"Business has been so drab, all grey suits and cufflinks. But there’s a whole new generation of entrepreneurs starting to make it fun" – Simon Woodroffe OBE.
If you wanted to sum up Simon Woodroffe in a couple of sentences you might suggest that he is more the entertainer than the conventional businessman, seems as disarming as the best politician, yet highly unconventional. He maintains that he has never had a plan as such and has always believed in the Richard Branson style of approach – just get down and dirty and do it. Nevertheless, while there may be an element of smoke and mirrors, as can be a common backdrop for the successful entrepreneur, Woodroffe has gained many accolades for his fresh approach to the business of hospitality in particular, most notably the Order of the British Empire.
Woodroffe initially imagined his career in entertainment and set out on the road as a backstage technician, after leaving school at the age of 16 with no qualifications. He became a stage manager and lighting technician for many of the era’s leading rock groups, especially Rod Stewart, who was then in his prime. His approach diversified into TV show production with varying degrees of success before he discovered his entrepreneurial bent.
With the prodding of a Japanese friend he opened a cutting edge restaurant concept called Yo! Sushi. This was the first "conveyor belt" style of sushi restaurant and its business model was very unconventional. He was able to push the brand forward through some very creative business negotiation and numerous other locations opened up through the late 90s and early years of the new millennium.
By 2003, he was ready to sell off Yo! Sushi and started work with new partners on a hotel brand, Yotel. He could clearly see the potential of opening airport properties and launched first in Gatwick and then Heathrow.
"Obsession is a big thing. But it’s not that complicated and business is not that clever." Woodroffe detests the traditional business approach, technology and excuses. He maintains that all successful people in the world have been knocked down, often more than once, but still take the risks and try again. He has been able to build his personal branding to significant advantage and is the first to say that the actual Yo! company portfolio is fairly small. His background in entertainment may well have helped him stand up for himself and be counted and his inclusion on the then-hit BBC TV series Dragons Den certainly cemented his fame. The TV series helped to discover entrepreneurial ideas and either shot down the pitcher for entertainment value or helped to actually invest in their ideas going forward.
Future plans may include an expansion to the USA, where he has very little presence and where his style and personality would fit in well. Among his other ventures are Yo! To Go, a concept that uses smart cars and branded scooters to deliver freshly made food and Yo! How, where he touts his considerable ability as a corporate speaker.
It seems that he will focus attention for the forseeable future on Yotel, which he estimates can be one of the 10 biggest hotel chains in the world. However, always self-effacing, he does point out that "if you want to make God laugh, show him your business plan."