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Luke Johnson (businessman)

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Luke Johnson
Luke Johnson WES 2014.jpg
Luke Johnson speaking at Warwick Economics Summit 2014
Born (1962-02-02) 2 February 1962 (age 56)
Other namesCool Hand Luke[1]
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
Net worth£220 million (2015)
Parent(s)Paul Johnson and Marigold Hunt
RelativesDaniel Johnson (brother)

Luke Oliver Johnson (born 2 February 1962), is a British entrepreneur. He is a former chairman of the Pizza Express chain, the Royal Society of Arts and Channel 4. He writes a weekly column for The Sunday Times. Johnson calls himself a "projector", in line with the 17th century term for a man involved in many different businesses.[2] He is the part owner and chairman of Patisserie Valerie, Gail's Artisan Bakery and Feng Sushi among other businesses. He is a former owner of The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey restaurants and a former part owner of Giraffe Restaurants.

Early years[edit]

The son of historian Paul Johnson and brother of Daniel Johnson, he spent his early years in Iver, Buckinghamshire, and was educated at the state run Langley Grammar School in Langley, Berkshire, and at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Whilst at university Johnson together with fellow student Hugh Osmond (later founder of Punch Taverns) interviewed Richard Branson on his houseboat in London for the student newspaper. This gave the pair the inspiration to go into business and they began running the Era nightclub in Oxford. By the time of graduation, he and Osmond were running businesses from software to clubs.

He initially studied medicine but, like Hugh Osmond, only completed the first part of the course, graduating from Oxford University with a BA in Physiological Sciences in 1983. He began his career as a media analyst at stockbroker Grieveson Grant (subsequently Kleinwort Benson Securities).

Business career[edit]

Restaurants and leisure[edit]

A Patisserie Valerie store in Sutton High Street, Sutton, Greater London

In 1993, Johnson and Osmond took control of Pizza Express, with Johnson becoming chairman. They expanded the business from 12 owned restaurants to over 250, and the share price from 40p to over 900p.[3] After selling the business in 1999 Johnson started Signature Restaurants, a ‘crown jewels’ collection of London restaurants which included The Ivy and Le Caprice, as well as the Belgo chain. He also started Strada restaurants from scratch, taking the chain to 30 units. He sold both businesses in 2005; the total proceeds from these two disposals were in excess of £90 million.[3]

Whilst chairman of the Belgo group, Johnson took part in the BBC programme "Back to the Floor", a programme in which top executives spent a week at the "coal face" of their business. Some reviewers of the programme were uncomplimentary about Johnson.

From 1993 to date, Johnson has been involved as director and/or owner of various companies in retailing, pubs and bars, including Whittard of Chelsea, My Kinda Town and the private companies Giraffe,[4] Druckers[5] and Baker & Spice.[6] The latter two businesses became part of Patisserie Holdings (see below). In December 2009, Johnson's investment partnership Risk Capital Partners Ltd acquired the Tootsie's restaurant chain,[7] for which it was awarded the "Deal of the Year" prize at the 2010 Retailer's Retailer Awards ceremony. Johnson also purchased in 2010 a stake in artisan bakery Flour Power City, which supplies restaurants, hotels, and caterers. Flour Power City also operates stalls in locations such as Borough Market in London. This business also became part of Patisserie Holdings.

September 2010 saw Johnson purchase Feng Sushi,[8] a London-based chain of Japanese restaurants specialising in home delivery. In the same month he also purchased a majority stake in casual-dining firm Ego Group,[9] which was merged in April 2011 with pizza business Rocket Restaurants to form 3Sixty Restaurants,[10] with Johnson as chairman.

In May 2011, Risk Capital Partners assumed a shareholding in Bread Ltd,[11] a leading artisan baker. The group includes retail bakery and cafe Gail's, which has twenty-two bakeries in London and sells its products through Waitrose, Harvey Nichols and Ocado. In June 2013 he became chairman and 50% owner of Grand Union, a London bar chain.[12]

Johnson is also the majority owner of contract catering firm Genuine Dining.

