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Harvey Smyth

12 May 2005

Overall ranking: 42

Restaurateurs ranking: 10

Snapshot

Harvey Smyth is the chief executive officer of PizzaExpress, the UK's leading chain of pizza restaurants that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

The group currently has more than 311 PizzaExpress restaurants in the UK, where it employs more than 7,500 staff, and another 45 venues overseas. The Dean Street branch in London has doubled as an internationally-acclaimed Jazz Club since 1969.

The group also owns the 29-strong Café Pasta chain, two Marzano pasta restaurants in York and Clapham, the upmarket Kettners restaurant and champagne bar in Soho, the mid-priced Riviera on London's Southbank, and the Gourmet Pizza Company.

Career guide

Smyth graduated from Bristol University with a BSc in biochemistry. He joined accountants Arthur Andersen, where he qualified as a chartered accountant.

In 1996, Smyth became finance director at sandwich retailer Prêt à Manger and rose to become deputy chief executive and UK managing director in 2000. Here he oversaw its growth from 35 outlets in London to more than 150 worldwide with a turnover of £150m.

He assumed his current role at PizzaExpress in 2003.

What we think

Smyth was brought in to head up PizzaExpress after it was bought for £278m by Nando's owner Capricorn Ventures International (CVI) and venture capital firm TDR Capital in June 2003.

The group was launched in 1965 by Peter Boizot, who introduced the UK to authentic Italian pizzas based on a 180-year-old Neapolitan recipe and cooked in genuine pizza ovens. In 1992, he sold the business to city analysts Hugh Osmond and Luke Johnson, who floated the company the following year.

Takeover bids were tabled by former co-owner Osmond, current chief executive David Page, and former co-owner Johnson in concert with ex-chief executive Ian Eldridge. All were pipped to the post by CVI/TDR, who went on to snap up PizzaExpress's biggest rival, Ask Central, for £213m in 2004.

Smyth and his new management team have introduced new menus, a new restaurant design and staff development and reward schemes since taking over. Although Ask and PizzaExpress are run quite separately, they have merged back-office functions to drive down costs.

The owners say the chain is now trading strongly and achieved double-digit growth in like-for-like sales over the Christmas and New Year period.

Speculation is mounting that TDR plans to float or sell the business this year, but TDR has made it clear that it is unlikely to exit its investment in PizzaExzpress separately from Ask Central on account of their shared functions.

A sale of both brands would involve in excess of 500 restaurants under the PizzaExpress, Ask and Zizzi brands and may prove tempting bait for former chief executive David Page's new investment vehicle Clapham House.

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