Luke Johnson

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Luke Johnson

Luke Oliver Johnson (born 2 February 1962) is a media executive, columnist and venture capitalist. He is currently chairman of lobbyists Westbourne Communications, private equity firm Risk Capital Partners LLP, chairman and part-owner of Patisserie Holdings, Bread Ltd, Red Hot World Buffet, online cruise holiday operator and Neilson Active Holdings,[1]

He is the former chairman and CEO of Channel 4 Television and writes a weekly column for the Financial Times.

The Times Rich List 2007 estimated his wealth at £120 million.


Early life

Born in Slough on 2 February 1962 Luke Johnson is the third son of the Thatcherite journalist and historian Paul Johnson (his older brother Daniel Johnson is currently editor of the monthly magazine Standpoint published by the Social Affairs Unit). He attended Langley Grammar School in Slough, and then Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied medicine. There he became friends with another medical student Hugh Osmond, who was his business partner of 15 years.[2]


After graduated Johnson joined the advertising agency BMP, and then was given a job at TV-am working as an assistant to Jonathan Aitken, an old friend of his father's. [3] He then became a media analyst for Grieveson Grant, which was later bought up by Kleinwort Benson. [4]

In 1993 Johnson, in partnership with his university friend Hugh Osmond, took over the now extremely successful pizza chain PizzaExpress, which he later sold in 1999. The two men also bought the chain of American-style eateries My Kinda Town which they sold to Capital Radio for £57 million. [5]

After selling PizzaExpress Johnson started Signature Restaurants, which owned The Ivy and Le Caprice, as well as the Belgo chain, and later sold his 55 per cent stake in the business in 2005. He started the Strada pizza chain which he sold in 2005.[6] Other companies which Johnson has bought and sold include Whittard of Chelsea, My Kinda Town, Nightfreight and American Port Services, Mayfair Gaming, the group of Riva bingo clubs, Dental Holdings. [7]

From 2004 to 2006 he was a director of Dollar Financial Group Inc, US NASDAQ traded corporation and from 2004 to 2013 he was chairman and part-owner of family restaurant chain Giraffe Restaurants, before stepping down in 2013 after the chain was sold to Tesco for £50 million.[1]

From 2011 to 2014 he was a non-executive director Metro Bank plc.[1]

Media, Journalism and PR

In 1997 Johnson backed the re-launch of the Sunday Business newspaper, [8] an investment described by as part of "a loss-making flutter". [9] He wrote a weekly column on business matters for The Sunday Telegraph for eight years until 2006 under the by-line ‘The Maverick’. He now writes a weekly column on entrepreneurship for The Financial Times.[10]

In 2004 he was appointed Chairman of Channel 4 with a reported salary of £67,500 per annum. The appointment was formally approved by Tessa Jowell. [11] The Times reported surprise at Johnson's appointment to Channel 4 as he has little experience in the area and is not known to be a "people person". [12] A 2007 article for The Independent reported that Johnson has spent “most of his working life some distance away from Channel 4, at his investment company Risk Capital Partners”. [13] Johnson later wrote: "In my first interview to be the chairman of Channel 4, the panel asked me what I thought of public service broadcasting. Obviously I had no idea what they meant..." [14] During his time as chairman, he was appointed CEO of the channel and chairman of the trustees of Channel 4 staff pension plan. He left Channel 4 in January 2010.[1]

In 2006, Johnson was listed as a member of Editorial Intelligence's Advisory Board, [15] but by 2007 was no longer listed as part of this board.

In June 2015 Johnson was announced as the new chairman of [[Westbourne Communications. On his appointment founder James Bethell said, 'There is not a business challenge out there that Luke has not dealt with during his prestigious career. Communications are booming as everyone takes reputation more seriously, but the industry is changing so fast to keep pace with the digital and consumer revolutions that there will be winners and losers. Westbourne is on a mission to build our Change Opinion platform into a distinctive, integrated series, and it’s great to have the advice of an entrepreneur like Luke as we build our business.'[16]

Political views

Johnson is well known to be a eurosceptic, although this is based on criticism of EU business regulations and the common agricultural policy, rather than a patriotic or democratic objection.[17] He is listed as a supporter of Open Europe.[18] which promotes radical reform of the EU based on economic liberalisation and a looser and more flexible structure.

As his career would suggest, Johnson is an advocate of free markets and private property. According to The Independent, “radical and right of centre might most accurately describe his outlook on life.”[19]

The title of his official website is ‘Luke Johnson – An Unrepentant Capitalist’.[20] He has argued that, “Capitalism gives ordinary people hope…[and] breeds peace, because nations that trade together”, and that “liberalisation of trade is a moral imperative: it helps reduce poverty and inequality.”[21] A common theme in Johnson’s writings is a concern over the negative image of business amongst the British public. In 2007 Harriman House Ltd published a collection of Johnson’s columns, which it called “passionate and articulate defence of capitalism”. According to the publishers the thread that runs through Johnson’s writings is that:

Business in the UK has an image problem. Despite the success of programmes like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den it is still rare to see business men and women portrayed in a positive light. The image of fat-cat directors and monolithic corporations exploiting the workers persists. Yet entrepreneurs and business bring enormous benefits to society. They create employment, develop skills, pay large amounts of tax and, of course, deliver goods and services that make life more enjoyable. Without business, there would be nothing to pay for our hospitals, roads, police or other essential public services.[22]

Genetically Modified Foods

In an article for the Biotech Knowledge Centre in 2000 Johnson wrote:

A huge con has been perpetrated on the British public in the past few years by the environmental lobby, helped by sensationalist media. Major industries such as food manufacturing and supermarkets have meekly gone along with this fraud. The eco-activists have convinced millions of rational people that "organic" food is healthy and good, and that genetically modified foods are dangerous, and headlines such as "Mutant Foods Set For School Dinners Ban" and irresponsible use of nonsense phrases such as 'Frankenstein Foods' have inflamed public opinion and hampered progress. The reality is that GM foods are one of the few hopes that the Third World has of ending hunger and deprivation. Superstition and ignorance among educated people in the West are preventing farmers in Africa from producing safer, more plentiful crops. That Britain has suffered more misinformation about GM foods than most countries is especially disturbing, since the UK is a world leader in the biotech industry, with over 500 public and private biotechnology organisations. [23]

It's worth noting that the Biotech Knowledge Centre is sponsored by Monsanto and features on their website.[24] For an alternative perspective on GM foods see GM Watch. This site also contains information on an article which featured on the Biotech Knowledge Centre's website which was found to be libel in 2001, based on "unfounded allegations" that "Greenpeace campaigns had deliberately spread unfounded fears about GM Foods".[25]

2010 General Election

In April 2010 Johnson added his name to 'a list of business executives who objected to increased taxes on jobs in Britain' – which the Labour government had proposed.[26]

Speaking engagements

In 2007 Johnson was a speaker at the Bruges Group along with the Hudson Institute’s Dr Irwin Stelzer. Johnson was billed as the writer of the foreword for ‘the acclaimed TaxPayers’ Alliance publication, The Bumper Book of Government Waste’ and gave a talk on his views on the EU.[27] Johnson and Stelzer also appeared at the Adam Smith Institute event "Three Days Hard Labour" in 2005 where Johnson took part in a "Power Lunch" through a discussion "mainly centred on state funding for TV stations and whether it should end and if so what should replace it". [28]

Letter to the Telegraph

On 1 April 2015 Johnson was one of 103 business leaders who wrote to the Telegraph praising the British Conservative Party's economic policies and claiming a Labour government would 'threaten jobs and deter investment' in the UK.[29]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Luke Johnson About, accessed 3 April 2015.
  2. Jeremy Warner, ‘Luke Johnson: Can the pizza man deliver at Channel 4?’, The Independent, 31 January 2004
  3. John Walsh, 'Feud - and it's a scorcher!', The Independent, 28 July 1997
  4. Jeremy Warner, ‘Luke Johnson: Can the pizza man deliver at Channel 4?’, The Independent, 31 January 2004
  5. Jeremy Warner, ‘Luke Johnson: Can the pizza man deliver at Channel 4?’, The Independent, 31 January 2004
  6. Official website, About Luke, (accessed 21 August 2008)
  7. Official website, About Luke, (accessed 21 August 2008)
  8. Julia Finch and Richard Wray, 'Unlikely venture for Belgo's Cool Hand Luke', The Guardian, 28 January 2004.
  9. Dan Matthews, 'I'll have what Luke Johnson is having',, 30 August 2007
  10. Official website, About Luke, (accessed 21 August 2008)
  11. "Luke Johnson appointed as Chairman of Channel 4" Ofcom Office of Communication. 28 January 2004. Accessed 7 October 2007.
  12. Dominic Walsh and Dan Sabbagh, "Channel 4 chairman has the ingredients for success" The Times Online 12th February 2005. Accessed 7 October 2007
  13. Ian Burrell, "Channel 4's Luke Johnson:"We won't lose our nerve"", The Independent, 25 June 2007. (accessed 8 October 2007).
  14. Luke Johnson, 'What I really think of UK media', Guardian, 8 February 2010.
  15. Editorial Intelligence:Where PR meets Journalism Editorial Spring 2006. Accessed 7 October 2007
  16. Rod Muir Westbourne turns to Pizza Express boss Public Affairs News, 2 June 2015, accessed 1 July 2015.
  17. Jeremy Warner, ‘Luke Johnson: Can the pizza man deliver at Channel 4?’, The Independent, 31 January 2004
  18. Open Europe website, Supporters, (accessed 21 August 2008)
  19. Jeremy Warner, ‘Luke Johnson: Can the pizza man deliver at Channel 4?’, The Independent, 31 January 2004
  20. Official website, [1], (accessed 21 August 2008)
  21. William Danzek, "Luke Johnson on the role of globalisation in promoting development" Globalisation Institute. 29th March 2006. (accessed 7 October 2007)
  22. Harriman House Press Release, ‘The Maverick Capitalism isn't a dirty word’, 15 May 2007
  23. "Luke Johnson's View: Starving From Ignorance" Biotech Knowledge Centre. 23rd July 2000. (accessed 8 October 2007)
  24. "Biotech Knowledge Centre Home Page" (accessed 8 October 2007)
  25. Profiles:Andura Smetacek GM Watch. (accessed 8 October 2007)
  26. Luke Johnson Why I have signed up to political change Financial Times, 13 April 2010, accessed 8 April 2015.
  27. World affairs and British policy towards the EU:Luke Johnson and Dr Irwin Stelzer The Burgess Group. (accessed 8 October 2007)
  28. Three Days Hard Labour Adam Smith Institute 2005. (accessed 8 October 2007)
  29. Peter Dominiczak, 100 business chiefs: Labour threatens Britain's recovery, Telegraph, 2 April 2015.