In May 2015, Risk Capital Partners announced its purchase of a majority stake in Zoggs, the global swimming products brand.[13]

In 2016 he acquired a 12.5% stake in Elegant Hotels Group.[14] He joined the board of Elegant Hotels as a non-executive director in May 2017.[15]

Patisserie Holdings[edit]

Johnson is the Executive Chairman, Chairman of the Remuneration Committee, and a 37% shareholder of Patisserie Holdings.[16] (London Stock Exchange EPIC code: CAKE [1]). The principal trading brand is Patisserie Valerie; the company's other brands include Druckers Vienna Patisserie, Philpotts, Baker & Spice, and Flour Power City Bakery. The company's auditor is Grant Thornton.

On 19 May 2014 the company was admitted to the Alternative Investment Market. The company had a market value of £446.13 million at close of business on 9 October 2018, the closing price being quoted as 425.9 pence.[citation needed] That evening Sky News published a news item headed: 'Patisserie Valerie owner faces crisis 'over £20m accounting hole'.[17]

Fraud investigation at Patisserie Holdings[edit]

On 10 October 2018, the company's shares were suspended from trading. An announcement included information that the board had been notified of significant and potentially fraudulent accounting irregularities, that a potential material mis-statement of the company's accounts had significantly impacted the company's cash position, and that Chris Marsh, the Chief Financial Officer, had been suspended from his role.

On 11 October, the company announced that there was a material shortfall between the reported financial status and the current financial status of the business and that without an immediate injection of capital the directors were of the view that there would be no scope for the business to continue trading in its current form. This announcement also stated that the directors and the company's professional advisers were assessing all options available to the business to keep it trading.[18]

On 12 October, Hertfordshire police issued a statement saying that: "A 44-year old man from St Albans has been arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation. He has been released under investigation." It was widely reported that the individual concerned was Marsh.[19][20] The Serious Fraud Office announced on its website that it had opened an investigation into an individual at the company.[21] Later that day the company announced details of a rescue plan under which it would borrow £20 million from Johnson[22] and place 31,451,100 ordinary shares at 50 pence to raise new capital of approximately £15.7m before payment of expenses.[23] Johnson faced the choice of letting the company fail (at which point he would still have been worth over £100m), or lending money to it, albeit on terms that the majority of the loans would be repaid by the proceeds of the placings. The rescue plan prevented the imminent bankruptcy of the company and subsequent loss of 2500 jobs, but was criticised in The Daily Telegraph as being against the interests of smaller shareholders.[24]

On 14 October it was reported that two unauthorised and unreported overdrafts of almost £10m had been discovered.[25]

Directors' share dealings[edit]

Johnson was the only director of the company never to have sold shares after flotation.[citation needed] Earlier in 2018, Paul May, the company's CEO, and Marsh both exercised share options at a price of 418p, allegedly making £1 million and £680,000, respectively. At the end of June Lee Ginsberg, deputy chairman and head of the audit committee, sold 40,000 shares at 469p, making almost £190,000.[26] These figures relate to legitimate transactions pre-dating the crisis, with no suggestion that the board extracted cash from the company in such a way as to contribute to the alleged accounting fraud.

Other business ventures[edit]

Since 2000, Johnson has run Risk Capital Partners Ltd, focusing on private equity deals. Risk Capital Partner's portfolio includes the directory publisher Superbrands, fashion chain East,[27] and GRA, the UK's largest greyhound track owner.[28]

In May 2010, Johnson became a strategic investor in Beer & Partners,[29] the UK's largest business investment agency. He is also a director of two theatre production partnerships, Playful Productions and Fiery Dragons, as well as director of AKA UK, a marketing agency to the live entertainment industry. In October 2011, Johnson became a non-executive director of Metro Bank plc.[30] He was a non-executive director of art publisher Phaidon Press from August 2010 to October 2012.[31]

Former investments[edit]

In 1996 Johnson co-founded Integrated Dental Holdings, expanding it to become the UK's largest chain of dental surgeries, with over 500 dentists. The firm was sold in 2006 for over £100 million.[3] From 2004 to 2006 Johnson was director of Dollar Financial Group Inc, a US NASDAQ traded corporation with $80m EBITDA.[3] He was involved in parcel delivery and maritime commerce through Nightfreight and American Port Services.

