Toby Smith, who recently stepped down from Stonegate Pub Company, has been appointed the new chief executive of Novus Leisure, the London-based premium bar and restaurant operator, M&C Report has learnt.

Smith, who has over 20 years’ experience in the leisure sector, replaces Tim Cullum, who has taken the decision to leave the 46-strong group. Cullum was appointed chief operating officer in June 2013 and promoted to chief executive shortly afterwards.

Smith became chief executive of Stonegate in June 2011 following the acquisition of Town and City Pub Company which he had led since 2008. He was instrumental in growing Stonegate into the UK’s largest and most profitable privately owned managed pub company.

Cullum has led Novus, which is backed by LGV Capital and Huttin Collins, throughout a period of upheaval and is believed to have been instrumental in improving the operational standards of the business, in particular, and delivering the successful repositioning of three of the group’s key sites. He will remain with Novus for a suitable handover period in order assist Smith in his new role.

The company said: “Tim has worked tirelessly to bring about these achievements and the Board would like to place on record their appreciation for his efforts.”

Cullum said: “I have enjoyed my time with Novus and, together with my committed and talented team, we have made significant improvements across the business. I look forward to new challenges over the coming months, but would like to thank everyone at Novus for their support and wish them well for the future.”

Smith said: “I am delighted to be joining Novus at such an exciting time in its history. Without doubt it has the best located sites of any UK leisure operator and I am looking forward to working with the team to create the best premium business in the country.”

Cullum’s appointment as chief executive coincided with Graham Turner, the former chief executive of Tragus, becoming chairman. Turner stepped down from the role in August to pursue other interests and build on his non-executive roles.

Comment by M&C Report editor Mark Wingett

There aren’t many operators in the high-street bar and pub industry that weren’t taken aback by the news revealed earlier this year that Toby Smith was to step down as chief executive of Stonegate Pub Company.

The trusted lieutenant of chairman Ian Payne, Smith had played a significant role in the formation of the business, the merging of acquisitions and cultures, and the creation and development of a number of new brands and formats.

Even over the last nine months, when thanks to some stubbornness by Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand to release his successor Simon Longbottom, Smith’s own notice period was extended, his commitment to the Stonegate cause has never wavered. I spent an evening with him as he took me through the finer points of the new Yates format, and his passion for the brand and the people he was leaving behind was still evident. As was his attention for detail and proven skill set in the most challenging of industry sectors.

He will need all his understated expertise to continue the turnaround project that Novus is still undergoing. Two years ago on the back of its £100m acquisition by LGV and Hutton Collins, the then Steve Richards-led Novus was seen as the perfect candidate to lead a consolidation play in the premium bar and restaurant sector. It seems a long way from that position now.

LGV and Hutton Collins will hope that with the appointment of Smith a line can be drawn under recent turbulent times at the company and that the business will soon be in position to return to its strategy of developing and growing its estate.

It may have moved closer to that stated goal under out-going chief executive Tim Cullum, but any business needs stability to achieve its goals, and his departure and that of chairman Graham Turner had placed a further question mark against the long-term goal of further growing its estate.

Its two-year estate refurbishment programme is well underway giving Smith a base to work from. The business has re-launched three sites in London: Forge, Core and Shadow Lounge which are believed to be producing weekly sales uplifts of in excess of 30% against pre-investment levels. A number of similar investments are planned in the coming months.

The group has also made a number of strategic disposals over the last year and I understand that a handful of further central London-based sites are currently on the market.

The late-night market is still fragmented - Intertain is the latest company to seek new funding - providing an opportunity for a strong business to consolidate the sector. There is a long way to go for Novus to be that business but Smith’s appointment should mean that the company will soon be going in the right direction to fill that role again.