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A Christmas story: Santa Claus visits the Dragons' Den

Christmas Eve, and the five Dragons waited impatiently in their Den for their final visitor. They checked share prices and exchange rates on their mobile phones. They made calls to schedule or cancel meetings. They didn’t talk to each other.

And then he was standing there in front of them. An elderly gentleman with a white beard, in a red and white coat.

“I’m out” said the first Dragon, before anyone else could speak or react. “You have the worst possible business model. Huge costs, zero revenue. I want no part of it.”

The elderly gentleman smiled from ear to ear. “You may be misinformed,” he said softly.

“You’re being too hasty” said the second Dragon to the first. “You gotta admit, it’s a stunning logistics operation. Global. Hundreds of millions of individual items. Guaranteed delivery. Simultaneous. I’d be keen to know more, and if that means buying into a loss-making business, well, I’m not ruling it out. Not yet.”

The visitor beamed. “I’m fairly sure I don’t have a logistics operation” he said, even more softly, almost to himself.

The third Dragon spoke up. “I’m more interested in your purchasing function, particularly the front-end research. In how you anticipate the wants of millions of individual kids. I own three businesses that market against parents and I’d like my people to talk with your people about techniques for zeroing in on specific insights.”

The smile widened still further, if that were possible. “Talk with my people? What people?” he mused through his beard.

The fourth Dragon had stayed quiet throughout all this. When everyone else had said their piece, he asked “I don’t understand. Why are you here?”

The elderly gentleman nodded, still smiling. “Thank you. Um, you may all be labouring under a misapprehension. Who do you think I am?”

“Oh come on Santa, your outfit isn’t exactly the most discreet.”

“Ho ho, that’s very true. Very well then, what do you think I do?”

The final Dragon spoke up. “What is this, some sort of group coaching intervention? We ask the questions, not you. Well okay, here you go Santa, since you seem to have forgotten. Here’s your executive summary. You give kids presents at Christmas for being good. You use elves for warehousing and despatch, and a reindeer-powered sleigh for delivery.”

The elderly gentleman smiled back at him. “How old are you?” he asked gently.

The Dragon started to answer, then fell silent.

“Listen, gather round everyone. I’m very sorry to have to disappoint you. I don’t have elves working for me. There’s no warehouse, no sleigh, and no reindeer.” He paused, and his smile faded for a brief moment. “I don’t give presents to children either, although I wish I could.”

After a longer pause, a Dragon said “Santa, I think I get it. You don’t do all that, you outsource it. You’re just one big smart red-and-white outsourcing operation!”

The smile was back. “Not even that…”

The Dragons’ curiosity was aroused. They huddled together and discussed and argued. Not unlike small children. And then - a sort of joint realisation.

“You’re a brand!” “An archetype!” “A meme!” they shouted.

“Yes, yes, I suppose I’m all of those things” he conceded, “but I just like to think of myself as a memory jogger. A reminder of what it’s like to be a child. The excitement. The wonder. The faith in goodness and kindness. Do you remember what it’s like to be seven?”

They each felt a sudden shiver, a pleasant one, and they thought about that for a while.

Then one of them thought to ask “So, Santa, what would you like from us?”

“Ho ho ho. You know what I’d like. It’s over to you. Merry Christmas, each of you.” The echo of his laugh followed him as he left.

The Dragons looked at each other and smiled, a little sheepishly. One said “are the shops still open? Only there’s something I should… Anyhow, I must be getting along.”

They shook hands, and then gave each other tentative hugs. “See you next year.” “Yes, have a good Christmas.” “You too. Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas everyone.” “Love to all.” “Yes, love to everyone.” And they left, still chatting to each other as they headed for the exit.

Outside, the first flakes of snow started to fall.


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