At MT we've known John Vincent and his business Leon almost since it started on Carnaby Street in 2004. Answering the question, 'What if God did fast food?' it was an instant success, winning The Observer's Best New Restaurant in the UK within six months of griddling and wrapping its first heavenly chicken with shallot and rosemary salsa verde.
However, despite its popularity, which created many imitators, growth in its first decade was steady rather than turbo-charged. Vincent and his co-founder Henry Dimbleby took time out to do other things including the admirable campaign to improve the quality of school lunches and guarantee a free school meal for infants. (This was backed by one Michael Gove, currently residing in the outer darkness.)
Now running the show without Dimbleby, Vincent has recruited senior managers from Wagamama and McDonald's and has some big expansion money behind him, including an £11.5 million loan package from HSBC. He now has 41 outlets, 750 staff and is turning over £42 million - a figure which has raced ahead in the last 18 months. America is the next frontier. Extremely open-necked in his denims plus two-tone brogues, emitting expletives from all angles, with a celebrity wife, Katie Derham, who took part in Strictly, he's retained a charismatic spontaneity and will spend hours explaining how Eastern martial arts have formed his approach to business. (If you permit him.)
But he's no hippy-dippy New Ager. Vincent was a consultant at Bain - where he met Dimbleby when they were toiling away unhappily on Burger King. As the pair told us back in 2005, Bain 'taught us two things which helped create our own business. Firstly, you learn how to think constantly in multiple dimensions, from strategic right down to the nitty-gritty. Second, you really learn how hard you can push things, and it's always quicker than people think.'
By contrast the slow decline of UK manufacturing from almost 50% of GDP at the end of the Second World War to 10% worries those who think we cannot survive on services alone. Especially if Brexit makes life tough for the service sector and all the bankers hot-foot it to Paris and Frankfurt. While manufacturing has shrunk, the number of graduates has boomed. Employers now have hundreds of thousands of hopefuls to sift through after the annual milkround has pulled out of all the gown towns. Many will take what is euphemistically termed 'non-graduate level work'.
How many might end up at least beginning their working life behind the counter at Leon? And would such an experience - at the sharp end of a growing, customer-facing business - be a bad thing?
Also in this issue:
- How to pivot your career
- YOU LIVE & YOU LEARN: Roger Whiteside, CEO of Greggs and former head of food at M&S
- HOW I BEAT THE ODDS: Paul Oberschneider, the real estate entrepreneur who came through the 12 step programme
- Jeremy Bullmore on how to tell your spouse they work too hard
- And much more
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