Luke Johnson: "Bold things can be achieved with luck, timing and industry"

"Without entrepreneurs, we are all sunk," announces Johnson. It's a strong statement, but one that was echoed by Government at its Small Business Summit earlier this week.  Luke Johnson isn't about to mince his words, even if it is 8:30am.

Johnson recalls the experience that first convinced him to become an entrepreneur: "When I was 18, studying medicine, and holding riotous parties in my room in Oxford I was told that if I continued I'd be sent down. So, I decided to relocate to a club in town. We struck a deal where the club took the bar money and we took the door.

"On opening night, I arrived 20 minutes before the event was due to start. There was already a queue. That's when I knew what I wanted to do was run businesses. And I've spent the last two decades doing just that."

Luke Johnson is the ultimate Jack of all trades. He's been chairman of Channel 4, brokered private equity deals through Risk Capital Partners, taken stakes in countless private ventures, and currently runs the successful Pizza Express and Strada food chains. Less 'master of none', more 'master of all'.

He credits his success to his appetite for risk. "While the world is hesitating, new operators are stealing opportunities that would not otherwise be available," he says.

"In Autumn 1992, I took control - with some other parties - of Pizza Express. Those were tough times but Pizza Express was a fabulous brand with tremendous goodwill. In a buoyant market, it would have been massively out of my reach: I was a 30-year-old with an overdraft. That success gave me the confidence to pursue the ventures I've found since. Bold things can be achieved with luck, timing and industry. "

Indeed, Johnsons cites caution and prudence as the true enemies of industry. "The precautionary principle, as it's known, suffocates and prevents people from taking risks," he says. "That way lies stagnation. Just look at Japan. In 1990, it was about to overtake the US. Twenty years later, Japan's economy is exactly the same size. The US has doubled."

Meanwhile, the UK economy has got itself into hot water. Public sector cuts have made future unemployment figures loom large on the horizon. So, how to fix a problem like UK unemployment? Johnson's solution is simple. "Government doesn't need to do anything," he says. "It just needs to get out of the way and allow entrepreneurs to innovate and build new companies. Let an army of entrepreneurs step forward and create new wealth, hiring as they go."

Luke Johnson's 'hands off' approach is rounded off with a plea to Government to free entrepreneurs from employment red tape and bureaucracy. "If the government decided to deregulate employment, it would really stimulate job creation in this country," he says, adding: "No one really sets out to create jobs. Jobs are collateral damage of building a business."

Next, the spotlight falls on failure. Johnson encourages one and all to "throw off the shackles of employment". "Anyone can work for themselves," he says. "Failure is not the catastrophe that so many people think it is. Capitalism is just a form of survival of the fittest. Man has only progressed through trial and error."

Finally, Johnson turns to two great men, Lawrence of Arabia and Theodore Roosevelt, to illustrate his passion for entrepreneurship and the vital rewards of risk.

Lawrence of Arabia: "All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible."

Theodore Roosevelt: "Far better it is to dare mighty things to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure...than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in a grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

Altogether, a spellbinding speech and a brilliant end to the launch. Hats off to Mishcon de Reya. You can read highlights from the Entrepreneurship Report here, or watch the Smarta interview with Luke Johnson below.




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