Propeller Media Leader Dinner – Serial restaurant entrepreneur Luke Johnson leaves big tips

From L‑R:  Martin Loat, founder and CEO, Propeller,  Luke Johnson, Matt Phillips,

Director, Client Services & Strategy, Propeller

 Propeller recently hosted the latest in our series of media leader dinners, with special guest Luke Johnson and senior guests from across the media industry, including Steve Auckland, CEO of ESI Media, Lucy Jameson, CEO of Grey and Helen McRae interim CEO of Mindshare UK. 

Hosted by our CEO Martin Loat, we discussed a range of topics on the theme of disruption in media: the degree to which larger, established media companies could and should inspire a ‘move fast break stuff’ start-up culture and how the UK creative industries can address the global power of Silicon Valley’s big four Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon. 

For the opening remarks we welcomed special guest Luke Johnson: business columnist, leisure industry chairman & investor, known in media for his chairmanship of Channel 4.


Clockwise: Helen McRae, interim CEO, Mindshare UKMartin Loat, founder and CEO Propeller, Lucy Jameson, CEO, Grey LondonSimon Birkenhead, former CEO of AxonixKaren Stacey, CEO, Digital Cinema MediaJason Warnes, Managing Director, TH_NKFrancis Dickens, CEO, Astus UKSteve Auckland, Group CEO, ESI Media, Luke Johnson,  Alex Johns, founder and Managing Partner, Worth Capital London, Paul Thompson, EMEA Managing Director, BlisMediaMatt Phillips, Director, Client Services & Strategy, Propeller, Morag Blazey, UK CEO, Ebiquity, Ian Whittaker, Head of European Media Research, Liberum

Less widely-known is that Luke began his career in advertising, a point he referred to in a recent column. Luke drew on his 30 year experience in growing and selling business before outlining his 15 entrepreneur maxims: summarised in quotes below. 

1. Good entrepreneurs are motivated by autonomy, above money “of course they would like to be rich, but more than that they want to control their own destiny”

2. They are driven by a sense of optimism: “willing to sacrifice security for the satisfaction of victory, cynics and pessimists need not apply”

3. Capitalism transfers wealth from the rich to the poor “entrepreneurs and innovators add value and create competition and wealth, monopoly leads to stagnation, incompetence and corruption”

4. It’s not all about the single entrepreneur. Ideally, pick partners with complementary skills “by dividing the load the difficult times are more manageable, and celebrations less selfish”

5. Look for domain knowledge in partners, “specialist knowledge, technical competence, reputation and connections matter… there is no substitute for lots of practical involvement with a solid operator before starting a new company.”

6. Patient money achieves the best results. “I do not really accept the hedge fund game of momentum trading, or the social media dream of overnight global domination. Genuine companies take years to build, good ones develop gradually and need steady nurturing over the long run.”

7. Role models foster entrepreneurship, which is more about culture than formal education “with close examples of business owners at home, you are much more likely to see self-employment as a valid option in life. It might be a parent or an uncle – but dinner table conversation when young makes a big difference.”

8. Exceptional performance comes from obsessive, one-track minds.“I much prefer an individual who is a something of a workaholic, and fails to get their work/life balance quite right, than someone who is idle or a dilettante. Alone, ambition is useless, because it is not enough, and leads to dissatisfaction.  It must be accompanied by talent, discipline and diligence.”

9. Execution matters more than theory.  “We can all write a great business plan.  But only a few can actually carry it out. Strategists are much less valuable than those with the hands-on ability to get the business done.  Slick talkers get found out if there is no substance; track record is more important than PowerPoint.”

10. Entrepreneurship is not for those wanting to get-rich-quick.  “Become a derivatives trader. I have no time for would-be entrepreneurs who are not prepared to put in the hours, and are more interested in the material rewards than the graft of making a business fly.”

11. Backing businesses is like the creative industries: hits cover the misses. “In equity investing, you can only lose your stake.  But your upside can be unlimited – and if you have a spectacular hit, then a 10 or 20 or even 100 multiple of an original stake is feasible if your business does fabulously.”

12. Kaizen: the philosophy of endless small improvements, many from the bottom up. “Lots of small details add up over time to a better business – combined with an attitude of openness to incremental change.  Organisations that embrace a spirit of innovation are more likely to prosper.”

13. The cult of the genius boss is unhealthy. “Human nature tends to shine the spotlight on those at the top – Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg.  But at PizzaExpress we took the chain from 12 to over 200 with a collegiate approach: eight senior staff had shareholdings and different roles. Excesses like CEOs being paid 200 times as much as the average employee is bad for capitalism and fails to deliver for shareholders.”

14. Philanthropy and volunteering should be part of the mix. “Giving time and money to non-profit bodies broadens the mind and can complement the work of an entrepreneur. For the last ten years I have given one day a week to charities such as the Institute for Cancer Research & StageOne. Many entrepreneurs get involved in developing social enterprises rather than just managing for-profit firms.”

15. Entrepreneurs really matter.  “They create the majority of new private sector jobs, and good jobs are the most important element to engender a stable society.  Entrepreneurs also punch above their weight in terms of innovation, and tax generation. “Last year I launched a new think tank called The Centre for Entrepreneurs, to research entrepreneurship, and educate politicians, the media and citizens about the importance of entrepreneurs to our economy, culture and standard of living.”

Finally, with the general election still fresh in people’s minds, we also discussed what the new political landscape means for the creative industries and wider UK business. In addition to his generous tips (excuse the pun) we also thank Luke for putting his thoughts on camera on the future of the creative industries and more – below – and look forward to our next dinner in the Autumn.