composed and centred individual. He surrounds himself with quality people, in quality environments. He oozes confidence and never strikes you as an individual on edge or imbalanced. James reminded me to not forget to enjoy life, celebrate the small things, value family time and remember that success in your professional life should go hand in hand with success in your personal life too.

5.    “Something from nothing”

As entrepreneurs it’s in our DNA to see something when others don’t, to create connections where others can’t, to bring into life that which doesn’t yet exist. To many people that doesn’t make sense but this is a gift that entrepreneurs have, an instinct. My time with James has inspired me to trust that feeling, to feed that vision, to dare to try, take risks and crucially, buck the trend (See point 9!)

6.    “Know you limits”

No one person can do everything. Whilst an entrepreneur’s skill may lie in envisioning and creating something from nothing, more often than not it’s our egos that stop us from taking our companies to the next level. We have to know our limits and our strengths. James conceded he’s strongest in establishing companies but to see them mature into their fullest potential he knew there are other people who can do that better than he ever could and he hired the best in the business to take his companies to the next level.

7.    “Share the rewards”

James works with people who are passionate and believe in his vision as he does. One of the ways he encourages this is incentivising other people’s work, so they will reap the fruits of their hard work not just James. I was moved by how James believes in, trusts and empowers others. It’s hard to do this at first, your business is your baby and it can be difficult to trust others with looking after it but a smaller slice of a bigger pie is always worth more than a big slice of a small pie.

8.    “Find your Passion”

People will make excuses not to work but passion is what keeps the dream alive. If you love what you do you will find the sweetness in the struggle. The sleepless nights, burning the midnight oil, squeezing every drop that you have in you; that’s where the magic happens. Sometimes it can take a while to discover what really drives you. James is a man of passion and it’s infectious. It inspires others and draws them to you. If you have passion, you’ll always make the time. Don’t have the time? You don’t have the passion.

9.    “Against the grain”

Buck the trend. This is one of James’ secrets. You might find success doing what other people are doing, but there’s almost certainly someone who can do it better than you. His advice, inspired by his father, is to innovate and master your own space. For real success, you have to believe that you can be successful and thus craft businesses that have a wide reach and scalability. This doesn’t mean doing something different just for the sake of it, but rather finding the gaps in the market and offering something unique.

10. “Role Model”

Reflecting on my times with James I was touched by his genuine generosity of spirit. He offered up his time, invited me into his space, listened to me and imparted honest sincere advice, all without asking for anything in return. It was humbling to witness and reminded me to always make time for others. The truth is, whatever I have managed to achieve with and Penny Appeal; the dozens of countries we work in, the hundreds of staff, tens of thousands of marriages we’ve helped set up, the millions of pounds raised for the neediest, it pales in comparison to the impact James has achieved in his career. A true role model inspires you to do more and be more and I can’t be more grateful to James for reigniting the spark of possibility within me.

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Adeem Younis

Adeem Younis

Founder of and