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Back to the Future – how the seventh generation Letts leader is returning the eponymous diary family to its roots as an Innovation incubator

Clive Armitage

August 14, 2023

‘Plan for two generations ahead but make money every year.’  This was the business advice shared by John Letts, founder of the infamous brand of diaries in 1796, to future generations of his family in order to keep the brand alive. Perhaps a simple concept on the surface of it, but nevertheless an effective business compass, given the Letts family ventures, which were started in 1796, are still on the cutting edge of innovation, more than 225 years later!

When you think of the Letts name, although you may immediately think of diaries, in fact, their founding father initially created a business accelerator and incubator.  John Letts opened a large store in the City of London as a place where he could interact with his more business focused customers around products he wanted to build from the back room of that store.  In effect, through discussions with those customers, creating early prototypes of products and getting user feedback, he was unintentionally creating the world’s first corporate incubator.  It wasn’t for another 16 years that his most successful idea – the first paper diary – was published in 1812.

Seven generations and several business transformations later, Philip Letts is Chair of the all new LettsGroup, a branded venture group that uses its modern, digital incubator methodology and advanced technology to solve some of society’s biggest problems. Indeed, LettsGroup has almost turned full circle back to the concept kicked off by John in 1796, only this time backing and building innovative businesses (and not just their own stationery products as John did) in the technology, media and climate space to deliver high growth and strong earnings.

While the term transformation can be associated with pressures of pivoting and redirecting strategy, tactics and budget at breakneck speed, the Letts family has built the family name on embracing transformation and regarded it instead as an opportunity for growth and value creation.

A true Agent of Change, listen as Philip describes how, together with his father, he took the advice of John Letts and asked, ‘If planning for two generations means about 50 years, what is the world going to look like in 50 years’ time and what do we need to be good at?’

Thank you for your time, Philip, and for sharing your fascinating story of transformation with us!

Watch the full video here:

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