Money makers: A utopia in Edinburgh

Josh Littlejohn set up a social enterprise selling sandwiches for the homeless. Now he's out to build them a village.


George Clooney drops in on Josh Littlejohn
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2015 Rex Features. No use without permission.)

Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson were a couple in their mid-20s when they opened a sandwich shop on Rose Street, Edinburgh, in August 2012. Called Social Bite, it was a social enterprise, employing the homeless, and giving away its unsold sandwiches. Following celebrity visits from actors George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, the business has grown to five shops in Scotland, and a restaurant, Home, which opened in Edinburgh last year. Littlejohn, whose father, Simon, was a restaurateur, set himself a salary limit of seven times that of his lowest-paid employee.

That proved to be "wildly optimistic", says Tim Lewis in The Observer. It's "nowhere near that". Nevertheless, his next project is to build a village for the homeless on land set aside by Edinburgh city council. It is designed for entrepreneurs with "social vision". With £750,000 already raised, Littlejohn, now 30, insists the homes must be cosy. "We could have done a glorified shed," he says. But it would have failed. "The living environment has to inspire change." Cooking and eating will be communal, and the focus is on keeping busy. "That's what I hope we'll build here," says Littlejohn. "A little utopia."

Eighties power dressing gets back on trend

Bijan, the appointment-only, bright-yellow fashion boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, which opened in 1976, helped define 1980s power dressing, says Amy Feldman in Forbes magazine. Former US president George W Bush, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, and the late Shah of Iran all shopped there.

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But since the death of the shop's Iranian founder Bijan Pakzad, his son Nicolas Bijan Pakzad, a "baby-faced 25-year-old with slicked-back hair", has been busy reinventing the brand that had become stale over the years. "He's pushing Bijan to be younger and more on trend," says Feldman, and now a third of his business is taken up by young Chinese millionaires, who can afford to shop anywhere, but choose to buy his $9,500 suits.

Together with his father's long-time business partner, the younger Bijan is eyeing global expansion, including in London, Hong Kong and Dubai, hoping to grow annual revenue to $120m. In 1992, sales had reached $50m, when the Bijan name was world famous, and synonymous with luxury fragrances. "Bijan is already taking a page out of his father's playbook by appearing in the brand's advertisements," says Feldman. After all, adds Bijan, "I'm the face of the company".

The council estate boy who did good

It was Christmas Eve 2014 when Steve Parkin, the 56-year-oldfounder of delivery firm ClipperLogistics, got a call from JohnLewis on the beach in Barbados,Parkin tells The Sunday Times'Oliver Shah. The high-streetretailer's parcel carrier, CityLink, was about to go bust, andParkin was drafted in to salvagethe situation. "Funnily enough,me and [finance director DavidHodkin] had looked at CityLink about a year before,to acquire it, but hadwalked away," he says.

But Parkin realisedthat City Link's mostlyclick-and-collectorders destined forWaitrose supermarkets(owned by John Lewis),could have been mademore economical if largervans had been used.Parkin's solution was touse Clipper's fleet of heavygoods lorries to serviceJohn Lewis's click-and-collectorders more cheaply.That same year, Clipperlisted on the stockmarket,netting Parkin £34m "notnecessarily what youwould expect of a formercouncil estate boy who did101 jobs' on his way tothe big time", says Shah.

Hong Kong's paper billionaires

Wong Wing-wah was a fishmonger who founded a Hong Kong civil engineering company, Luen Wong. Last year, Wong listed the firm on the stockmarket, and since then the shares have rocketed by 9,800%, turning Wong and his business partner into billionaires. That's despite the business only making $1m in profits. The price/earnings (p/e) ratio is currently around 2,450 in a city where the median average for small-cap stocks is 13.

The answer to how they achieved such rapid wealth lies in one of the most obscure corners of Hong Kong finance, say Robert Olsen and Benjamin Robertson on Bloomberg. "The Hong Kong Stock Exchange and its sibling, the Growth Enterprise Market, have become a breeding ground for paper billionaires." In the last three years, around a dozen executives, many from the Chinese mainland, have amassed multiple billions from the soaring value of their companies' shares, "usually for no apparent reason".

The main cause is that they have only floated a tiny percentage of their companies' shares sometimes less than 1%. Since the number of shares publicly traded is so small, the stocks are extremely volatile and a small amount of buying can push the price up. However, the gap between the price at which investors are able to buy and sell can be huge. In the case of Luen Wong, this bid-offer spread recently hit 68%, say Olsen and Robertson. The Hong Kong regulator, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC), is unsurprisingly concerned. In April 2016, after Luen Wong began trading on the exchange, the SFC recommended investors take "extreme caution" as 96% of the shares were held by its two founders and just 19 others.

Since there are few buyers at these prices, the owners are billionaires in name only. But while the paper billions might not translate into billions in the real world, the owners still cash in, analyst Dan David tells Bloomberg: "Even if they're just a billionaire on paper, they're still able to access hundreds of millions [in new business or funding] that are not due them in real money."

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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