Dressing skills

Patisserie Valerie crisis incited Luke Johnson’s business career

Luke Johnson gets his name by investing in some of the most ubiquitous brands on the high street – not to mention his millions of pounds of wealth.

According to the latest “Sunday Times” rich list, a recent series of investments – mostly in the catering industry – has accumulated 260 million pounds of wealth for him and become a success story for serial entrepreneurs.

Given that his share of the damaged pastry chain Patisserie Valerie was close to 165 million pounds a few days ago, a large part of this personal wealth is now hanging.

It was during his studies at Oxford University that Johnson and his friend Hugh Osmond began to like business and the two continued to set up several small companies. After a brief collaboration with investment bank Kleinwort Benson, Johnson partnered with Osmond in 1983 to acquire Pizza Express for £8 million.
Together they transformed the company from a small fish with 12 stores into a national pizzeria that was listed on the stock market in 1999.

Johnson also opened the Signature Restaurants group, which is located in the Ivy and moules frites chain Belgo behind London’s upscale attractions, and later sold for £90 million. He also founded the Italian chain Strada and invested in competitors such as Giraffe and Tootsies. Earlier this year, after he entered the government, he was also one of the bidders of the Argentine steakhouse Gaucho.

The most recent investment was made through his private equity firm, Risk Capital Partners, which was founded in 2001. The company also holds a stake in a range of food businesses, including artisan bakeries at Feng Sushi and the bakery.

RCP also extends to other industries, including shares in Zoggs ladies swimming costume and Majestic Bingo, as well as 18 million pounds for companies with Brighton terminals. It is through RCP that Johnson owns a 37% stake in Patisserie Valerie and now it has become a worthless stake.

The potential failure of the chain will not be the first black mark he recorded as an investor. Johnson has served as a director of several failed companies, including Sunday Business, Utility Cable and Bookstore Borders, which opened in 2009.

But his success is enough. He is the fourth channel and chairman of the Royal Society of Arts. He also published a weekly column on the Sunday Times and provided business advice.

In September of this year, less than a month before Patisserie Valerie disclosed “maybe fraudulent” accounting irregularities, he prepared a list of warning signs in his column indicating fraud. He has been an outspoken critics of the European Union and has used his vast wealth to support the preparations for the EU referendum.


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