Alexander Johnson is not what you might expect from a man who was, at the age of 23, the youngest CEO on the London Stock Exchange. Softly spoken, with an unassuming air about him, it’s difficult to imagine the former stockbroker playing hardball in business. But having been at the helm of several successful companies, he’s now hoping to recreate his corporate victories in the world of entertainment.
Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and suave in a suede jacket, he’s movie star handsome, which is convenient since his latest venture will see him starring in, as well as writing and producing independent films.
“This was always my plan,” he says, sipping coffee (black, no sugar) on the roof of Soho House. “I’d challenge anyone to try and hold someone’s attention for more than a minute without telling a story. Being successful in business is all about storytelling and my public speaking skills came from acting experience. I was involved in IPOs and the roadshows that came with them when you list on the public market and start shares trading. There are many transferable skills – it’s all communication in the end.”
With his new production outfit, The London Film and Media company, he has sourced what he refers to as an “amazing” team of writers, directors and producers and is working on a slate of three independent films – the first of which goes into production this summer. Prey, which he co-wrote with British talent, Andrew Moscardini and directed by Austrian film director, Patrick Tichy, will see Johnson playing a priest with a complex back story. “He has to overcome exceptional odds and make a great sacrifice to protect his new life and loved ones.” he says. “I think that’s what make up the great chapters of our lives, the ability to look through our own story and say, this is what I could have done better and this is how I move forward and do more in a better way, and this is what this character goes through. The overarching themes are of sacrifice and redemption.”
The son of a British hotelier, 31-year-old Johnson had a Sound of Music-style childhood in the mountains in Kitzbuhel, Austria and at boarding school in Switzerland and at Hurtwood House in Surrey, “A thespian college like hogwarts for actors,” he says, “with fantastic facilities and first-class theatre and studios.”
While acting was his first passion, his parents steered him towards a “proper job” and he ended up embarking on a business degree and working as a stockbroker and analyst in the City.
When he was 23, he was recruited to be the interim CEO of a publicly listed energy company.
“The placement was supposed to be for two weeks, but I ended up staying for two years. It was a baptism by fire, but luckily I managed to keep my head above water. I went as far as I could to commercialise the technology and it was an amazing experience.”
His career remains eclectic with Johnson’s various
simultaneous ventures including a boutique financial services company and a
post as a visiting lecturer in topics such as Leadership & Entrepreneurship
as well as business growth strategies at Oxford University.
“I really enjoy teaching brilliant people at the start of their careers. The academic integrity at Oxford is, as expected, first class but my expertise is about taking practical knowledge from recent context, elements that I’m using in the real world. I can tell students about case studies in my businesses that happened yesterday or last week.”
He even has a Scotch whisky brand called Mavarac and a whisky trading firm called the Whisky Cask Company, which produces casks of luxury Scotch that are sold mostly to Japanese clients.
“Whisky is a good business to be in at the moment and ours is unique in that we use French oak barrels while 90 per cent of Scotch is matured in American Bourbon barrels – so already our whisky is in the top 10 per cent in terms of quality in the market.”
Film takes a front seat for now however, and the projects on Johnson’s indie film slate, ranging from $4m-15m, are considered low budget. But surely his background in finance has stood him in good stead when it comes to raising capital to fund films?
“Of course it helps,” he nods,” and I have skin in the game myself, but I love the producing aspects and the passion that carries the industry, and that people who share a view on how to create something amazing can create cinematic jazz.”
His role at the helm of this production company will see him take on every role – from executive producer to writer and actor, but which of these hats is he most comfortable wearing?
“All three!” he exclaims without missing a beat.
“To me the most important thing is to make something enjoyable for the audience, it’s all about the viewer. I want to do all three to ensure that it actually happens, firstly, and it’s to ensure that the creative vision is delivered in the way I want it to be. It’s a fantastic thing when you have a concept and face the trials and tribulations of turning that into a complete script, story boarding and having a lot of people’s energy and hearts and minds involved in bringing that vision to life.
“I’m under no illusion that breaking into the film industry is going to be difficult,” he says. “But for me things are about competing logics, with the correct story and narrative, it drives awareness of something new. That’s the ultimate superpower and that’s why I love film making, for the ability to challenge perspective.”
It remains to be seen whether he can achieve his goal of “changing the face of independent British film-making.”
But with his quiet self-confidence, focussed ambition and prior financial success, if anyone can, it’s Johnson.
About Alexander Johnson
Alexander Johnson is a British businessman and visiting lecturer at the University of Oxford.
Born in the UK, Alexander grew up in both London, England and Kitzbühel, Austria. After an education that spanned England and Switzerland, he completed his undergraduate studies at the European Business School, Eichstaett University and Kaplan and began his career in corporate finance.
At 23 years old, Alexander served as the youngest CEO of a company listed on the London Stock Exchange, when he was a board director of waste-to-energy company Worldwide Natural Resources PLC. It represented the first step into one of Alexander’s passions: progressive world-changing technologies.
Alexander has served as an IPO, acquisitions and Venture Capital consultant. Working with private companies, businesses listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and in many US markets has given him in-depth knowledge of early to mid-stage project development.
For several years, Alexander has been a visiting lecturer on Leadership and Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford. The course offers a new angle on leadership using proprietary new training techniques. This unique perspective also forms the central pillar of Alexander’s regular work as a keynote speaker at conferences across the world. Additionally, Alexander also teaches a business growth strategies programme at the University of Oxford for MBA students as part of an international business initiative.
Alexander is a supporter of several humanitarian causes. He has worked with the Royal Marines Charity to help with re-socialisation programmes for Marines looking to find new careers after seeing combat. He is also a Patron of the Serpentine Galleries.