Luke Johnson

Former Chairman of the Pizza Express Chain, the Royal Society of Arts and Channel 4

Luke Oliver Johnson is a leading figure in private equity, a British serial entrepreneur and the son of historian Paul Johnson and brother of Daniel Johnson, he spent his early years in Ivar, Buckinghamshire and was educated at the state-owned Langley Grammar School. Whilst 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. 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.

As the man behind several instantly recognisable high-street brands one of which is Pizza Express. In 1993 Luke took control of Pizza Express with partners and subsequently became Chairman. He grew the business from 12 owned restaurants to over 250, and the share price from 40p to over 900p.

He sold out in 1999 and started Signature Restaurants, which owned The Ivy and Le Caprice, as well as the Belgo chain, selling the business in 2005. In 2000 he started the Strada restaurant concept from scratch and took the chain to 30 units, selling the business in 2006. The total proceeds from these two disposals were in excess of £90 million.

Johnson calls himself a ‘projector’, in line with the 17th century term for a man involved in many different businesses. In the period 1993 to date he has been involved as director/owner of various quoted companies in retailing, pubs and bars, parcel delivery and maritime commerce, including Whittard of Chelsea, My Kinda Town and the private companies Giraffe, Patisserie Valerie, Druckers, Baker & Spice, Nightfreight and American Port Services.

He is the part owner and chairman of Patisserie Valerie, Gail’s Artisan Bakery and Feng Sushi among other businesses and is a former chairman of the Royal Society of Arts and Channel 4. In December 2009, Johnson’s investment partnership Risk Capital Partners Ltd acquired the Tootsie‘s restaurant chain, for which it was awarded the “Deal of the Year” prize at the 2010 Retailer’s Retailer Awards ceremony.

Luke is Chairman of a number of charities and interest groups.  He is Chairman of The Institute of Cancer Research; Chairman of StageOne, a charity in support of new producers of quality commercial theatre; Chairman of StartUp Britain, the national campaign in support of entrepreneurship and Chairman of Career Colleges, an organisation planning 40 vocational colleges for 14-19-year-olds. He was a governor of The University of the Arts London between 2000 and 2006. He was Chairman of substance abuse charity Action on Addiction from 2011 to 2012 and in October 2013 Luke co-founded and launched the Centre for Entrepreneurs, a non-profit think-tank.

Luke wrote a weekly column called The Maverick on business matters for The Sunday Telegraph for eight years until 2006. He now writes a weekly column on entrepreneurship for The Financial Times and a monthly column for Management Today. In 2011 Johnson co-produced The Flaw, a documentary feature film detailing the events leading up to the financial crash of 2008.

To book Luke Johnson as the business management speaker for your corporate event, function or conference, simply contact the Champions Speakers agency by emailing agent@championsukplc.com or by calling a booking agent directly on 0207 1010 553.

When at corporate events, Luke is known to cover the following topics:

  • Private Equity
  • The Hospitality Industry
  • Setting Up A New Business
  • Business Management
  • Pizza Express
  • Journalism