Simon Kelner: The driving force behind a great London institution

Kelner's view

Share

It's a safe bet that you didn't pay much attention to the National Luxury and Lifestyle Awards last weekend. No, me neither. And you may not have heard of John Griffin, the recipient of a special award as Entrepreneur of the Year. But if you live in London, he's a constant presence in your life.

Cross any road from Hackney to Hounslow, and it's a safe bet you'll see his influence on life in the capital. Go to any sporting and cultural venue and there, outside, will be the visible evidence of his omnipresence. The same is true at airports and train stations. He's as much part of our dynamic landscape as the big red London bus. For Mr Griffin is the founder of Addison Lee cars, of which there are almost 3,000 in the capital, undertaking 20,000 journeys every day.

Do you remember the old days? We had to phone up a local mini-cab firm, haggle over the price, and then we'd be told that the car would be with us within 10 minutes. After 20 minutes, we'd call up again. "The traffic's bad," we'd be told. "He'll be with you in a couple of minutes." Another 10 minutes would pass. Another call. "He's in your street. He's just looking for the house number." Eventually, some 40 minutes after your first call, a rather shabby looking car of indeterminate make with furry dice in the front, Bob Marley on the radio, and a smell of old dog everywhere would arrive.

It's fair to say that John Griffin, who left school without qualifications, saw a gap in the market. And in 1975, he formed the company whose black people carriers are coming to an address near you at this very moment. And now there are no more phone calls, no more dingy offices. You can order a car by using an app, and you get a text message when your car's about to arrive.

I know there are many other companies who operate in precisely the same way, but, by being first, John Griffin has turned his firm into more of a phenomenon. And now it's not enough just to see his cars everywhere. Through my letter box yesterday came a free glossy magazine called Add Lib, a very upmarket product which contains helpful information on "hip" places to go in the capital. You'd struggle to see that this is, in fact, a piece of Addison Lee promotional material, apart from, right at the front, a column by John Griffin himself.

But Mr Griffin does not concern himself with matters like the congestion charge or the price of petrol, or even travel matters in general. We are treated to his opinions on weightier matters, like the retirement age and phone hacking. As you might imagine for someone who is a poster boy for the entrepreneurial spirit, he has some interesting views.

He made a counter-intuitive point about the News of the World scandal, one that I haven't seen rehearsed elsewhere. What if, in the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, a journalist had uncovered details which had led to Milly's rescue? "Would he not be a national hero instead of facing a prison sentence?" wrote Mr Griffin.

Visionary, entrepreneur, commentator. John Griffin sounds like a man you would quite like to have in the back of your cab.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game