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Luke Johnson (businessman)

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Luke Johnson
Luke Oliver Johnson

(1962-02-02) 2 February 1962 (age 62)
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
SpouseLiza Johnson
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. Johnson calls himself a "projector", in line with the 17th century term for a man involved in many different businesses.[1] He is currently the Chairman of Gail's bakery and Brighton Pier Group, 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


Luke Johnson is the son of historian Paul Johnson and of Marigold Johnson, and the 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.

While at university Johnson, together with fellow student Hugh Osmond (later founder of Punch Taverns), interviewed Sir 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.

Johnson 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


Patisserie Holdings


Johnson is the former executive chairman, chairman of the remuneration committee and shareholder of Patisserie Holdings,[2] which was the ultimate owner of the trading brands Patisserie Valerie, Druckers Vienna Patisserie, Philpotts, Baker & Spice, and Flour Power City Bakery.

On 19 May 2014 the company was admitted to the Alternative Investment Market.

Fraud investigation at Patisserie Holdings


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.[3] Prior to suspension the business had a market capitalisation of over £500 million.

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. The following day Johnson loaned £10 million to the business, and also provided a £10 million bridging loan to enable the company to execute a share placing, which occurred later the same day.[4]

On 22 January 2019, the firm announced that it had collapsed into administration following failed talks with banks, which the company stated was a "direct result of the significant fraud".[5]

Other business ventures


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,[6] and GRA, the UK's largest greyhound track owner.[7] East went into administration in January 2018.

In May 2010, Johnson became a strategic investor in Beer & Partners,[8] 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.[9] He was a non-executive director of art publisher Phaidon Press from August 2010 to October 2012.[10]

Former investments


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.[11] From 2004 to 2006 Johnson was director of Dollar Financial Group Inc, a US NASDAQ traded corporation with $80m EBITDA.[11] 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,[12] sold in 2010 for £45m in total. Risk also held a stake in car park technology provider APT controls until 2014.[13][14]

In February 2013 Johnson became an investor and shareholder in retro confectionery retailers Hope and Greenwood,[15] later selling the intellectual property of the brand to Honeycomb Project Management when Hope and Greenwood entered into administration in 2015.[16]

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.[17]

Restaurants and leisure

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.[11] 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.[11]

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. After being confronted during filming about low wages, Johnson stormed off the show, unwilling to listen to or act on criticism from employees about poor working conditions. [18]

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,[19] Druckers[20] and Baker & Spice.[21] The latter two businesses became part of Patisserie Holdings. In December 2009, Johnson's investment partnership Risk Capital Partners Ltd acquired the Tootsie's restaurant chain,[22] 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,[23] 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,[24] which was merged in April 2011 with pizza business Rocket Restaurants to form 3Sixty Restaurants,[25] with Johnson as chairman.

In May 2011, Risk Capital Partners assumed a shareholding in Bread Ltd. 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.[26]

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.[27]

In 2016 he acquired a 12.5% stake in Elegant Hotels Group. He joined the board of Elegant Hotels as a non-executive director in May 2017.[28]

In November 2019, it was revealed that Johnson had hired bankers to prepare the sale of Gail's.[29]

Business approach


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.[30]



Johnson supported Brexit and backed the Vote Leave campaign group in the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum.[31] Johnson has described the government's response to COVID-19 as "a campaign of fear"[32] and in November 2020 Risk Capital Partners funded a media consultant for the COVID Recovery Group of anti-lockdown MPs.[33]

Journalism and media


Johnson was chairman of Channel 4 Television Corporation from January 2004[34] to January 2010, during which time he appointed a new CEO, restructured the board and saw the organisation enjoy record ratings, revenues and surplus.

Johnson wrote a weekly column on business for The Sunday Times between 2015 and 2021. 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.[35] Johnson wrote “Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business Is Easier Than You Think”, published by Penguin in 2011. Johnson is also a former columnist for Management Today.

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

Other activities


Johnson was appointed Chair of the Almeida Theatre in Islington, London in 2016.

Johnson is the former chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research, assuming that role in August 2013 and standing down in August 2021. [36]

He is a former chairman of the Royal Society of Arts,[37] 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.[38] In June 2012, Johnson was appointed chairman of Startup Britain, the national campaign to stimulate start-up growth in the UK.[39] Johnson is also chairman of Career Colleges, an organisation planning 40 vocational colleges for 14- to 19-year-olds.[40]

In October 2013, Johnson co-founded and launched the Centre for Entrepreneurs,[41] a non-profit think-tank aiming to address the "...under-representation of entrepreneurs in the public eye" and to "...promote entrepreneurship to government, media, the private sector (including big businesses) and the general public."[42]

Johnson is a former chairman of StageOne, a charity in support of new producers of quality commercial theatre.

With Stephen Lambert and Christopher Hird, Johnson co-produced The Flaw,[43][44] 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.[citation needed]

Personal life


Johnson holds honorary degrees from Heriot-Watt University, the University of Bath, the University of the West of England and the University of West London.

