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Peter Borg-Neal, chief executive of Oakman Inns, founded the company in 2007 with the vision of creating warm, welcoming pubs with a focus on customer service. Just over a decade on, the pub group has more than 20 sites and has demonstrated resilience in challenging trading conditions.
Earlier this year, Oakman Inns reported that like-for-like sales had increased by 7.1% year-on-year, and that average per-pub sales had hit £1.6m a year.
The judges were impressed not only by Oakman Inns' solid trading figures but also by its continuing plans for expansion, following the announcement of a campaign to raise £10.2m in debt and equity financing to support the company's further growth.
Borg-Neal's approach to growing the business has been innovative from the outset. Investment manager Downing Capital funds the freeholds, which leaves Oakman able to develop a site while Downing retains a carried interest in the underlying assets.
More recently, Borg-Neal has worked with the firm to create the pub industry's first innovative finance ISA. The crowdfunding vehicle allows people to invest in bonds secured against a freehold asset.
As the group has grown, Oakman has continued to develop individual designs for each site. Its award-winning approach is to respect a building's heritage while creating a contemporary, welcoming interior.
Borg-Neal has also been at the forefront of innovative training and support schemes for his staff, and Oakman is the first pub company to have gained the Princess Royal Award for training excellence.
His latest creation has been a values-based system designed to pass on the principles by which he operates pubs. Rolled out across the estate through an interactive roadshow, the system is called Speed (an acronym that encompasses the relevant values: sustainability, passion, pubbiness, engaged teams, excellent operations, and design and details).
Going forward, Borg-Neal has plans for an Oakmanpedia app. The idea is to provide staff with instant access to information, whether that's the recipe for a Cosmopolitan cocktail, ideas for the day's special, or details on how to fill out a risk assessment.
Another area in which Borg-Neal has led the industry is sustainability. Oakman Inns hit headlines in April 2017 when Borg-Neal banished straws from its venues after being shown a distressing video of a sea turtle having a straw prised out of its nostril. A year on and many of Borg-Neal's peers in the trade have followed in his footsteps, taking steps to protect the environment.
Looking to the future, Oakman Inns looks set for further expansion, with Borg-Neal poised to respond to easing rents as casual dining brands leave prime high-street spots open for warm, welcoming neighbourhood pubs.
What the judges said
"He won for his work promoting the industry and working on great causes. A year of exceptional growth in a tough climate."
"A relentless focus on continuing improvement in business, community investment and people. The award recognises his commitment to bringing old buildings back to life and the regeneration impact associated with it, as well as industry leadership on initiatives to do with straws, single-use plastics, environmental concerns and promotion of diversity in the sector."
Peter Borg-Neal Oakman Inns
Josh Eggleton The Pony & Trap, Bristol
Chris Galvin Galvin Green Man, Essex
Chris Hill Chief executive, New World Trading Company
Kate Mackenzie Proprietor, the Pipe and Glass Inn
Jillian MacLean Managing director, Drake & Morgan
Joycelyn Neve Managing director, Seafood Pub Company
Kate Nicholls Chief executive, UKHospitality
Andrew Pern Chef-patron, the Star Inn at Harome
Alex Reilley Chairman, Loungers
Paul Salisbury Managing director, Lovely Pubs
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