Nazim Khan (James Caan) was born on 28 December 1960 in Lahore. His family emigrated to the United Kingdom when he was two years old. His father subsequently established a clothing company in Brick Lane, East London. Caan's father had intended him to join the family business once his formal education was completed, but Caan decided he wanted to find his own way in the world. At 16, before he had begun his O-Levels, he left home and moved to a flat in Kensington. This led to Caan's being estranged from his father for many years.
Other than a Saturday job at Mr Buyright, Caan had no formal experience of work and so went to a recruitment agency to find some. His first job was door to door sales, which he found tiring. At this point, he knew he wanted to work in an office. He went back to the recruitment agency and asked for something that was indoors and saw a job working for Grand Metropolitan. He worked for several recruitment companies and started a fashion boutique with his wife before deciding he wanted to start his own company.
Caan started his own recruitment company in the early 1980s. His first office was in Pall Mall but was so small that the door could not be fully opened as it was blocked by his desk. He purposely chose the prestigious address to convey an image that the company was bigger than it actually was to attract clients. As he had no meeting rooms, client meetings would often take place in coffee shops, and he would tell them that they were so busy that all the rooms were full. At this time he also changed his name from Nazim Khan to James Caan after seeing a film by the famous actor and an alternative way to spell “Khan”; this also helped him in his recruitment company, as the name was more easily recognisable.
Caan did not excel at school and did not attend university as an undergraduate, but graduated from the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard Business School in 2003.
Caan founded the recruitment company Alexander Mann in 1985. In 1993 Caan co-founded the executive headhunting firm Humana International with Doug Bugie, eventually growing the business to over 147 offices in 30 countries. In the same year Caan launched the trade magazine Recruitment International, which he later sold in 2000. In 1996 Caan co-founded the business process outsourcing company AMS with Rosaleen Blair. Caan subsequently sold his interests in AMS in 2002. Caan sold Humana International to CDI International, a New York listed company, in 1999. Later in that year Caan sold a minority stake in Alexander Mann Group to private equity firm Advent International.
In 2002 Caan sold his interests in Alexander Mann, which by that time had a turnover of around £130m. In 2004 Caan established the London-based private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw. In the same year he invested in the managed office provider Avanta, which he sold three years later to the private equity company Kenmore. In 2007 Hamilton Bradshaw acquired the recruitment specialist Eden Brown and Caan sold his remaining interest in Alexander Mann Group to Graphite Private Equity in a management buy-out lead by Rosaleen Blair.
In 2010 Caan launched The Entrepreneurs Business Academy and became a non–Executive Director of McCaan London. In 2011 Caan founded Hamilton Bradshaw Venture Partners.
In 2007 Caan joined the panel of Dragons’ Den judges for the fifth series of the show. Hilary Devey replaced James Caan on Dragons Den in 2012. Through his role on Dragons’ Den, Caan worked with Children in Need for many years. In 2008, Children in Need filmed a ‘Youth Dragons Den’. ‘Look for Loneliness’ was his initiative to help reduce bullying and get children to understand what it is like to feel isolated. Caan went on to work with Children in Need in 2009, helping to renovate a Community Centre for young people to visit before and after school.
In 2008, in aid of Comic Relief, Caan teamed up with the other presenters of Dragons Den for a special edition of the programme titled ‘Victorians Dragons’ Den’. In December 2009 Caan joined the Sport Relief team on a four-day trip to Kenya.
Caan has been involved with the British Government and their agencies on a number of initiatives related to UK business for many years. These include The Government Entrepreneur’s Forum and The Department for International Development (DFID) where he worked on the relief effort after the 2010 Pakistan flood.
In May 2012, Caan was approached by the government to become Chairman of the Start-Up Loans initiative. The aim is to support young people with funding and mentoring to start up new businesses in the UK. Over £112 million of loans will be offered to 18-30 year olds over a 3 year period. James and his board of entrepreneur ambassadors head up the government scheme, providing loans of around £2,500 to the 18 - 30 year olds to start their own businesses.
In the first six months, over 1000 new businesses were started, leading Caan to comment: I am thrilled to see the momentum we have gained and that hundreds of young people every week look to start their own business.
Caan founded the James Caan Foundation (JCF) in 2006. The JCF supports charities in the UK and seeks to promote greater awareness of issues facing the developing world, with a primary focus on children's access to education and healthcare.
The JCF has funded the construction of a new school in Lahore, northern Pakistan. Since first purchasing a barren plot of land and opening the 16-classroom school in 2005, the TCF School, named after Caan’s father, has over 420 children aged from 5-11.
In July 2010, Caan flew to Pakistan immediately after the worst flooding in the country's history and personally purchased, prepared and delivered emergency food parcels to families in the village of Nowshera. On his return to the UK Caan partnered with UNICEF to provide urgent food, medical supplies and water and hygiene kits to 1,000 families in the affected area. Caan also undertook an extensive media outreach campaign and his trip was widely covered in national newspapers. After just two weeks, Caan had raised £100,000 for UNICEF. Caan and the James Caan Foundation subsequently undertook a project to rebuild a village in Pakistan, including schools, hospitals, homes and all infrastructure and water supplies. Aid agencies including UNICEF, Oxfam, Islamic Relief, Muslim Hands and Mosaic were also involved in the project.
Caan is involved with and supports other charities including the The Prince’s Trust, Marie Curie, Mosaic, Care Foundation and the NSPCC. In 2009 Caan was appointed chairman of The Big Issue Company.