You live and you learn: Sir David Tang

The founder of luxury retailer Shanghai Tang on the perils of gambling, working with big corporations and the 'nonsense' of east versus west.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
At university, I studied philosophy, then I went to law college. My grandfather said being a philosopher was pointless and that he'd buy me a flat if I became a lawyer.

I didn't like law. Every client had a problem, and I didn't want to listen to people's problems; I had enough of my own. I had lost my flat in a casino. I won it back. But then I lost it again on the horses.

My family were refugees and by nature entrepreneurial. My grandfather started a bus company. Luck and being in the right place at the right time are the most important things for succeeding in business.

I started Shanghai Tang in 1994. In 1998 I sold a 40% stake to Richemont and the rest in 2006. I couldn't cope with them. Its founder, Johann Rupert, was one of my oldest friends, but all his lieutenants were ghastly. Entrepreneurs should never work with big corporations.

I can't stand red tape. The Government has got to encourage start-ups, and the rich of Britain need to invest more in them. I help 10 people a day.

You'd be foolish not to go east now. The idea that there is a difference between east and west is nonsense. You both hand over your card with two hands. If someone were to give me a million pounds I couldn't care if they handed it to me within their toes.

In fact, differences are much more acute within the same kind. I was recently in Newcastle. You'd think the people there are not from Britain. When they hear your voice they think you're an alien.

I'm not surprised about the lack of women on boardrooms. They were only emancipated 200 years ago and historically men have dominated. I welcome women, as long as they qualify for the job.

I shout a lot, I probably have Tourette's, but nobody's perfect. I only have five people working for me and each has been with me for more than 20 years. So what does that say about me?

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