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Top 100: Alison Brittain, Whitbread

19 April 2018 by
Top 100: Alison Brittain, Whitbread

Overall ranking: 48 (new entry)

Hotelier ranking: 7 (new entry)

Snapshot

Alison Brittain was new to the hospitality industry when she took over as chief executive of Whitbread from Andy Harrison just two years ago, and she secures her place on the Top 100 list thanks to the scale of the business she heads. Whitbread is the UK's largest hospitality business, with two of its most prominent brands: Premier Inn (which has more than 770 hotels with 70,000 bedrooms) and Costa (which has 2,326 UK cafés). Both are set to expand considerably. Premier Inn is forecast to have 85,000 rooms open by 2020, and Costa is expected to reach 2,500 outlets by the same time.

What we think

Brittain heads up Whitbread at a time of considerable City speculation that change is on the cards for the hospitality giant, which started life as a brewery 276 years ago, and today is the third-oldest company in the FTSE 100. After enjoying a five-year period of growth, peaking at a share price high of £52 in May 2015, the price has since steadily fallen and less than a week ago stood at £36.

However on Monday this week, the price leapt by nearly 7% to £42 following the news that hedge fund Elliott Advisors had built up a stake of more than 6% in the business to become the company's largest investor.

This follows on from the move in December 2017 by American investment company Sachem Head to secure a 3.4% stake in Whitbread, triggering new rumours that the investment could lead to a demerger of Costa or Premier Inn, or the sale of one or more of its restaurant brands, which include Beefeater, Brewers Fayre and Table Table, and a new contemporary steak brand, Bar+Block, launched in 2016. While Sachem Head has remained quiet about its intentions, Elliot Advisors has demanded that Whitbread spin off Costa.

In its half-year results to 31 August 2017, Whitbread said it was cautiously optimistic about meeting its annual financial targets after achieving year-on-year revenue growth of 7.4% to £1.7b, with underlying profit growth of 6.7% to £328m. However, in a trading update published in January, the company announced that growth across both Premier Inn and Costa was slowing down as a result of a cut back in consumer spending.

Despite its size, Whitbread under Brittain has continued to show willingness to innovate. There are plans for further growth of the Hub by Premier Inn microbrand, with its compact rooms, cutting-edge technology and green credentials, beyond the current nine sites. Costa is also introducing new menu items, such as coconut milk across its range of coffees. Meanwhile, all Costa and Premier Inn sites are installing bottle refill stations to provide free access to water for all customers.

From University of Stirling business studies graduate to winner of the 2017 Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year award, Brittain has travelled a long way up the corporate ladder to her current role of steering Whitbread through the choppy waters of change that could lie ahead. With Whitbread's full year results due to be announced next week, the City will be keenly awaiting Brittain's response to the latest investor activity.

Further information

Water refill stations to be introduced in 3,000 Costa and Premier Inn sites >>

Whitbread sales flat 'reflecting recent tougher market conditions' >>

US company declares 3.4% stake in Whitbread >>

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