A wake-up call

As one of Britain's highest-profile entrepreneurs, Luke Johnson possesses an impressive CV. It includes teaming up with fellow businessman Hugh Osmond to expand Pizza Express from 12 restaurants to 250, during which time the firm's share price climbed from 40p to over 900p. It also features the launch and subsequent sales of the Strada and Signature restaurant chains for a combined £90 million, as well as Integrated Dental Holdings, the dental chain established in 1996 and sold ten years later for over £100 million.

Johnson, who has also found time to be chairman of Channel 4 Television and a regular columnist for UK newspapers the Sunday Telegraph and Financial Times, is now hoping he can add astute fund management to the list of successes. Risk Capital Partners, the investment firm that Johnson co-founded with former corporate financier Ben Redmond eight years ago, has just closed its first institutional fund on £75 million (€84 million; $105 million).

For those assuming all this would make Johnson upbeat, a recent Financial Times column he penned might have come as surprise. In it, he proclaimed: “The age of free money from mad lenders is finished. The growth game is over. Whole swathes of industry are on life support. The banks are in desperate straits…This vast reordering of our economic system has only just begun.”

Such gloomy thoughts appear ominous. After all, if a serial entrepreneur like Johnson is throwing up his hands in despair, what hope for the rest of us? It turns out, however, that there's no need for alarm. Amid the difficulties, he has identified windows of opportunity: namely, the sale of cut-price assets by distressed sellers and the opportunity for firms like his to displace banks as providers of growth capital.

Furthermore, he confided that he had a hidden agenda in conversation with PrivateEquityOnline. Maintaining that “a lot of banks and businesses and managers have not reacted enough” and that there was “some complacency”, he said that the column was meant to be “a bit of a wake-up call to try and get a reaction”. Another objective successfully accomplished, no doubt.