What do you do?
I own minicab company, Addison Lee. I started the company in 1975 and we are now Europe’s largest fleet with some 3,000 vehicles. I also invest in start-up companies and support a number of initiatives to help young people get into work – I am a skills ambassador for London and a Fellow of the Princes Trust Enterprise Fellowship.
Who is your inspiration in business?
My family. I was not that fussed about success until they came along. As soon as they were born, my whole outlook on life changed and I wanted to make a success of myself, and hopefully be an inspiration to them. It was one of my proudest moments when they came to work for me in 1995. Today, Liam, my eldest son is my Managing Director, and Kieran my Sales and Marketing Director.
Whom do you admire?
It may be a cliché, but Richard Branson, not only for his success, but also because people speak well of him as a person. I cannot see the point in running a successful business if you are hated by your staff and peers.
What sort of legacy does that leave? None! Branson has also proved willing to poke fun at himself and has very successfully used his personality to further the business.
Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
I would have started the business earlier. I started Addison Lee in 1975, after becoming a minicab driver as a way to support my Father’s business, and realised that I could do much better than the competition.
The other thing I would have done differently is got to grips with the banking system during the first couple of years.
My first business bank was Barclays in Westbourne Grove. The manager’s OD limit was £5,000. It was only a couple of years later I found out that the Notting Hill branch’s OD was £20,000. I moved banks sharpish!
What defines your way of doing business?
There are two elements that I believe makes Addison Lee the most successful cab firm in the country. The first is customer service. From the off I tried to put myself in the position of the passenger.
Black cabs are a great symbol of London, famous throughout the world, but you see black cab drivers outside stations picking up passengers laden with luggage and not even getting out of their seat to help with loading the luggage into the vehicle. This isn’t on.
I make sure all our drivers are smartly dressed and willing to lend a hand when needed. They also don’t speak until spoken to – not everyone wants to talk, especially after a long day in the office. The other is technology. We invested a huge amount in technology way before the competition that has been instrumental in us growing to five times the size of our nearest competitors.
We have a team of 20 computer experts working on developing technology, for example we recently launched an iPhone app that allows customers to call a cab at the touch of a button – we’re taking 10,000 bookings a week on this now and it was featured in Apple’s TV ads.
What advice would you give?
Don’t show too much respect. I mean this in the best possible way, but it’s a mistake to bow down to people – it won’t make them respect you any more. In business you have to believe in yourself and what you are doing, and if you have an instinct, go with it, even if someone with a louder voice is telling you that you are wrong.
Finally I also think it’s true that you’ll never make a fortune doing something you don’t enjoy. Work is such a big part of life that you have to do something you enjoy doing to be really successful.