Top 100: Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon

19 April 2018 by
Top 100: Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon

Overall ranking: 2 (6 in 2012)

Pub and bar operator ranking: 1 (1 in 2012)

Snapshot JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin's inbox may be dominated by journalists seeking his views on Brexit, but his priority remains the continued success of the pub business he founded in 1979 when he took on the lease of a pub in Muswell Hill, and which floated on the Stock Exchange in 1992. The company now operates around 900 pubs and for the 26 weeks to 28 January 2018 revenue was up 3.6% to £830.4m, with group like-for-like sales up 6.1%. As Martin likes to point out, JD Wetherspoon contributes 1/1,000th of the UK's total tax revenues.

What we think Cometh the hour, cometh the man. At a time when most of his peers in the hospitality industry were railing against the prospect of their workforces being decimated if the UK exited the EU, Martin found himself with an ever-growing mainstream media profile in the run-up to the June 2016 referendum, thanks to his support of the Leave campaign.

Martin is driven by a passionate belief that British democracy is better served at Westminster than in Brussels, and he has been campaigning against tax and regulations he perceives as unfair or over-burdensome on businesses, such as VAT and the late-night levy, long before the referendum was called.

Martin was born in 1955 and was just 24 when he opened his first Wetherspoon pub, famously borrowing the initials from the JD Hogg character in The Dukes of Hazzard and the surname from a school teacher who had told him he wouldn't amount to much.

The City still sees Martin as the face and voice of Wetherspoon, and he dutifully does the rounds of TV, radio and press whenever the business updates its performance. His regular column in Wetherspoon News, a magazine distributed in the pubs, also keeps him very much as its frontman, as far as his customers are concerned.

However Martin ostensibly handed the day-to-day running of the business over in 2004, to a very able team led by chief executive John Hutson. Wetherspoon continues to be one of the industry's most adept chameleons, trading in high streets, town centres and travel hubs, and embracing changing trends, from breakfast to Balti and coffee to cask beer with aplomb.

Even now, though, rarely a day goes by without Martin visiting at least one, and usually more, of his pubs, monitoring both customers and staff and reporting his findings back to head office. Wherever Brexit takes the UK, there seems little doubt that Martin and JD Wetherspoon will be ready for the challenge.

In December 2017, Martin was given what many would see as the ultimate recognition of his status: an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

Further information

Tim Martin: taxes and wages are hurting businesses, not Brexit >>

Big business has tried to fool the public on Brexit, JD Wetherspoons claims >>

JD Wetherspoons to open 50-100 more hotels >>

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