Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, CEO of the Baugur Group, has created a retail empire spanning Iceland, Scandinavia and the UK. He started with £7,000 equity in Reykjavik 18 years ago. The Baugur Group portfolio investments include House of Fraser, Magasin du Nord and the recently opened SOUK in Stockholm.
“I divide my time between Reykjavik, London and the various cities in which the Baugur Group has business concerns such as Copenhagen and Stockholm, but London is very much my home. I also travel a great deal – sometimes I think that I spend more time on my plane than at home in Knightsbridge.
London is where I live now. My house is just around the corner from here, so this is my local haunt. I’m a big fan of British pub culture – people drinking outside, especially on a warm day like this with folks relaxing and talking about football (I’m a Chelsea fan by the way). This is why I chose the Tea Clipper.
The UK has always been good to me and I have always felt at home here. It was the first international market that we invested in – Hamleys [toy shop] and Oasis womenswear stores for instance – and English is Iceland’s second language which helps. London in particular welcomes foreign business people like myself, much more than other cities.
We are looking to step into other markets. I was in New York recently and I’ve been to India twice over the past month or so. British brands have a great opportunity overseas, especially now that everyone recognises the changes that are coming – there’s going to be a big bang in these emerging markets. Baugur already has a presence in China with Oasis and Karen Millen, and until now British brands haven’t travelled so well. I think Hamleys could exist as a premium store in every major city in the world, but in real estate terms, finding trophy assets in the middle of capital cities is difficult. You often have to wait 20 or 30 years to secure a prime site.
It is important to concentrate on creating something new – a great product that will last. We’re very proud of our latest concept, SOUK, on Stockholm’s Drottninggatan. It’s a department store for young people with a great location and we’re working to a different model with this venture.
Most importantly, though, is recognising that people come first. Baugur is not a typical investment company – I believe fun is a key element towards success and I try to instill that philosophy at work. In our London office we have a play room with billiards, table tennis and computer games. As an entrepreneur, I realise it can be hard to switch off, but you have to make time to enjoy yourself too.
So in the end I’d like to be remembered at least for being a likeable guy, someone who led by example.”
This maritime pub has an enviable location on the corner of Montpelier Place and Montpelier Street, a precious stone’s throw from Knightsbridge and Brompton Road in London. Just far enough from the beaten track to discourage tourists, the Tea Clipper is frequented by locals warming themselves on the leather chesterfield in winter and languishing outside in summer. Chef Terence Leahy serves hearty pub fare.
19 Montpelier St, London SW7; + 44 (0)20 7589 5251
Steak, kidney and ale pie with mashed potato and mixed vegetables
Brandy and apple pie with clotted cream