Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Robert Cook, De Vere Hotels and Village Urban Resorts

06 December 2012
Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100: Robert Cook, De Vere Hotels and Village Urban Resorts

Overall ranking: 13 (ranked 29 in 2011)
Hotelier ranking: 4 (ranked 8 in 2011)

A new job for Robert Cook sees him take the reins as chief executive of De Vere Hotels & Village Urban Resorts and most recently a seat on the De Vere Group board. After heading up the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin brands since 2004, he left the group in January this year.

He has been tasked with expanding the Village Group to 26 new build hotels across the UK, as well as overseeing the company's golf business across De Vere Village's sister brands, De Vere hotels and De Vere Venues. The group currently has 7,400 bedrooms, 8,500 staff, over 70 hotels, 16 championship golf courses and an annual turnover of £170m.

During his time at Malmaison and Hotel Du Vin, he was responsible for the nationwide rollout of the brands as well as the introduction of the now defunct Bistro du Vin and Pub du Vin concepts.

Robert Cook - Career guide
Robert Cook comes from hotelier stock and spent his first 18 years living in room 114 of the Swallow Palace hotel in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. He graduated from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and, in 2007, was honoured with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his contribution to the hotel industry.

After taking a three-year trainee programme with Holiday Inn, Cook served as food and beverage manager at the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh under Peter Tyrie from 1990, when he was part of the pre-opening team for its relaunch in 1991. Between 1992 and 1997 he was resident manager at the Forum InterContinental hotel in Glasgow and the Midland hotel in Manchester.

In 1997 Cook began his first stint with Malmaison, spending four years in the group, firstly as general manager of Newcastle and Manchester and then as regional operations director, before the company was sold to Patriot Hospitality.

From 2000 he worked with Malmaison founder Ken McCulloch on the Columbus hotel in Monte Carlo and became managing director for McCulloch's Columbus and Dakota hotel group in the UK.

In 2000 MWB and joint partner Rezidor bought the five-strong Malmaison group for £77m, gaining full control of the chain in 2002. Cook rejoined Malmaison as chief executive officer in 2004, in time to oversee the acquisition of the Hotel du Vin chain from founders Robin Hutson and Gerard Basset for £66.4m that October. He was then responsible for securing funding to expand both groups nationally and also launched Pub du Vin in 2007, with the first site opening next to the Hotel Du Vin Brighton in 2008 and the second in Birmingham in 2009 and the now defunct Bistro du Vin in April 2011.

He was involved in MWB's failed bid to sell the company for more than £650m in the UK hotel industry's first REIT (real estate investment trust) with Sir David Michels in 2007.

In January this year, Cook joined the De Vere Group as CEO of De Vere Village (later renamed De Vere Village Urban Resorts) and is now a member of the group's board.

Since joining he has expanded his role to CEO of De Vere Hotels as well as De Vere Village Urban Resorts, and has streamlined the business, overseeing 20 redundancies as well as the sale of the Royal Bath hotel in Bournemouth and the disposal of a further two hotels. Looking ahead, the 25-strong Village brand is set to expand, with up to 18 new build properties planned over the next three to five years. Sites currently being targeted are in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Portsmouth, with other sites around the M25, such as Bracknell and Crawley, as well as university cities including Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Bristol, Durham and York also under consideration.

In rebranding the Village concept, Cook has also created several new sub-brands including: Victory Pub & Kitchen, Velocity Health & Fitness, Viva Urban Spa and Upper Deck Village bedrooms. The group's annual turnover is currently £170m, with revenue split £70m-£60m-£40m between food and beverage, bedrooms and leisure. Over 50% of income is generated from within a four-mile radius of each hotel.

In 2006 Cook was awarded the Catey for Manager of the Year and in the same year Malmaison was named AA Hotel Group of the Year. In 2009 Hotel du Vin won the same award, and for the sixth consecutive year won the Guardian Observer Business Travel Award. In 2007 he received an honorary doctorate from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen in recognition of his contribution to the hotel industry. In September 2012 he was elected president of HOSPA, the newly created hospitality professionals association for finance, revenue management and IT.

Robert Cook - What we think
A seasoned hotelier at 45, after eight years of working for the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin brands, Cook has chosen to take on the new, larger challenge of De Vere.

Having seen the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin brands through good times and bad, he engineered the fast paced roll out of the two concepts and defined their brands to ensure different market share, but this was followed by financial troubles as the group was hit hard by the recession.
But his move to De Vere marks a long-awaited next step in this flamboyant hotelier's career. A brand which has not yet fully reached its potential, it remains to be seen if Cook can bring it to life and do for the mid-market and golf sector what he did for the boutique hotel sector. His plans for significant - and given the financial climate, aggressive - expansion of the Village brand and strategic move into city centres from the brand's traditional motorway and business park locations will be an interesting development.

On his appointment Cook said: "I have a lot to learn as the leisure part of De Vere Village, which accounts for around 30% of the business, is new to me. I also have ideas for the food and beverage operation, which has a £60m turnover within Village."

Robert Cook's ranking in the 2011 Caterer and Hotelkeeper 100 >>Robert Cook and Tony Dangerfield join board of De Vere Group >>

Three new hotels confirmed for Village Urban Resorts >>

De Vere Group makes up to 20 redundancies as Robert Cook heads new Hotels and Village division >>

De Vere Village relaunched as De Vere Village Urban Resorts >>
The Caterer Interview: Robert Cook >>
Robert Cook takes on role as chief executive of De Vere >>
De Vere Group Website

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