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Caterersearch.com 100: Rufus Hall

01 July 2010
Caterersearch.com 100: Rufus Hall

Rufus Hall

Overall ranking: 65

Pub ranking: 7

Rufus Hall is CEO of Orchid Group, which was created in 2006 through the acquisition of almost 290 managed pubs from Punch by private equity group GI Partners. Subsequent expansion has included the Premium Bars & Restaurants group, acquired at the end of 2009.

Orchid's four operating divisions include Contemporary Carveries, the fusion of Thai cuisine and the English pub known as Dragons, and the Oriental Restaurant Group, a clutch of the City's best-known Oriental restaurants. A new acquisitions division, Parkmill Pub Management, was set up in early 2010.

In the year ended 31 December 2009, Orchid saw its turnover increase to £240m from £175m the year before.

Rufus Hall - Career guide

Born in 1961, Hall's career includes periods as operations director with Scottish & Newcastle, managing director of Rank Group's Tom Cobleigh pub business and managing director, operations, with Punch Retail. He ran the Ha!Ha! Bar & Canteen business, then part of Yates Group, before being headhunted by GI Partners to head up the newly created Orchid business in 2006.

Rufus Hall - What we think

"Hit the ground running" is a phrase that gained special meaning for Rufus Hall in the summer of 2006. Having been headhunted by private equity group GI Partners to head up the newly created Orchid Group, Hall thought he was starting the empire with just 21 pubs and restaurants which had been part of the Noble House Leisure group.

GI had spent £20m to acquire this package in May 2006, which included the Jim Thompson's brand and London restaurants such as the Sri Thai, Pacific Oriental and Imperial City.

However, Hall hardly had time to unpack his coffee mug and stapler before the bombshell dropped - GI had agreed a £571m deal to buy 290 managed pubs from Punch Taverns. A management team had to be assembled quickly, a task that Hall's track record across the industry helped with, and the creation of the Orchid Group in June 2006 is officially the fastest-ever roll-out of a company in the sector.

The key to the formula has been strict segmentation: Orchid's pubs all fit into one of the group's templates, which include "independent local", "modern British", "free house local", "British carvery" and the Dragon concept, combining a British local with authentic Thai food. Food is also seen as essential to the mix, whether it is pub food classics in a previously drink-only local, or the Red Tractor-approved locally sourced British meat served in the carveries.

Orchid's success in regenerating businesses that had been written off by previous owners is a strong counter to those who argue that the British pub is an endangered species. Along with industry awards from the British Hospitality Association and The Publican, this year Orchid was named one of the Sunday Times's 25 Best Big Companies to Work For.

That accolade reflects the importance that Hall places on recruitment throughout the business. Hall's management team ranges from long-standing colleagues such as commercial director Simon Dodd - the two worked together at S&N - to new blood such as operations director Paul Cutsforth, recruited at the start of this year from Peach.

Training focuses on service and high standards, again reflecting Hall's belief that these are what will differentiate successful pub businesses in a contracted market.

Not that there hasn't been the occasional reversal. At the depth of the downturn Orchid was forced into a pre-pack administration, which saw about 40 underperforming pubs leave the business; and in July last year a number of leases from the Bar Room Bar chain, which Orchid had sold to its management, reverted when that business closed.

However, acquisition at the end of 2009 of the Premium Bars & Restaurants business, which includes the Living Room and Prohibition brands, signalled that Orchid is firmly back in expansion mode. Along with investment in the existing estate, the Parkmill acquisition arm aims to add another 150 pubs by the end of next year.

Rufus Hall - Further information

Orchid website >>

Orchid Group profile on Telegraph Business >>

Orchid Group Sunday Times Best Companies Profile >>

Read more about the Caterersearch.com 100, the list of the most influential people, here >>

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