Overall ranking: 12 (18 in 2012)
Hotelier ranking: 2 (6 in 2012)
Robin Hutson is chairman and chief executive of Lime Wood Group and Home Grown Hotels. He launched the 33-bedroom Lime Wood hotel, a laid-back, luxury haven in the heart of the New Forest, just outside Lyndhurst, Hampshire, in 2009, on behalf of its billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe, founder of chemicals company Ineos. The Lime Wood Group also owns Le Portetta in Courchevel, France. In 2011 Hutson breathed new life into the mid-market country house hotel sector with the opening of Home Grown Hotels' first property in what is now the five-strong Pig collection (in which Ratcliffe has a 50% stake and Hutson a 26% share). Hutson was named Hotelier of the Year by The Caterer in 2005 and won the Outstanding Contribution Catey in 2014. He sits on the board of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and is an active committee member of Action Against Hunger.
What we think
Ask any hotel operator who they are inspired by, and nine out of 10 will say Hutson. He entered the hospitality industry as an OND student in hotel and catering operations at Brooklands College in Weybridge, Surrey. He then joined the Savoy Group's management training course and moved between departments at Claridge's, Stone's Chop House and the Berkeley hotel, followed by a year in Paris at Hôtel de Crillon. On returning to the Berkeley, he became the Savoy Group's youngest ever reception manager at the age of 23.
Throughout his entrepreneurial career, Hutson has tapped into the zeitgeist, first with Hotel du Vin and most recently with the Pig chain, whose first hotel opened in 2011 in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, followed by four more - in Southampton, near Bath, Studland Bay (Dorset) and Combe (Devon). The Pig litter is set to expand over the next nine to 18 months into the village of Bridge (near Canterbury, Kent), on the outskirts of Arundel (West Sussex) and near Padstow (Cornwall).
Hutson's Pig has shaken up the dowdy, three-star country house hotel market by creating rustic and relaxed hotels at a reasonable price point, with a kitchen garden at their heart and distinctive shabby-chic interiors designed by his wife Judy.
The kitchen garden, in particular, has worked brilliantly for the brand, informing everything from the marketing material to the design, as well as providing a focal point for the restaurants, which are largely located in conservatories with seed trays full of herbs dotted about. If the kitchen garden is unable to supply the produce required by the kitchen, it is sourced from within a 25-mile radius. It is an honest, credible philosophy focused on local food and sustainability, and which is in tune with the times.
The Pig name has also helped to drive the brand's success. "It has a pubby feel - which was intentional - and hence has broken down the stuffy country house image," Hutson told The Caterer.
All of this has driven guests to the Pig in their droves, with occupancy rates of more than 90% consistently recorded. Turnover for Home Grown Hotels in 2016 climbed 20% year on year to £17.1m, according to the group's most recent financials.
Hutson has said he has no intention of running a group of 20 hotels ("I wouldn't begin to know how to manage a company of that size") but admitted that if another interesting property were to come along, he would look at it.
Despite receiving offers from time to time to sell the business, he has said he is in no rush to do so: "We'll continue running the business as long as we enjoy it, and we're still enjoying it." Guests of Lime Wood and the Pig no doubt hope he will be enjoying what he does for some time to come.
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