When David Buttress resigned as chief executive of Just Eat in February, it came as a shock. Although the Welshman did not found the online takeaway delivery business, he was the man - then a 29-year-old middle ranking Coca-Cola executive - persuaded by Jesper Busch, its Danish founder, to head up a new British branch of the business.
The reason given for his decision to leave – “due to urgent family matters” – naturally elicited sympathy. We do not know the specific details, but as the father of young children, it was only natural that he should want to put family first. Nobody, for example, had anything but sympathy for Tom Youngs, the England scrum half, when he opted to relinquish his coveted place in the British Lions squad in order to support his brother Tom, whose wife has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to learn over the weekend that Buttress was about to join 83North, one of Just Eat’s early-stage venture capital backers, as a partner. One or two questions started to be asked over what was really going on and on the day The Times broke the news, the Just Eat shares fell by 3.5%. Was Buttress, having cashed in more than £20m of shares since flotation three years ago, simply cutting and running?
I would dismiss that idea out of hand. Firstly, his new role at 83North will, at least until the end of the year, be only two days a week, giving him plenty of time with his family. And don’t forget that ferreting out and backing tech entrepreneurs is nowhere near as full on as the job of setting up, growing and floating a business then setting about turning it into a global enterprise, all the while under the unforgiving glare of the media and City spotlight. Given that he is only 41, it would be strange if he did not want something to keep his sharp business brain occupied.
But why, suggested one analyst, could he not have taken some sort of sabbatical or leave of absence to give him the time he needed with his family rather than quitting his job?
The simple truth, as Buttress himself acknowledged to me, is that the urgent family matter actually accelerated his thinking on his career. “I’d spent 11 years thinking about nothing but takeaways, having joined Just Eat when I was 29. So in my mind there were definitely other things I wanted to do. Being a CEO of a business that you started at basement level and built into a global business over 11 years, with all the travel and all that being a CEO involves, of course that becomes a consideration as you decide what you want the next ten years of your life to look like. The demands of the role were definitely playing on my mind and made me think about what’s right for the next ten years of my life. As your kids starts to grow up, such considerations become more important.”
As for cutting and running having cashed in his chips, well, the fact that Buttress is staying on the Just Eat board and retains a decent slug of shares shows he is doing nothing of the sort.
Campbell shocks sector
There must be something in the air at the moment, but it seems to be the season for sudden or unexpected CEO departures. The most abrupt was that of Andy Manders, who less than five months earlier had replaced Tom Byng as CEO of Byron. The former Fired Earth managing director was, we were told, leaving “for personal reasons” leaving Byron chairman and ex-Morrisons CEO Dalton Philips to pick up the reins on an interim basis.
The most surprising exit, however, was that of Wagamama boss David Campbell who, with the plaudits for his Retailers’ Retailer of the Year award still ringing in his ears, announced he was off and would be handing the reins to chief operating officer Jane Holbrook. Having set in train a widely praised turnaround of Wagamama and, apparently, got it in shape to allow Duke Street to think about exiting, most people would have expected Campbell to stay on long enough to reap the rewards of his work by overseeing a sale or IPO before handing on the baton in a year or two’s time.
Reading the internal and external statements, it looks like the reason is simply that, with the casual dining market becoming more challenging and several rivals starting to show signs of stress, an exit was no longer deemed feasible. As a result, with the timeframe for his commitment now extended out to at least five years, Campbell “with typical integrity”, according to chairman Allan Leighton, decided to resign. The detailed nature of the explanation certainly rings true, especially given the comment from Leighton that he will remain “a special adviser and shareholder going forward” – a sure sign that, despite his departure, Campbell will not lose out on the doubtless handsome rewards all his hard work of the past three years deserves.
Franco Manca going global
For a small brand, Franco Manca has a big reputation. It may only have 33 restaurants – most of them in London – but the quality of its sourdough pizzas, allied to its stripped-back décor and friendly service means its reputation has spread far and wide. So much so that inquiries from would-be franchisees are flooding in from many parts of the globe.
The only franchise offer its owner, Fulham Shore, has so far accepted is a case of keeping it in the family, as it has been granted to Giuseppe Mascoli, the founder of Franco Manca, who is opening a branch in June on the island of Salina, north of Sicily, that will open for six months of the year.
A case of coals to Newcastle? Well, almost. David Page, the Fulham Shore chairman, says there is so much opportunity in the UK that he doesn’t want his team to get distracted, but he does admit: “We have had some very interesting approaches; for example, some Neapolitans have approached us to open in America. Given that Franco Manca makes Neapolitan pizzas, this might just be a case of coals to New York!”
Dominic Walsh is a business reporter at The Times covering the leisure, tobacco and drinks industries.