The businessman on his CNBC show and the weirdest place he's been asked for advice

By Robyn Ross
Updated February 16, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST

Marcus Lemonis has invested millions of dollars into small businesses on his CNBC series The Profit, but if you can believe it, he says his business acumen is lacking.

“I’m really not a great businessperson,” Lemonis tells EW. “I understand business and I understand numbers, but I think what I understand more than that is people. … Ultimately, I think businesses fail and people fail because they don’t have their act together.”

Three seasons in, Lemonis has taken a slew of companies, often on the verge of closing, and turned them around by examining and bettering what he calls the three P’s: People, process and product. But not every episode outcome is a success; Lemonis admits there are plenty of businesses featured on the show that have taken advantage or gotten “amnesia” about his investments.

Read on for more about those disappointments and to learn about his next venture, The Partner.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What have you learned about business since starting the show?

MARCUS LEMONIS: I’ve learned a lot about myself. Prior to doing this show I had dealt with a lot of small businesses and big businesses, but I had never dealt with the range of characters that I’ve met on the show. I have some really bright people who are energetic and dedicated and then there’s the opposite of that. I had never learned to become a chameleon and deal with all those sorts of people and it’s helped me in life, even in my personal life, to be a lot more accepting.

What’s been the most disappointing business you’ve helped?

The most disappointing businesses, for me, are the ones where the people flat-out lie. I had one in Queens where I gave them a couple hundred thousand dollars and they started spending it on themselves. I had one in Brooklyn, a meat company, and I gave them $200,000 for Brooklyn Burger and then they got amnesia and forgot. There was a flower company in Pasadena where I renovated the whole place and made all these changes and then the owner told me in the end that I didn’t do anything. It’s when the businessowners use me.

Which have been the most gratifying to work with?

Definitely Sweet Pete’s in Jacksonville. This was a candy maker who is now a candy mogul. [And] Simple Greek out of Pittsburgh, which is a Chipotle-like model for Greek food. When I found the business it had three locations and there are now 19 franchises around the country. And then there are some this season like [Vision Quest Lighting] and [Inkkas] shoe company. I don’t just measure success on money; sometimes it’s the development of the individual. Key West Key Lime Pie Company isn’t going to be a homerun financially, but there’s a woman who worked there who was also bartending part-time and now she’s my 25-percent partner. The business used to lose $100,000 a year prior to her being there every day and now it’ll make $100,000. If people don’t think they can make it, go to Key West and talk to her.

Do you get a lot of celebrities who want your advice?

I get a lot of celebrities that reach out, some for business and some for drinks so I’m never sure how to respond. But I get a lot of professional athletes who have made a lot of money in their craft who are smart enough to know that the sport ends and they want to know what to do next. But I tell them all the same thing: I’m not a consultant or an adviser, but if you want to invest in a small business with me I’m open to that. Most people get scared off by it. Small businesses are a risky proposition and most celebrities want a homerun.

Where’s the most bizarre place you’ve been asked for advice?

The weirdest place someone has asked me for advice was at a party where there were a lot of A-list celebrities and super wealthy people. There were people in the middle of mingling asking for investment advice and I’m like, “Hey, I’m just here to dance. I’m here to have fun!” So that’s weird. But I do like when I go to the grocery store or the gas station … when there are just working people who say, “I have this idea and I need to catch a break,” or, “I lost my job, what ideas do you have?” — I welcome it. When rich, famous people start asking for advice I’m like, maybe I need some advice because you seem to have done pretty well!

Tell us about your new show The Partner.

It’s really disconnected from The Profit and is a totally separate venture. All of the small businesses I invest in on and off the show have taken up a lot of my time and one person can only do so much. This isn’t me raising my hand for help, but I need help. In order to run a good business you need to surround yourself with good people so I’m looking for one person that can be my partner. They’ll get a half a million-dollar employment agreement over three years and they’ll get one percent of the equity of everything I own inside of this one entity. It looks like a great opportunity for them, but to be honest I think it’s a better opportunity for me to look at thousands of people and pick somebody who will be a great business partner. I don’t think I could be luckier.

The finale of The Profit airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on CNBC.