100: the top five pub executives

10 August 2010 by 100: the top five pub executives

In our final look at what it takes to make the top end of the 2010 100, run in association with Bisto, Daniel Thomas analyses the key skills demonstrated by the leading pub and bar operators.

The pub industry is notoriously tough, and struggling or failed businesses are far more common than successful ones. But each of the top five pub executives in this year's 100 has found a niche for their business which has helped it to stay competitive, whether it's the style of the food, the quality of the beer, the warmth of the welcome or simply the value for money offered.

John Porter, the pub and beer journalist who runs, says that while Tim Martin, Rooney Anand, John Lovering, Ralph Findlay, Lee Cash and Hamish Stoddart arrived in the pub trade by very different routes, they all know the ingredients to a thriving pub business.

"Stoddart and Lovering are serial entrepreneurs; Cash is a talented chef; Anand and Findlay are career executives; while Martin is probably best described as a single-minded visionary," he says. "If there's a common thread, it's probably having the insight to recognise that they can't deliver excellence on their own. All work for businesses where there is a clear career path - something the pub trade has struggled with traditionally."

Through very different routes - such as Martin's vision of his ideal pub, Anand's background in consumer brand marketing, or Lovering's flair for retail - they have all arrived at the understanding that successful pub businesses need to have management systems, according to Porter. "However much fun the customers are having, there has to be discipline in terms of product, service standards and brand identity," he says.

While they have markedly different career paths, all five have found a way to differentiate their businesses, Porter says.

"For example, at JD Wetherspoon, Martin has created a blueprint for training and development which has forced the whole industry to raise its game," he says. "Peach Pub Company's partnership approach, which gives entrepreneurial managers a stake in their own business backed by Peach's management structure, is an exciting new model for pub and restaurant operators."

The five pub executives are also very good at spotting gaps in the market, according to Porter. "Martin brought ‘proper' pubs back to town centres, while Lovering sees a market for Mitchells & Butlers pub brands such as Harvester and Toby Carvery in high-street locations," he says. "Findlay at Marston's has defied industry received wisdom to demonstrate that it can be more cost-effective to build new pubs from scratch than it is to buy existing sites."

No one gets to the top without upsetting a few people and taking a few scalps, so none of the top five would claim to be universally loved, but they are all supported by strong management teams, Porter says.

"The lesson for would-be entrepreneurs is that while it's important to play to your strengths, it's also vital to understand your weaknesses and ensure that you work with people whose skills complement your own," he says. "For example, while Lovering would admit that he knows retail better than pubs, his management team at Mitchells & Butlers understands the business inside out. JD Wetherspoon's chief executive John Hutson may not have the media profile of Martin, but his firm operational grasp of the business has ensured that growth has been well managed and sustainable."

Peter Backman, managing director at food service consultancy Horizons, splits the top five into the entrepreneurs - Martin, Cash and Stoddart - and the corporate managers - Anand, Findlay and Lovering.

"Successful entrepreneurs share some things in common whichever sector they're in; likewise corporate managers," he says. "But even then there are differences. For example, Tim Martin keeps things very pure, very simple. He hasn't deviated over the years and has kept his business model and image intact since starting out.

"Hamish Stoddart and Lee Cash, on the other hand, have a vision, but are flexible about how they get there. Stoddart and Cash are touchy-feely, charismatic people who have fun."

The corporate managers, meanwhile, know how to play by the business rules, Backman says. "They have a large number of stakeholders - customers, shareholders and many scales of employees," he says. "They can manage all of these at once."

Paul Tallentyre, director of pubs and bars at property agent Davis Coffer Lyons, says Tim Martin has created "one of the great concepts" in JD Wetherspoon. "It has evolved as a company, but the concept is the same," he says. "It is cheap and cheerful and the consumers love it."

Of all the top five, Martin has been the most daring in his approach, according to Tallentyre. "He has put his balls on the line, taking on high rents in ‘alternative' buildings," he says. "These were great stepping stones for the company."

Martin has continued to be brave - with, for example, the 49p coffee offer. "Not many people would have even contemplated that," says Tallentyre. "But he knows exactly what profit it will deliver."

For Tallentyre, Anand presides over "probably the best of the tenanted brands" in Greene King. "It has invested in the estate and works closely with the tenants," he says. "Speak to most Greene King tenants and they have nothing but good things to say. It is phenomenal from that point of view."

Everyone has suffered through poor service in pubs or restaurants and thought, "We could do better," but actually doing it is very different - and this is what differentiates the top five, concludes Porter.

"Martin showed pubgoers that they didn't have to put up with fizzy keg beer and annoying background music," he says. "Anand marketed Greene King's beers as brands rather than commodities. Hamish and Lee at Peach Pubs have demonstrated that pubs can engage successfully with the ‘foodie' movement.

"The lesson is clearly that if you don't give your ideas a go, you'll never know if they will be successful."


1 Tim Martin, JD Wetherspoon, Human Resources, June 2010 "I try to do my best to make sure staff stay motivated and happy. It's a Sisyphean task because what customers like in pubs is individuality and rapport with staff. You can talk all you like about building brands, and marketing, and stuff like this, but I still say 80% of your view of a pub is how your pint is poured. That's why we do our best to train and keep staff motivated."

2 Rooney Anand, Greene King, Financial Times, November 2009 "People want to call it a trend but, given that the things that have happened globally and economically in the last two years are so profound, you have to accept you are in a bit of a fog and take small, sure steps rather than great leaps."

3 John Lovering, Mitchells & Butlers, Analyst presentation on Mitchells & Butlers new strategy, March 2010 "I'm more interested in making money than being consistent."

4 Ralph Findlay, Marston's, Daily Mail, February 2009 "At the end of the day" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">the pub sector] is a unique British industry that employs a million people and deserves a positive, not a negative, image."

5= Lee Cash, Peach Pub Company, Caterer, March 2009
"What we do isn't retail - it requires much more dedication than that. If you're expecting people to stocktake at 10 o'clock on a Sunday night, or serve customers who have just walked in at last orders, and if you want that can-do attitude, you've got to give something back."

5= Hamish Stoddart, Peach Pub Company, Caterer, January 2010
"We work very hard at looking after our teams and living up to the values we've set ourselves; we're all about sharing, supporting and working together, respecting and trusting each other, and striving to be the best we possibly can. We aspire to make everyone who works with us, and also who comes into our pubs, really feel our place is theirs."


Nominees in each of the five categories were judged by panels of industry experts.

To begin with, candidates had to meet these qualifying criteria: the personality should be based mainly in the UK, and their power and influence should be primarily in the UK market.

Shortlisted candidates were awarded marks for each of five criteria, which were averaged out to give an overall ranking in the 100.

First consideration was the scale and scope of the operation headed by the nominees. But size isn't everything, and candidates were next judged on the power and influence they exert in the industry and the respect they command among their peers. We asked whether they were shapers of policy, leaders in their field, or inspiring and nurturing the next generation of movers and shakers.

The judges then examined whether the candidates had a proven record of financial success and whether this was reflected in the eyes of their peers and the outside world. The candidates' reputation for innovation was next, as the judges examined to what degree they were setting standards others wanted to copy and whether their ideas would remain in fashion.

Longevity was the fifth and final hurdle for the candidates as the panellists considered whether they - and their creations - would stand the test of time.

[View the full 100 list for 2010 >>](

[The top five restaurateurs >>](

[The top five hoteliers >>](

[The top five chefs >>](

[The top five contract caterers >>

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