He served as a non-executive director of Elderstreet VCT plc for ten years. Through Risk Capital Partners, Johnson was a founder, part-owner and director of recruitment business InterQuest Group plc. Risk Capital Partners is also a former investor in advertising and design group Loewy, which was sold in 2006, and formerly a part-owner of fresh fish distributor Seafood Holdings,[32] sold in 2010 for £45m in total. Risk also held a stake in car park technology provider APT controls until 2014.[33][34]

Luke Johnson became Chairman and part-owner of Giraffe Restaurants in 2004. In 2013 he stepped down as Chairman, upon Giraffe's sale to Tesco for a reported £50m.[35]

Business approach[edit]

Among Johnson's business maxims are that, consciously or not, every successful company that he knows has followed kaizen, the Japanese management philosophy of constant, incremental improvements, often driven from the bottom up.[36]


Johnson backed Vote Leave in the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016.[37]

Journalism and media[edit]

Johnson was Chairman of Channel 4 Television Corporation from January 2004[38] to January 2010, during which time he appointed a new CEO, restructured the board and saw the organisation enjoy record ratings, revenues and surplus.

He writes a weekly column on business for The Sunday Times. He wrote a weekly essay for the Financial Times from 2007 to 2015. From 1998 to 2006 he wrote "The Maverick", a weekly business column for The Sunday Telegraph. An anthology of "The Maverick" columns was published by Harriman House in 2007.[39]

Johnson serves on the advisory board of cultural and political magazine Standpoint.

Other activities[edit]

Johnson is chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research, assuming that role in August 2013.[40]

He is a former Chairman of The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA),[41] completing a three-year term in October 2012. He was governor of The University of the Arts between 2000 and 2006. He was also Chairman of Action on Addiction from 2011 to 2012.[42] In June 2012, Johnson was appointed Chairman of Startup Britain, the national campaign to stimulate start-up growth in the UK.[43] Johnson is also Chairman of Career Colleges, an organisation planning 40 vocational colleges for 14- to 19-year-olds.[44]

In October 2013, Johnson co-founded and launched the Centre for Entrepreneurs,[45] a non-profit think-tank aiming to address the "...under-represention of entrepreneurs in the public eye" and to "...promote entrepreneurship to government, media, the private sector (including big businesses) and the general public."[46]

With Stephen Lambert and Christopher Hird, Johnson co-produced The Flaw,[47][48] a 2011 documentary film detailing the events leading up to the financial crash of 2008. The film takes its title from Alan Greenspan's admission to US Congress that he had been mistaken to put so much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets.


Johnson is married, with three children and lives in London.


  • Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business is Easier Than You Think - ISBN 978-0-670-92047-1
  • The Maverick - ISBN 978-1-905641-40-6
  • Betting to Win - ISBN 0-948035-31-5
  • The Key to Making Money in the New Stock Market - ISBN 0-297-79296-2
  • How to get a Highly Paid Job in the City - ISBN 1-85091-474-5
  • 30 Ways to Make Money in Franchising - ISBN 0-948032-48-0
  • 30 Ways to Make Money in Property - ISBN 0-948032-43-X


