When Jenny Campbell first hit our screens on the latest series of Dragons' Den back in the Autumn of 2017, it was the culmination of a long-held ambition for the former CEO of YourCash Europe, which, unusually, saw her approach the BBC rather than the other way around. "I saw in January 2017 that two dragons were leaving and I'd been a fan of the show all its life," she said. "I'd probably watched most episodes, so I picked up the phone to my PR agency and said ‘that will be my seat then, won't it?' I was half-serious and she got me a screening interview, so I still had to compete for it, and I got the call a couple of months later to say they'd like me to join them."

It was a case of good timing, too, as Campbell had by this point sold the cash machine business which she had taken from the verge of collapse to a thriving enterprise, and was weighing up her options. "I had a decision to make as to whether to leave and do Dragons' Den or stay with the business for a further time and not do it," she says.

She took the decision to go for it, and started filming along with established dragons Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and Touker Suleyman, as well as fellow new recruit Tej Lalvani. "I was apprehensive," she admits. "I had met Touker and Tej before but I hadn't met Peter or Deborah. But we all get on very well and, despite how they edit it, have a huge amount of respect for each other."

In fact, the most recent series saw a record number of investments made, and was the second-highest in terms of the overall value of money invested. "Out of 102 pitches there were 26 investments, and out of those the two new dragons have done the most," she says. One of her many was in coffee gadget The Oomph, where she took a 15% stake in return for a £40,000 investment.

"Before I went on the Den I was asked what I was looking to invest in, and as a banker I said I thought I would invest in anything which I thought I could make money from," says Campbell. "But I've realised that I like a product that I can touch and feel, and something that has an engineer behind it who needs the extra business and sales support to bring it to market. That gets me more than the latest snack bar or DIY tool."

The product isn't the only criteria, however. "I was always taught by my previous chairman that you need to like the entrepreneur because you don't want to spend time working with people you don't get on with, and then you need the right price and, crucially, to be able to see an exit. You do not want to be sitting with a business in 10 years' time. This is a three-year horizon so you have got to be able to return the business or refinance it, and get your investment out. You're not a banker; you're an investor so you need to get a return on your money."

Her appearance on the show, which has now been running for 13 years, has certainly thrust Campbell into the limelight, and she admits to wanting to hide under a duvet when the first episode was aired. "I'm quite a private person really so I don't crave that limelight or celebrity status but if I can put something back by helping people to improve their businesses then I'm happy to do that," she says. "There are still people who are my friends who suddenly realise that it's me, and I just say that I'm a dragon on a Sunday night 14 times a year, and other than that I'm just me."

Accidental entrepreneur

Campbell never set out to be an entrepreneur, and spent 30 years working in banking, with NatWest and later RBS, as well as bringing up two children, who both now run their own ventures. But in 2006 she found herself moved into an operations director role Hanco, a cash machine business RBS had acquired a couple of years earlier.

"I expected to do 40 years and that would be the end of it; I didn't have an entrepreneur path on my career plan," she says. "But my most enjoyable bits with the bank had always been those which were customer-facing, where I was looking after clients, lending them money and helping them to grow their businesses. Then as I walked through the door of Hanco in 2006 I realised the tables were turned, and I wasn't walking in as the bank manager but as the chief."

The business was struggling to cope with the transition from a start-up to a larger player, and was losing £7 million a year. "What I found when I walked into that business was absolute chaos, with phones ringing off the hook, people not turning up for work and people having no idea where an ATM was," she says.

"What we had to do at that time, and what I realised I had been so well trained for, was to put discipline into the business, with policies and procedures, standards, service level agreements, key performance indicators; everything which I was born and bred on in the bank." Even today, her mantra for any business is ‘Live by corporate standards, breathe like an entrepreneur'; based around combining the entrepreneurial zeal with solid business foundations.

By 2010, the business was back to breaking even, but Campbell had been tasked with selling it; it was the depths of the recession and RBS "weren't terribly sure why they'd bought it". "I'd been proud to call myself a banker all my life, but that whole motivation and morale had gone in the bank, so all of a sudden I was no longer proud to call myself a banker," she recalls. "On the other side of the coin, I loved working for this business and I could see the fruits of our labour. I looked out at the team one day and thought if I sold this business on behalf of the bank, I'd have to go back to the ivory tower and all those people would lose their jobs, because it would be folded into a trade player in the UK. I thought we could do better than that."

