Duncan Garrood has stepped down as chief executive of the Richard Caring-backed Bill’s Restaurants, after less than 10 months in the role.
Garrood, the former Punch chief executive, took over from Mark Fox at the end of January, as the 82-strong company entered “a new phase of development and expansion across the country”.
The company said that Garrood had left to “focus on other ventures and new opportunities”. MCA understands that executive chairman David Campbell, the former Wagamama chief executive, who joined Bill’s in July, and Sarah Hills, the company’s recently appointed executive operations director, will oversee the running of the chain.
A spokeswoman said: “Duncan Garrood has decided to leave the business to focus on his other ventures and new opportunities. The team will continue to be led by founder Bill Collison, executive chairman David Campbell and the existing management team. In the meantime, it’s business as usual as Bill’s continues with its successful refurbishment programme that positions the brand as a local, evening dining destination.”
Garrood said: ”Whilst it has been a relatively short time at Bill’s, a lot of great things have been achieved. A high quality management team is in place; superbly transformed restaurants, which we call New Look Bill’s, are being rolled out and enthusiastically received by guests and they are performing strongly. Bill’s has a new digital presence and has the best team of restaurant staff I’ve had the pleasure to work with.
”Whilst it’s time for me to move on to new challenges, more about which will follow soon, I know the team at Bill’s will go from strength to strength and my heartfelt thanks for all their support, energy and dedication. I shall continue to be an enthusiastic supporter of Bill’s.”
The company has started rolling out its refurbishment plans, which it relaunched earlier this summer, to 10 key sites.
The move focuses on boosting the brand’s evening trade by transforming ten of its London and regional sites with a new interior design. The fit-out, with all design details hand-picked by founder Collison, includes luxurious velvet seating and chandeliers. The new look and feel will transform Bill’s venues into “go-to destinations for dinner and drinks in keeping with its ‘farmhouse glamour’ identity”.
The new look has been so far introduced to London sites in Greenwich, Soho, Hammersmith, Clink Street, Wimbledon and Kensington, in addition to Reigate, Tunbridge Wells, Norwich and Cambridge.
Alongside the refurbishment, Bill’s will offer a new menu and revised cocktail list across all its UK sites.
Comment by MCA’s Mark Wingett
For Mark Fox it was personal reasons, for Duncan Garrood it is to focus on other ventures and new opportunities, but in the space of less than a year, the Richard Caring-backed Bill’s has lost two chief executives that were tasked with turning around, stabilising and, with a fair wind, moving the business on. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one chief executive may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.
Garrood took the Bill’s job refreshed following a sabbatical after his two-year stint at Punch (Taverns). During which time he oversaw, in his own words “a transformation from a financially distressed business, through to the development of a customer service and hospitality focussed outlook and the roll out of a thriving retail model”. More importantly, for the shareholders, he led the company through its acquisition by Patron Capital and Heineken, stepping down last September. Bright and engaging, Garrood built a number of bridges at Punch, putting an acceptable public face on a business that had for an number of years lost the PR war with its tenants and the wider world.
I understood that Garrood, who was previously president of food at international franchise operator MH Alshaya – the Kuwait-based retailer that franchises brands including Starbucks and Shake Shack, was one of two men linked to the Bill’s role, the other being ex-Wagamama chief executive David Campbell. In July, the latter, who Caring would have known him through his work at Soho House – where he is a consultant and non-executive director, was appointed as chief executive of the fast-growing Ivy Collection and, in a more surprising move, executive chairman of Bill’s. I wonder how much Garrood was consulted on the latter position.
Many will argue that the writing was on the wall for Garrood as soon as Campbell’s appointment was made. Reporting into Caring may have been one thing, adding another high-profile layer to that may have pushed him toward the door quicker – some would say he is old enough and big enough not to need the hassle. It certainly felt like a top-heavy senior team, and I am sure after, the brilliant job he did at turning around Wagamama, Campbell would have had a strong say on what he thought Bill’s needed. Campbell joined Wagamama in 2014, and was credited with reviving its fortunes into one of the best performing operators in the sector, doubling its value over four years in charge.
Campbell will be assisted in running Bill’s by a trusted lieutenant from his time at Wagamama in Sarah Hills. The former managing director of Wagamama UK, was appointed as executive operations director of Bill’s last month - probably I would imagine around the same time that Garrood decided to make his move. She has been aiding Richard Caring’s restaurants business since last May. It is thought that in time Hills could step up to take a bigger role at Bill’s.
Both her and Campbell have a lot on their in trays, with Caring recently admitting to me that the brand had been left behind and that “it needed help”. Caring said: “We had approaches for Bill’s (last year), but at that point I wasn’t close enough to the business and we went through a situation with the business of it getting tired. We had approaches at that time but I didn’t think it was dressed well enough to be sold, I think it needed help. That’s why we have got behind it and that’s part of the reason why David (Campbell) has joined us. I think Bill’s has a great future, it needs a bit of love as it got left behind a bit. We have a new management team in place, and I think we have a clear strategy in place to make it work properly.”
That management team has been put together in the majority by Garrood, who replaced many of the team Fox had previously put in. You wonder if Campbell and Hills will want to make any further changes, especially with a refurbishment programme underway and the business in need of stability. Last year saw a false start with the company carrying out three refurbishments, which Caring admitted he didn’t spend enough attention on and that were too close to the Ivy Collection in look and feel.
He admitted: “When I saw what they had done I had a nervous breakdown and they were ripped out immediately and changed. Bill’s is trading around the market level, I will be totally honest with you and the market is probably down around 3-4%. Where we have the sites refurbed they are doing extremely well, much, much better than that. I am confident we can lift this business, hugely, over the next 18 months or so. That means taking our foot of the expansion pedal and concentrating on improving the existing estate.”
Caring may have eventually found the management team he needs to get the job done. In Campbell, he will hope to hired found someone who can put Bill’s back to where it was, as one of the leading concepts in the sector – his work at Wagamama’s suggest he has a better chance than most.
I would also suggest that Caring will also know by now that he is working with someone, who has a history of dealing with, shall we say big egos, and will therefore not be afraid to question his new backers plans or put forward his own ideas. Campbell has previously worked for ex-Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone; Virgin founder Richard Branson; and not to mention numerous major pop acts and their management teams as chief executive of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), owners of the O2. Both men will hope it’s a marriage made in heaven, because Bill’s can’t afford the alternative.