Meet the man behind the wheel at Addison Lee

RECESSIONS are colonic irrigation for the economy,” John Griffin tells me, “all the crap gets washed out.” He smirks at me. “When things started going down the pan, I employed more staff. 150 drivers, 35 in the central office. I put my foot to the floor because everyone else started scaling back.”

Griffin is a man you can easily imagine behind the wheel of a cab, putting the world to rights. Indeed, he once was. He only hung up his keys and bought a mini-cab business when his first son was born in 1979: “I fell in love with my son. I wanted to do something with my life to make him proud.”

He left school without any qualifications, before bluffing his way into an accountancy job. “I wasn’t particularly good at it. It was murder, but a good discipline.” He was forced to part ways with the job because he assaulted his manager. “He was a bully. One day he called me a rat. As a result, he ended up in hospital, and I ended up without a job.”

After that, Griffin says he was a “mover and shaker,” doing odd jobs before joining a mini-cab firm. “They thought I was brilliant. I wasn’t: I was okay. They were just dreadful.” He quickly rose up the ranks to director before deciding to go it alone.

He came across a mini-cab business that was running into trouble and decided to buy it out: “It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen. He was answering the phones, jumping in the car, going out, doing the job, coming back and manning the phones again.”

Griffin took over, renamed it and expanded. “I wanted a name that sounded upmarket, preferably beginning with ‘A’. A chap in the office overheard me talking about this and said he lived in a squat in Addison Gardens and that whenever he told people, they would say ‘oooo, Addison Gardens, lah-di-dah.’” Apparently, this wasn’t posh enough, though: “It needed a short word to follow – Lee. It gives it a certain ‘twoo-twoo-twoo’ rhythm.”

Griffin says his niche was simply to offer great service. “It doesn’t matter about price. Price is forgotten, service is remembered.” He is critical of the black cabs, suggesting they are scruffy, rude and overpriced. Griffin is very proud of his business. They drive 10m people a year. In total, they have driven over 100m, and no driver of theirs has ever been found guilty of any offence. He claims his firm is 30 per cent cheaper than a black cab.

The man has a fighting spirit: “I just want to say to my competitors: we can live together, but you’ve got to up your game. It’s getting too easy.”

Turnover: £200m

No. of staff: 1,250

Job title: Founder and chairman

Age: 68

Born: London

Lives: London

Studied: Left school at 16 without any qualifications

Drinking: “Lots.”

Reading: “Love it.”

Idol: “No worker.”

Talents: “A few.”

Favourite business book: “Haven’t written it yet.”

Motto: “Who cares, wins.”

First ambition: “There are three things a man must do before he passes on: find a wife, plant a tree and give the world a son.”

Awards: Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2009-10