In a busy year, Dominic Walsh has reported on many aspects of the business world. Now he takes stock of what’s happened within the past 12 months and gives his awards accordingly
Person of the Year
Readers of The Times will not be surprised at my choice of Rooney Anand, who was recently nominated as one of our business people of the year. The Greene King chief executive can be a spiky, rather over-sensitive figure at times, but his sensitivity stems from his undoubted passion for the business he has run for the past decade. During that time he has kept the company’s growth going through a series of well-judged acquisitions, but last year’s takeover of Spirit Pub Company, worth £1.4bn including debt, was easily the biggest and the best. As well as enabling him to pare back Greene King’s collection of brands and focus on about 10 strong brands and formats, it provides the company with the growth trajectory that some rivals including Mitchells & Butlers and JD Wetherspoon are finding hard to achieve. Coming on top of the completion of his five-year strategic plan to refocus its pub estate on the managed sector and reduce its exposure to tenanted and leased pubs makes the golf enthusiast a worthy winner.
Marketing Coup of the Year
Sometimes you need a bit of luck, and Greene King’s stroke of fortune was the decision by David Cameron to take President Xi of China to his local, where the world’s press were allowed to capture the two men downing a pint of Greene King IPA. Sales of the ale to China have since gone through the roof.
U-turn of the Year
A clear-cut decision this one. Step forward Tim Martin. After four years of cajoling the industry into backing Jacques Borel’s campaign for a cut in VAT (and lambasting anyone who had the temerity to question his rationale), the Wetherspoon boss decided to withdraw his support from the Frenchman, citing his near nonagenarian status. He’s not conceded defeat on the idea of a VAT cut – that would have been one U-turn too far – calling for “an alliance of companies to campaign for tax equality”.
Déjà Vu of the Year
If I had an original joke for every time Jongleurs founder Maria Kempinska had told me she was going to take back full control of the comedy brand and restore its fortunes after the latest setback, I’d be abandoning journalism and forging a highly lucrative new career as a stand-up.
Venue of the Year
I don’t get out as often as I once did, what with being chained to my desk, having little or no disposable income and (last but not least) becoming a boring old fart who prefers a beer or glass of wine in front of the fire at home. The one time I abandon my usual modus operandi is on family holidays – Norfolk at Christmas and Cornwall in summer. This award was a close call between Upstairs at No1 Cromer, where we enjoyed a blissful lunchtime chomping the most delicious mussels and fish and chips while gazing out over Cromer Pier, and The Stable at Newquay. If it had been down to my two fish-loving sons, No1 would have got the nod, but I’ve overruled them and gone for the Stable. The views over Fistral Beach and the sea beyond are scarcely less spectacular than the vista from No1 Cromer, but what did it for me is the tastiest pizzas I’ve ever had, washed down by a mind-boggling array of delicious ciders. The waiting staff may be young, but they are unfailingly friendly and efficient. (My only concern is how well the concept will translate into a London setting).
Prediction of the Year
It won’t happen this year, but using my Mystic Meg powers to look further into the future, I predict that Domino’s Pizza Group’s German dalliance with its Australian counterpart will turn – one day – into a fully fledged marriage. While David Wild, the British group’s chief executive, is probably enjoying a last hurrah before a well-deserved retirement beckons, Don Meij, the super-ambitious boss of Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, who started out as a pizza delivery boy, is still only 47. The Australian has already shown his business is capable of operating successfully in Europe – in France, Belgium and The Netherlands – and, once Germany has been sorted out, it is surely only a matter of time before he brings the UK and Ireland into the fold.
Next Generation Award
Identifying the chief executives of the future can be a tricky task, but it is marginally easier when the candidates already have their name over the door. Jonathan Adnams, who has just celebrated his 40th anniversary at the eponymous Southwold brewer, does not have a son or daughter to hand the tiller to. But the keen sailor could always pass the baton to his nephew Bradley Adnams, who came over from his native South Africa to study for an MBA at the University of East Anglia and now works at Adnams as its spirits brand manager. This is assuming he does not want to go back to South Africa. Adnams junior shares the award with Fred Turner, son of Fuller, Smith & Turner chairman Michael Turner. It’s way too early to be calling time on the estimable Simon Emeny’s tenure as chief executive of the Chiswick brewer but it is hard not to regard the talented younger Turner as heir apparent following his promotion last year to head of operations for its tenanted division.
Poisoned Chalice Award
Hats off to Phil Urban for taking on the job of running Mitchells & Butlers. Although the managed operator is often described as having the finest estate in the country, little good it seems to do the succession of CEOs that have passed through its revolving doors in recent years. Alistair Darby, the man he replaced, lasted longer than most, holding on for three years, but time was called after yet another subdued trading update and a forecast that full-year results would be “at the bottom end of the range” of market forecasts. I must admit, I thought the amiable Darby still had one more life but, for whatever reason, the board decided his time was up. All a bit odd, to be honest. Hopefully Urban will finally cut the M&B Gordian Knot.
Thank you for reading my column during the past 12 months and a (slightly belated) happy New Year to you all.
Dominic Walsh is a business reporter at The Times covering the leisure, tobacco and drinks industries