Rod McKie

12 May 2005
Rod McKie

Overall ranking: 73

Contract caterer ranking: 12


Rod McKie is the chief operating officer of Welcome Break, the second largest operator of motorway service areas (MSAs) and the 49th largest private company in the UK.

Welcome Break, which serves 80 million customers a year, runs 24 MSAs and 22 adjacent hotels of which 18 are Days Inn and four (which will be rebadged as Days Inns) are Welcome Lodges. It has an annual turnover of £560m (£190m excluding fuel) and employs 4,500 staff.

The food offer includes both franchised brands and Welcome Break's own Coffee Primo, self-serve Food Connection, Red Hen waitress-service restaurants and the new Piazza.

Career guide

McKie, who was born in 1961, started as an assistant manager at Betty's restaurant in Bristol in 1982 before moving to Pizzaland as unit manager at London and US stores from 1983 to 1985.

As operations manager at Whitbread's TGI Friday's, McKie boosted turnover from £9m to £26m in 18 months and unit operating profit from 16% to 24%. From 1991, he looked after themed food courts for Courtlands/Scotts Hospitality and, from 1992, he oversaw eleven Henry's Café Bars for JA Devenish.

As operations director at Prêt à Manger from 1994, McKie expanded the chain from 14 London stores to 74 across the UK. In 1998 he became managing director of Coffee Republic, where he brought the group into profit in 2001, completed two fund-raising rounds and rolled out the brand from 16 to 90 units.

McKie joined Welcome Break in October 2001 as operations director and was promoted to his current role a year later.

What we think

The Welcome Break at Newport Pagnell, opened by Forte in 1959, was the UK's first MSA. Forte developed the brand alongside Travelodge budget hotels until its hostile takeover in 1996 by Granada, which was forced to sell on Welcome Break to satisfy monopoly rules. The new owner, Bahrain private equity group Investcorp, bought the chain for £476m in February 1997.

McKie was charged with the task of modernising a company where many staff had worked all their lives and 50% of managers have left, retired or been sacked since he took over. He has devolved responsibility from the centre to the site managers, installed more efficient working systems, and speeded up service times.

In 2002, he introduced quality coffee and sandwiches through Coffee Primo with input from veteran food critic Egon Ronay who was enlisted in 2000 to raise food quality. Primo Lounges have sofas, workstations and laptop connections for business customers while GameZones and VideoZones target younger people.

Many analysts felt Investcorp had paid £100m too much for Welcome Break and the debt has hit the bottom line, with profits flat-lining at around £40m for five years. Although the business has increased underlying turnover and profits for the past three years, it reported an overall £62.4m loss in the year to 30 September 2003 and teetered on the brink of administration in 2004.

Investcorp launched a £386.9m rescue plan which included the sale-and-leaseback of 10 MSAs to Rotch Property Group for £24.7m and the buy-out of disgruntled bond holders. Although the group made an overall loss of £14.7m in the year to September 2004, stripping out one-off exceptional costs (including £16m apiece for refinancing and sale-and-leaseback costs) gave earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of £46.1m.

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