Entrepreneur Edwina Lilley, the founder of specialist software provider Fourth Hospitality and multiple restaurant chains, has died after a short illness, aged 54.
Lilley and her husband Derek founded Fourth in 2000 after they recognised that there was a better way to streamline the restaurant process and optimise profits through cloud-based technology. The firm now employs more than 250 people with business centres in London, Cheshire and New York. Its systems are now used in 22 countries by more than 1,000 companies.
But the pair started out running restaurants. Their first business was Chompers in the village of Parkgate in Cheshire, which they followed up with additional openings, including the first Est Est Est restaurant in 1988.
They built Est Est Est into a successful chain before selling a majority stake to City Centre Restaurants (now The Restaurant Group) in 1993. They followed this up by establishing the Individual Restaurant Company (IRC) which spawned brands including Piccolino and The Restaurant Bar & Grill chains. IRC was sold to the management team in 2004.
Edwina and Derek also created trade magazine Restaurant, and its affiliated World's 50 Best Restaurants, an index of the best restaurants on the planet.
Ben Hood, chief executive of Fourth Hospitality, said: "We're deeply shocked by this terribly sad and sudden news. Edwina was one of life's very special and precious people - a complete force of a nature with relentless energy. Everything about Fourth was hers and we are blessed to have been able to work with her. She was a massive influence on me as a person and on my career as well as being my great friend. We are all absolutely devastated and she will be missed by so many."
Charles Reed, group managing director of William Reed Business Media, which now owns and publishes Restaurant, said: "She was such a great personality with so much commitment and passion for the businesses she built up with Derek. She was a remarkably talented individual who always seemed to succeed."
Industry commentator and consultant Peter Martin of Peach Factory, added: "Edwina was an extraordinary person, someone who had a real impact on the restaurant market. Her obsession with quality and the scale of her ambition were remarkable. As a business person, she had amazing attention to detail, a passion for getting things right and a determination to succeed, whether it was running restaurants, magazines or technology companies."
While they remained significant shareholders, Edwina and Derek sold a stake in Fourth Hospitality in March 2011 to private equity firm ECI Partners, in a process that valued the business at more than £50 million. The business recently completed the purchase of Adaco, a complementary US company with a specialism in the hotels market and operations in more than 50 countries around the world.
Hood added: "Edwina leaves an extraordinary legacy. She had the vision for this business to be a global player in the hospitality market, and it is fitting that shortly before this extremely sad and untimely news, we were able to conclude our expansion into the US.
"Our thoughts are with Derek, and their sons Sam and Max, and the Lilley family, during this very difficult time."
By Neil Gerrard
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