John Griffin: Drive to create a dynasty made me £180m

Minicab driver John Griffin lacked ambition until the birth of his two sons. Then he founded his own company, Addison Lee. Now turns over £180m a year.

When he was in his twenties, John Griffin, now 68, never had any ambitions. "I was just floating through life," says the founder of Addison Lee, London's largest minicab company. "Then I had two sons and got a kick in the head. I realised, this was my son and I was a dad."

At the time, Griffin was a minicab driver. "I thought this is not what will please them. I had this paternal thing that I wanted them to have things I never had. It suddenly just became my goal. And with a combination of common sense, good luck, hard work and good people around me, things moved quite swiftly."

Born into an Irish family in Kilburn in London, Griffin started his own minicab firm in 1975 on Queenstown Road, Battersea, in South London. "I lived in Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, which meant leaving at six in the morning and getting home at eight at night. But listen, when you're up for it, nothing's tough."

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Griffin printed off 100,000 business cards and went door-to-door on the local streets. "I wore out the other carders. They couldn't put up with me." Unlike other minicab drivers, Griffin says he went to basements, "which never got flyers. I would jam them in the door. So when the person opened it, the card fluttered to the floor. They then rang the number on it and complained". It was a novel way of winning business.

But central to the company's success was the way in which the cab drivers were treated, he says. "Seven drivers from a company next door had been particularly badly treated by their proprietor. So I took them on. They appreciated the fact that they weren't being treated like dogs, because people don't want to be treated badly. I had a reputation for treating them fairly."

This also, he says, explains the way his company differed from competitors. "When other people say to me, what was your secret, I say it's that you are crap. Proprietors had this way of deriding the driver. They thought he was a lesser person than them, which was a mistake. I don't have ideas above my station. I don't believe I'm better than anyone." Indeed, Griffin doesn't even have a secretary. Phone his head office and ask for him and the call will be put straight through, no matter who you are.

In 1983, the business hit £1m in turnover. After that, Griffin is a bit sketchy on the history. But that's only because, "I'm not sentimental. I don't know when the business hit 100 drivers as I'm always looking forward. I was too busy looking for the next 100. What we achieve today is only a target to beat tomorrow".

Today, the business turns over £180m a year. And Griffin's not planning to retire any time soon. "I've told my sons I will retire on my 100th birthday, but I'm not a workaholic. The reason I get out of bed is because I want to feel like I'm creating a dynasty. My parents sacrificed a great deal for me. I never missed a day at school or did anything that would bring shame on the family. The greatest gift you can have is a good upbringing. I've tried to give that to my two sons."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.