Johnson is married to Liza. They have three children and live in London.[45]


  • Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business is Easier Than You ThinkISBN 978-0-670-92047-1
  • The MaverickISBN 978-1-905641-40-6
  • Betting to WinISBN 0-948035-31-5
  • The Key to Making Money in the New Stock MarketISBN 0-297-79296-2
  • How to get a Highly Paid Job in the CityISBN 1-85091-474-5
  • 30 Ways to Make Money in FranchisingISBN 0-948032-48-0
  • 30 Ways to Make Money in PropertyISBN 0-948032-43-X


  1. ^ Cummings, Laura (15 May 2003). "Pizza Express entrepreneur looks to the future". BBC News. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
  2. ^ Whitehead, Jennifer (20 September 2006)."C4 chairman Johnson buys stake in Patisserie Valerie". Brand Republic. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  3. ^ "Patisserie Valerie owner faces crisis 'over £20m accounting hole'". Sky News. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  4. ^ "UK's scandal-hit Patisserie Valerie saved by 20 million pound loan from chairman". Reuters. 12 October 2018.
  5. ^ "Patisserie Valerie collapses into administration". 22 January 2019.
  6. ^ Mesure, Susie (2 March 2006). "Luke Johnson goes East and buys stake in bohemian chain". The Independent. London. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  7. ^ Bowers, Simon (1 March 2005)."C4 chairman buys greyhound tracks". The Guardian. London. 1 March 2005. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  8. ^ Rees-Mogg, Modwenna "The Angel Deal Of The Decade - Luke Johnson's Investment In Beer & Partners", FreshBusinessThinking.com, 25 September 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  9. ^ "Luke Johnson joins Metro Bank board", City A.M.. London. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  10. ^ Gallagher, Victoria (20 August 2010). "Johnson 'does not rule out' Phaidon stake". The Bookseller. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d "About Luke Johnson".
  12. ^ "Johnson Reportedly Mulls Stake Sale In Seafood", "Bloomberg Businessweek", 19 September 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  13. ^ Teather, David (16 February 2007)."C4 chairman takes middle of the road position". The Guardian. London. Retrievved 29 July 2011.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Guardian, The (5 February 2013). "Sweet success for Hope and Greenwood as big investor bites". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  16. ^ "Retro confectionery brand Hope & Greenwood rescued from administration". The Grocer. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  17. ^ Saunders, Andrew (13 March 2013). "Tesco blows £50m on in-store Giraffe". Management Today. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  18. ^ BBC website 22 November 2000.“Kitchen too hot for food boss”. Retrieved May 2024
  19. ^ Shrimpton, David (25 March 2004). "Ex-PizzaExpress duo invest in Giraffe". CatererSearch.com, Retrieved July 2010.
  20. ^ "Former Pizza Express man buys Druckers" Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Growing Business, 31 May 2007. Retrieved July 2010.
  21. ^ Druce, Chris (25 February 2009)."Luke Johnson acquires another patisserie chain". "Caterer Search". Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  22. ^ "Johnson eyes Giraffe expansion with Tootsies deal". Growing Business, 13 October 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2011. Archived 28 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Johnson, Rachel (22 September 2010)."Luke Johnson buys 92 per cent of Feng Sushi". Big Hospitality. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ Gibson, Heather "The full 3Sixty" Archived 28 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, EP Magazine, March 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  26. ^ Goodman, Matthew (9 June 2013). "Pizza Express king heads for bar". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 16 June 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
  27. ^ O'Connell, Dominic (3 May 2015). "In at the deep end". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  28. ^ "Elegant Hotels appoints former Pizza Express chair as non-exec". Travel Weekly. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  29. ^ "Johnson hires bankers to make dough from Gail's bakeries". Sky News. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  30. ^ Luke Johnson: 20 Entrepreneur Maxims - London Business School. YouTube. 16 September 2014. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021.
  31. ^ "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.
  32. ^ Sullivan, Rory (15 May 2020). "Coronavirus: Former Pizza Express boss angers Question Time audiences by referring to 'government propaganda'". The Independent.
  33. ^ "The Register of Members' Financial Interests As at 4 January 2021". UK Parliament. 5 January 2021. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  34. ^ Luke Johnson appointed as Chairman of Channel 4 | Ofcom Archived 12 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ Johnson, Luke (2007). The Maverick. Harriman House. ISBN 978-1-905641-40-6.
  36. ^ "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.
  37. ^ "Luke Johnson to be appointed the next Chair of the RSA" Archived 5 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine, theRSA.org, 4 September 2008. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  38. ^ "We welcome our new Chairman of Trustees" (Press release). Action On Addiction. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  39. ^ "Startup Britain Appoints Former Pizza Express Boss as Chairman" (Press release). Start Up Britain. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  40. ^ Johnson, Luke. "Donation of ideas is better than just cash". Financial Times. London. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  41. ^ "HOME - Centreforentrepreneurs". centreforentrepreneurs.org.
  42. ^ Hunter, Daniel. "Fresh Business Thinking". Centre for Entrepreneurs. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  43. ^ "The Flaw". Archived from the original on 2 February 2011. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  44. ^ "The Flaw: Producer credits" Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, The FlawMovie. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  45. ^ Urwin, Rosamund (9 June 2019). "I felt like fleeing UK, says Patisserie Valerie boss Luke Johnson". The Sunday Times.
Media offices
Preceded by Chairman of Channel 4
January 2004 – January 2010
Succeeded by