  1. ^ "Sunday Times Rich List: Luke Johnson". The Sunday Times. London. 27 April 2008. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  2. ^ Cummings, Laura (15 May 2003). "Pizza Express entrepreneur looks to the future". BBC News. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d "About Luke Johnson".
  4. ^ Shrimpton, David (25 March 2004). "Ex-PizzaExpress duo invest in Giraffe"., Retrieved July 2010.
  5. ^ "Former Pizza Express man buys Druckers" Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Growing Business, 31 May 2007. Retrieved July 2010.
  6. ^ Druce, Chris (25 February 2009)."Luke Johnson acquires another patisserie chain". "Caterer Search". Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  7. ^ "Johnson eyes Giraffe expansion with Tootsies deal". Growing Business, 13 October 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2011. Archived 28 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Johnson, Rachel (22 September 2010)."Luke Johnson buys 92 per cent of Feng Sushi". Big Hospitality. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  9. ^ "Luke Johnson increases portfolio with Ego Group investment". Archived 15 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine., Business Matters, 14 September 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  10. ^ Gibson, Heather "The full 3Sixty" Archived 28 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine., EP Magazine, March 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  11. ^ Holmes, Lawrie (23 June 2011). "Serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson to roll out chain of artisan bakeries". This Is Money. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  12. ^ Goodman, Matthew (9 June 2013). "Pizza Express king heads for bar". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  13. ^ O'Connell, Dominic (3 May 2015). "In at the deep end". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  14. ^ "MIDAS SHARE TIPS: The biggest winners and losers from 2016 - and the firms that were taken over". This is Money. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  15. ^ "Elegant Hotels appoints former Pizza Express chair as non-exec". Travel Weekly. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  16. ^ Whitehead, Jennifer (20 September 2006)."C4 chairman Johnson buys stake in Patisserie Valerie". Brand Republic. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  17. ^ "Patisserie Valerie owner faces crisis 'over £20m accounting hole'". Sky News. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  18. ^ "Further trading update - RNS". London Stock Exchange. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  19. ^ "Patisserie Valerie chairman pumps in £20m to stave off collapse". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  20. ^ "Patisserie Valerie finance chief Marsh arrested amid fraud probe". Sky News. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  21. ^ "Patisserie Holdings PLC - Serious Fraud Office". 12 October 2018. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  22. ^ "Trading update and proposed placing - RNS". London Stock Exchange. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  23. ^ "Result of placing - RNS". London Stock Exchange. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  24. ^ "£30m rescue deal ignored by Patisserie Valerie bosses". The Daily Telegraph. 13 October 2018. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  25. ^ Shah, Oliver (14 October 2018). "Patisserie Valerie's secret overdrafts". The Sunday Times. ISSN 0956-1382. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  26. ^ Dominic Walsh, Tabby Kinder, Alex Ralph (12 October 2018). "Patisserie Valerie owner on brink of collapse". The Times. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  27. ^ Mesure, Susie (2 March 2006). "Luke Johnson goes East and buys stake in bohemian chain". The Independent. London. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  28. ^ Bowers, Simon (1 March 2005)."C4 chairman buys greyhound tracks". The Guardian. London. 1 March 2005. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  29. ^ Rees-Mogg, Modwenna "The Angel Deal Of The Decade - Luke Johnson's Investment In Beer & Partners",, 25 September 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  30. ^ "Luke Johnson joins Metro Bank board", City A.M.. London. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  31. ^ Gallagher, Victoria (20 August 2010). "Johnson 'does not rule out' Phaidon stake". The Bookseller. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  32. ^ "Johnson Reportedly Mulls Stake Sale In Seafood", "Bloomberg Businessweek", 19 September 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  33. ^ Teather, David (16 February 2007)."C4 chairman takes middle of the road position". The Guardian. London. Retrievved 29 July 2011.
  34. ^ "Risk Capital Partners sells its stake in APT Controls to Swarco AG" (Press release). 7 May 2014. Archived from the original on 23 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  35. ^ Saunders, Andrew (13 March 2013). "Tesco blows £50m on in-store Giraffe". Management Today. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  36. ^ Luke Johnson: 20 Entrepreneur Maxims - London Business School. YouTube. 16 September 2014.
  37. ^ "250 business leaders back Vote Leave, as new poll shows EU stops entrepreneurs creating jobs". 26 March 2016. Archived from the original on 29 March 2016. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  38. ^ Luke Johnson appointed as Chairman of Channel 4 | Ofcom Archived 12 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  39. ^ Johnson, Luke (2007). The Maverick. Harriman House. ISBN 1-905641-40-0.
  40. ^ "Luke Johnson, leading entrepreneur, takes the helm at The Institute of Cancer Research" (Press release). Institute of Cancer Research. 23 March 2013. Archived from the original on 17 January 2014.
  41. ^ "Luke Johnson to be appointed the next Chair of the RSA" Archived 5 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine.,, 4 September 2008. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  42. ^ "We welcome our new Chairman of Trustees" (Press release). Action On Addiction. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  43. ^ "Startup Britain Appoints Former Pizza Express Boss as Chairman" (Press release). Start Up Britain. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  44. ^ Johnson, Luke. "Donation of ideas is better than just cash". Financial Times. London. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  45. ^ "HOME - Centreforentrepreneurs".
  46. ^ Hunter, Daniel. "Fresh Business Thinking". Centre for Entrepreneurs. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  47. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 February 2011. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  48. ^ "The Flaw: Producer credits" Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine., The FlawMovie. Retrieved 29 July 2011.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Vanni Treves
Chairman of Channel 4
January 2004 – January 2010
Succeeded by
Terence Burns