Rooney Anand, the outgoing chief executive of Greene King, has been appointed non-executive chairman of the Casual Dining Group, the Café Rouge and Bella Italia operator.

Anand replaces Martin Robinson, who is stepping down after four years with the business but will remain for a handover period.

CDG said the appointment, which is effective from this month, would help the group identify growth opportunities.

Anand announced his departure from Greene King, after 14 years at the helm, last month. He was also recently appointed chairman of WorldSkills UK, the education and skills charity, effective from January.

Steve Richards, chief executive of Casual Dining Group, said: “We are delighted to welcome Rooney to CDG as our new chairman. Rooney brings with him exceptional sector experience and everyone at CDG is looking forward to working with him.”

“On behalf of the board, I’d like to thank Martin for his contribution to CDG over the past four years and we wish him well.”

Anand said: “I’m very much looking forward to supporting Steve and the management team, helping them to build on the solid foundations they’ve established at CDG as they continue to grow and develop the business in the fast moving and competitive casual dining market.”

Matthieu Boulanger, member & global head of private credit at CDG’s backers KKR, said: “We are very pleased to have Rooney join the CDG leadership team. He brings a wealth of experience and we believe he is uniquely placed to identify growth opportunities whilst steering the company through the challenges ahead.”

Comment by MCA editor, James Wallin

When Rooney Anand announced his departure from Greene King last month after 14 years as chief executive there was no shortage of speculation on what his next move might be.

We did not have to wait long for an answer – or at least the first indications of his future plans. After announcing his imminent chairmanship of education charity, WorldSkills UK, Anand has now taken on the same role at Casual Dining Group.

His chairmanship starts from this month and he will juggle his responsibilities at Greene King until his departure in April. It is understood that there is no intention to change the role to an executive one after that handover period.

On the face of it, the appointment raises more questions than answers. It is understood that CDG was attracted by a wide range of qualities from Anand and that in a turbulent casual dining market, it was important to have a seasoned operator leading the board.

Outgoing chairman Martin Robinson has been instrumental behind the scenes in ensuring the group is as resilient as it can be to the ongoing challenges, with a debt for equity swap with its lenders helping to reduce its interest bills and a proactive bid to negotiate with landlords over rents aimed at putting the company on a more secure footing.

However, if the group is to continue to evolve to match the current climate it knows it will need to identify new areas for growth as well as steadying the ship. This is where it believes Anand can be instrumental.

The board will no doubt have looked at the transformation of Greene King during Anand’s tenure from traditional family brewer to the UK’s leading managed pub operator. His record on M&A activity was much discussed when his departure from Greene King was announced and there will now inevitably be speculation as to whether this move signifies a renewed consolidation push from CDG. The board will have been watching carefully how The Restaurant Group’s takeover of Wagamama has been received and with attractive targets in the mass-market casual dining sector thin on the ground, will it look to broaden its offer by delving into new segments?

Pubs are an obvious area to speculate on given Anand’s background, the existing skillset within CDG and given that the expected play by TRG to hoover up much of the prime assets in that market has presumably been derailed by the Wagamama purchase. CDG already has some pubs and chief executive Steve Richards is no stranger to a sector which is once again in vogue.

So far, CDG has focussed on franchise and concessions business as a vehicle for diversifying its estate and there is clearly plenty more scope for growth in this area with opportunities in travel hubs, internationally and within hotels. The latter is another area where Anand can provide support with his extensive experience of matching managed food offers to accommodation.

We will have to wait to see what impact Anand can have in the boardroom and how CDG’s strategy evolves but with two of the strongest characters in the UK hospitality scene, in Anand and Richards, on its board, CDG has no shortage of experience and opinion to navigate its way through more choppy waters for the sector.