Peter Boizot, known amongst his business peers as Mr. Peterborough (the town where he was born and where he lived), was a very special and unique entrepreneur. A Cambridge University graduate in History, he was in some ways a genius and in other ways a lavish spender on business projects he enjoyed. One could say that he had a butterfly fashion approach towards life. But much to the dismay of some and the joy of most, business and pleasure were his main goals throughout his entire life and it seemed to work out fine.
He invested vast amounts into things that needed a boost or were in financial trouble like Peterborough Football Club where he invested 5 million or the massive Odeon Building Cinema and the office building next to it in Peterborough as well, which he decided to turn into an arts centre. He also acquired the Great Northern Hotel because he used to go there as a child with his parents and which he turned into a highly successful business. Peter Boizot was ultimately responsible for the creation of possibly the best quality pizza chain or – necklace as he liked to describe it – in Britain, or perhaps the world: Pizza Express.
Impossible was certainly not Peter Boizot’s favorite word.
It started in 1965 with an oven and one Sicilian cook. Since day one it produced and still does, the highest quality pizzas using the freshest ingredients in the most attractive settings. It is casual dining at its best. It is as Peter Boizot wanted it to be a different place altogether. From its early days in the 1960s with its first outlet located in Wardour Street London, it marked its own path introducing proper Pizza to all of Britain starting with one oven made in Naples, Italy and his Sicilian cook, and has certainly come a long way with its total present number of restaurants in Britain and abroad exceeding 600 units.
The brand is very much an icon of casual dining in the UK, Ireland where it operates under the Milano brand, throughout Europe primarily under the Pizza Marzano name, Asia and further away. Impossible was certainly not Peter Boizot’s favorite word. Far from it in fact. His secret was quite simple: If he liked the business idea, he just went for it. When his company went public in 1993 it was quite successful and over a period of time the shares went from 40p to £5.10, making Mr. Peterborough richer than Croesus. And he surely spread the money about in other ventures.
His new acquisitions and new restaurants included: Pizza on The Park in Hyde Park London where the best jazz in town could be heard; Peterborough Football Club; The Champagne Room in Soho; and the monthly magazine, Boz. His efforts, often successful, to restore an important part of Soho in London where he owned Kettners, along Condotti in Mayfair, and a pub in Maida Vale, amongst other ventures are part of his brilliant business career.
His secret was quite simple: If he liked the business idea, he just went for it.
‘To think it is all down to a simple round edible object from Napoli…’
Now that I have briefed my readers with a summary of the business life of this fascinating man it is the time to think of his ventures as a case to study and learn about it to be able to use his formulas and ideas for your future ventures or your existing ones.
There are several things which must be asked before going into this matter any further. Some of these questions could be:
What made Pizza Express so successful that from the 1960s up until 2011 it made Peter Boizot richer than in the wildest of dreams, his interest in Pizza Express being valued at over £50 million in 2011, apart from the massive profits that he made for decades until he sold a large part of the company going public in 1993?
Was it his unique formula regarding his simple but very clever idea of serving pizza in great outlets, his rule of having fresh flowers daily in each restaurant, never becoming fast food, but to an important extent remaining somehow artisan in his way of baking pizza and using superb pizza dough and ingredients?
Was it his philanthropist touch in all his restaurants when he introduced his formula to donate 5p and later 25p for each pizza Venezziana sold in order to help prevent Venice sinking and other similar actions that followed some of which are still being carried out today?
Was Peter Boizot right or wrong to sell out?
What about the fact that in this modern hospitality business sector, restaurateurs will change their menus with the click of a finger and yet, Peter Boizot first and now the new management, have altered little from the menus of Pizza Express for decades, taking into consideration that a proven formula is close to perfect and little is to be gained from changing it?
What about Peter Boizot’s decision to go public and sell an important amount of his company? This happened in 1993. A very considerable number of franchise outlets were opened up since the date of going public but in 1996 the company started buying back en masse. In 2006 The Capricorn group and other investors bought the company and turned it private again. The price of shares soared to an incredible level between all those years. After turning private it was floated again in the stock market and was eventually sold again to the Chinese Group Hony Capital for £900 million. Was Peter Boizot right or wrong to sell out?
All these interesting questions will surely lead entrepreneurs to come up with some fascinating answers. This will not be a case of right or wrong. The case is a lot more complex than that. But it will be a case of different points of view depending on different factors, timing and a variety of points of view. Altogether these thoughts will surely help start ups and established ventures to enrich their knowledge and to look at things from a different perspective.