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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 15:33 GMT
James Dyson: Business whirlwind
James Dyson
Inventor James Dyson has an estimated 700m fortune
James Dyson, the man who pioneered the "bagless" vacuum cleaner, says he stumbled across the idea while renovating his country house in the Cotswolds.

Noticing how vacuum cleaner bags clogged with dust, he set to work to try to resolve the problem.

Five years and 5,127 prototypes later, the G Force Dual Cyclone arrived and revolutionised the vacuum cleaner market.

The Ballbarrow
The Ballbarrow was one of Dyson's first inventions
His company - with its distinctive range of boldly-coloured products - is now said to be Europe's fastest growing manufacturer and has achieved sales of over 3bn worldwide, with 35m profit in 2000.

James Dyson is the company's chairman and sole shareholder, and with an estimated fortune of 700m he is Britain's 37th richest man.

But the 54-year-old father of three has had to battle to build his empire.

Born in Norfolk in 1947 in what he describes as a "middle class and not particularly wealthy background", Dyson was drawn to art and design from an early age.

After leaving school he attended art school in London, before going to the Royal College of Art to study furniture design and then interior design.


He launched his first product, the Sea Truck, in 1970 while still a student.

Over the next few years came the award-winning Ballbarrow, the Wheelboat and the Trolleyball.

In 1978 he came up with the idea of a bagless cleaner.

After five years in development and two more trawling the UK and Europe looking for someone to license the product, Dyson finally took it to Japan.

It won the 1991 International Design Fair prize in Japan and became a status symbol there, selling for $2,000 a time.

James Dyson
Dyson is Britain's 37th richest man
Its must-have status was further reinforced when fashion designer Sir Paul Smith starting selling it in his London clothes store.

Dyson products are now on display at museums across the world, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

Using income from the Japanese licence, Dyson decided to manufacture a new model under his own name in the UK.

In June 1993 he opened his research centre and factory in Wiltshire and developed the DCO1, the first in a range of cleaners offering constant suction.

It became the fastest selling vacuum cleaner ever to be made in the UK and was followed by the Root Cyclone vacuum cleaner and the Dyson DC06 robot, which guides itself around a room.

Court victory

There are now 18 types of Dyson cleaner on the market and the company has captured 38% of the British market.

Dyson and his engineers have not stopped there, re-examining products of all types, including the washing machine.

But it has not been an easy path.

The Dual Cyclone was nearly never made due to patent and legal costs. Unlike a songwriter who owns his songs, an inventor must pay substantial fees to renew his patents each year.

Dyson washing machine
Dyson has developed a new washing machine
This nearly bankrupted Dyson in the development years when he had no income. He risked everything, and fortunately the risk paid off.

Then in 1999, Hoover tried to imitate a Dyson and he was forced back to court to protect his invention, finally winning a victory for patent infringement.

Dyson's artistic creativity and business acumen has rubbed off on his children.

His daughter Emily, a fashion designer, runs her own homeware store, Couverture, in London.

His son Jacob worked in design for Dyson, but is now working on his own hush-hush lighting designs.

Youngest son James is in band Wax on Wax Off, who have just finished making an EP with Ian Grindle - producer with award-winning Travis.

See also:

05 Feb 02 | Business
Dyson considers move to Far East
12 Jan 01 | Business
Hoover wins court battle with Dyson
05 Nov 00 | Business
Entrepreneur issues euro threat
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