In partnership with the finance director, Campbell looked into buying the firm herself, with all the risk that would entail. "All my savings had been reinvested back into bank shares but as a result of the crisis those were virtually worthless," she says. "I had an investment pot of about £250,000 but it was then worth a fraction of that. At the same time there was a call from the funders to put some skin in the game, so I had to mortgage my house and walk away from employment."

Brave new world

Once the new ownership was in place, and Hanco became YourCash Europe, Campbell was able to concentrate more on growth. "One of our major plans was to turn our estate into free-to-use rather than pay-to-use because I could see that consumer behaviour really wasn't motivated towards paying to get your cash out," she says. "We were the ones to lead the independent ATM sector towards being free to use, still making money behind the scenes with the banks paying us to service their customers."

Alongside that, the business looked to enter new territories. "The first thing I did once I'd bought the business out in 2010 was to open up a third country," she says. "We were already in the UK and the Netherlands, but we opened in Belgium in 2011." By 2013, Campbell had been able to raise more money and become a majority shareholder, and moved into Ireland.

By 2016, however, Campbell felt she had taken the business as far as she could with its current ownership structure. "I always knew that to go to its next stage it would need a bigger parent again," she says. "It had left one parent which had done a lot for it in its early days but which couldn't transform it into a nimble competitor in its industry. We'd done that outside the bank, but to further boost the business it would need even better technology and access to more finance."

She set about finding a buyer,but was again determined to sell to an overseas firm which would look to retain the presence in the UK rather than absorbing it into an existing player, and finally sold to Euronet Worldwide in October 2016. "It meant everyone's jobs were secure, and I also wanted to have another 10 years personally outside the business to pursue other interests," she says. "But I didn't know it was going to lead to Dragons' Den."

No easy option

Campbell believes it's essential any entrepreneur thoroughly researches the market before taking the plunge and starting a business. "Sometimes entrepreneurs get really passionate about their product but they haven't done enough research about whether or not that has legs," she warns.

"They then need to do consumer research about the appetite for that, and that has got to be significant, otherwise you won't get the investment you require. You can still run a nice lifestyle business selling products and services but it's not necessarily an investment, because the investors won't see a return on their money. You need to do your homework on the market, the consumer spend in that marketplace and what percentage of that market would you look to try and claim."

It's also important that entrepreneurs realise running a business is hard work. "You have to be self-motivated to work 12 or 14 hours a day and get yourself out in front of people," she points out. "You have to do everything at the beginning; you have to be the salesman, you have to do the operational piece of fulfilling the sale, and you have to be the bookkeeper and gather the money. That can be pretty lonely in the early days."

Once a business is up and running, surrounding yourself with the right people is vital. "You have to really work hard to build up the best team you can," she says. "You're only ever as good as your team so you need to put the time into hiring the right people, and I classify in that all those other people outside the business who support you, such as advisers and lawyers. If you don't get that right, then you'll only ever be an island."

As for her own future, Campbell is looking to build a balance between her ongoing Dragons' Den commitments, business investments, speaking opportunities - she receives around 10 approaches a week - and her life outside work; she breeds flat-coated retrievers and is currently working her way through the ranks as a show judge. "I want to balance a business portfolio, a small speaking portfolio and having plenty of time at home with my husband and dogs and the outdoor life," she says. "I do need that balance otherwise I'll be busier than I ever was before and that wasn't the intention.

"But there is a part of me that would still like to pick up another small business that is failing and do what I did with YourCash, so put that corporate element into it and turn it into a very successful business. This is where businesses struggle when they grow from being a one-man band to 10, 50 or 100 people, because they haven't got the discipline. It's fine when you're five people, but not when you're 100."

Another focus is her charity work. She's involved with both Young Enterprise, helping young people learn entrepreneurial skills, and Tomorrow's People, which helps those from difficult backgrounds into work or running a business, and which she supports by asking for donations in return for her speaking slots. "I have seen so many examples of young kids who come from broken homes and difficult circumstances who got themselves into employment and been transformed because they have been given a chance and support," she says. "I felt that I could work at both ends of the spectrum and help young people from different backgrounds, but always with a work ethic in mind. They have got to want to help themselves in the first place; anything else we can overcome."

With so much going on, Campbell admits she is unsure of which path her life will take. "I can't picture what the next 10 years will take me," she says. "But I'm a very positive person who grabs opportunities in life and makes the most of them. Money doesn't buy health but as long as I'm having fun and stay healthy then the next 10 years will be as strong as the previous 40."