Overall ranking: 50
Pub ranking: 4
John Lovering – Snapshot
John Lovering was appointed chairman of Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) in January 2010 following a bitter dispute between the board and senior management team and a group of disaffected shareholders.
With a strong track record in retail, Lovering immediately initiated a review of the business, which with 2,000 outlets is the UK’s largest managed pub operator. Working with a management team led by new chief executive Adam Fowle, Lovering’s review has kicked off a major restructuring which will see the rapid expansion of M&B’s food-led brands, including Harvester, Toby Carvery and Vintage Inns.
In the 28 weeks to 10 April 2010, the company reported pre-tax profits of £73m on revenue of £1,037m.
John Lovering – Career guide
Lovering’s CV covers many of the biggest names in UK retail and leisure, most recently as chairman of Debenhams Retail. Previously he was chairman of Laurel Pub Company, Fitness First, Odeon, Homebase Group, Fired Earth, Peacock Group, Somerfield and Birthdays Group. He also served as finance director of retail group Sears and chief operating officer of Tarmac.
John Lovering – What we think
"A safe pair of hands" may not be the most accurate description of John Lovering, a man recognised as one of the most innovative retailers of his generation. Lovering is credited with having breathed new life into a roll call of familiar high-street names, most recently demonstrating at Debenhams that the department store format is far from a dead duck.
Even so, safe hands were just what the City was looking for when Lovering was appointed chairman of Mitchells & Butlers in January 2010. The compromise deal that put Lovering at the head of a restructured board followed months of often bitter fighting between previous M&B chair Simon Laffin and a group of activist shareholders led by investor Joe Lewis.
The dispute centered on a belief by some investors that M&B, Britain’s biggest managed pub business, was not delivering best value to shareholders. The fallout from an ill-timed property joint venture in the run-up to the credit crunch had already cost previous chief executive Tim Clarke his job.
Despite M&B consistently outperforming the market and delivering growth, investors believed that the pubs, the legacy of the old Bass estate and some of the most valuable pub sites in the UK, had more to give.
Lovering promised a quick strategic review and was as good as his word. In March 2010 M&B announced that it was substantially stepping up the pace of growth of its food-led pub formats. Brands such as Toby Carvery, Sizzling Pub, Vintage Inns and Harvester are all set to at least double their number of outlets. New, smaller-footprint formats will see brands such as Toby and Harvester move on to the high street, competing directly with such players as Garfunkel's and Ask.
Conversely, M&B’s more drink-led formats, such as All Bar One, O’Neill's and Ember Inns, will have to work much harder to make the case for investment, and certain brands are likely to no longer be a strategic fit.
While the previous management can, with considerable justification, claim it had already initiated the "food-first" approach at M&B, Lovering has substantially stepped up the pace of change. M&B chief executive Adam Fowle, who took up the role after Clarke’s departure, has more than 25 years' experience with the business and knows its pubs inside out.
Lovering recognises that the UK pub sector is going through a sea change, and has charged Fowle and the M&B management team with ensuring that the business is not simply ready for the change, but takes a lead in the reinvention of the institution that is the British pub.
John Lovering – Further information