Overall ranking: 10
Pubs ranking: 2
Karen Jones, now in her mid-forties, is the chief executive officer of the Spirit Group, the UK's largest managed pub operator with more than 2,000 pubs and 40,000 employees. The pubs are largely food-led, and brands include Chef and Brewer, the trendy Bar Room Bar, the child-orientated Wacky Warehouse, John Barras and the sports-themed Qs and Mr Qs.
After working as a graduate trainee for an ad agency, Jones joined Roger Myers's fledgling restaurant group as general manager of Peppermint Park, Coconut Grove and Fatso's Pasta Joint. The pair expanded the group with the addition of Dome, three restaurants with Peter Langan, a group of pubs, and Ragdale Hall Health Hydro in Leicestershire.
After floating the company in 1985 and selling it in 1988, Jones and Myers co-founded the Café Rouge Group, opening the first venue in 1989. They regained Dome and developed Café Pelican, where Jones became managing director. After going public in 1990, they sold Pelican in 1996 to Whitbread, where Jones remained as managing director for two years.
She joined Punch Taverns in March 1999 to develop its Bar Room Bar managed pub business. When Punch bought Allied Domecq's Vanguard estate in September, Jones became chief executive officer of the enlarged managed division, which was then called Punch Retail. It was renamed Spirit Group and demerged in March 2002.
What we think
Dubbed the Queen of Pubs for her success in turning Spirit into a pub powerhouse, Jones has a proven track record as an entrepreneur who has successfully founded, developed and rolled out a succession of café, bar and restaurant chains, notably Café Rouge and Café Pelican. Her restaurant background has provided a winning blueprint for Spirit, which has won many accolades for its food.
When Jones became chief executive officer of Punch Retail, she inherited 1,040 pubs that were largely in decline and turned them around within two years.
Since the 2002 demerger of Spirit, Jones has more than doubled the size of the company to make it the UK's leading managed pub operator. The major buys were in 2003 when Spirit bought Tom Cobleigh's 75 managed pubs for £106.4m and 1,400 pubs, restaurants and budget hotels from Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) for £2.5b. The following year, Spirit sold the 141 Premier Lodge hotels and 19 adjacent pub restaurants it bought from S&N to Whitbread for £536.2m.
In 2004, Spirit raised £674m to reduce debt through two sale-and-leaseback deals involving 285 pubs. It also completed a refinancing package that raised £2.1b in debt and a £50m revolving credit facility.
Jones's management skills and ability to provide high profit margins have impressed the money men. "Karen Jones is the star of the city, she has no ego and works hard and it's rare to find people like that," Trevor Shelley, director at property agent Shelley Sandzer, told Caterer & Hotelkeeper in 2004.