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Addison Lee sells majority stake to US firm Carlyle Group


London minicab firm worth £300m to expand services in UK and international cities

By Caroline Davies

Click here to read on the Guardian website

Addison Lee, London‘s biggest minicab firm, which carries some 10 million passengers each year, is setting its sights on global expansion after selling a majority stake to the US private-equity firm Carlyle Group.

Founded with one car in Battersea, south London, 40 years ago, there are plans to expand the brand in Paris and New York as well as launching operations in London suburbs and other UK and international cities.

The company, which is reportedly worth £300m, has built its success on using cutting edge IT systems to manage bookings for its 4,500 vehicle fleet, and is a major competitor to London’s black cabs.

John Griffin, 70, the rags-to-riches co-founder of the minicab empire, will remain as chairman. Raised in a basement flat in Kilburn, Griffin left school with no qualifications after contracting TB from a pail after he had milked a cow on a school trip. He nevertheless landed an accountancy job, but was forced to abandon his apprenticeship to help out when his father’s roads and sewers business ran into trouble, and take up mini-cabbing on the side to make more cash.

The plain-speaking businessman decided to start his own firm after his first son was born, convinced that he could do better than his previous employers. Putting drivers first was key to success. "I was a driver and I have never forgotten how badly I was treated by the companies I worked for – when you walked into the office it was like a piece of dirt walked in," he once explained. " I turn that around and I introduce the driver to my staff here as their employer because without him, we haven’t got a job."

Since then the firm, roughly half of whose work comes from corporate clients, and which also had a coach division, has grown to dominate in the capital.

Welcoming the deal, Griffin’s son Liam, managing director, said: "We are delighted to welcome Carlyle to the Addison Lee family. From humble beginnings almost 40 years ago, Addison Lee has grown to become a well-known brand, valued for its customer service and innovative technology alike. We are excited about this investment, which provides the endorsement and backing of one of the world’s largest investment firms and provides a platform for Addison Lee’s continued future growth".

Carlyle Europe Partners, has investments in Hertz and RAC. With 33 offices around the world it is thought it can help Addison Lee make major breakthroughs overseas.

Griffin, who started the business with his late friend Lenny Foster, said the name Addison Lee was chosen because "A" is always at the top of the phone book. An acquaintance lived in a squat in Addison Gardens, which he thought sounded very posh, and he added Lee to complete the name.

He once said: "The great thing about this business is you don’t need expertise to know what it is like to sit around waiting for a taxi, being told lies and bullshit" .

Despite its size it has remained a family company with both Griffin and Foster’s children involved.

An outspoken character, Griffin has at times courted controversy, by instructing his drivers to use London’s bus lanes, and by criticising cyclists.

Andrew Burgess, managing director of Carlyle Europe Partners said: "Addison Lee is a strong business and brand with great potential. As experienced investors in the automotive and transportation sector through companies such as Applus+, Hertz and RAC, we hope Carlyle’s experience and expertise will allow us to support the plans to continue growing the business both in the UK and internationally and to create value".

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