Four Pillars Hotels
Thursday 1st May 2003 12:29
What does Four Pillars Hotels comprise?
Six three- and four-star hotels within an hour's drive of its head office in Witney, Oxfordshire.
What is its history?
The group was founded in 1974 by Brian Murtagh and John Oldman to run restaurants in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. Its name sprang from the four pillars built to support the roof of a guesthouse in Olney, Buckinghamshire, during its conversion into the group's first restaurant (still the Four Pillars).
Does it still run stand-alone restaurants?
No. It quit the business in the early 1980s.
How did it get into hotels and Oxfordshire?
In 1982 the group bought the lease of a hotel in Osterley, Middlesex, which it had managed for 18 months, and in 1986 the Osterley landlord offered it the lease of a hotel in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
Three years later, another Oxfordshire landlord offered it some land at Witney for a hotel that was built and initially owned by local building firm Ede. Four Pillars managed the hotel and eventually bought it in 1997. This proved to be the start of a fruitful partnership.
In what way?
Ede did the building and conversion work on the group's last three hotels and holds a majority stake in them.
What is the group's business mix?
"The hotels are all designed to cover as many markets as possible," says managing director Ian Keeling. All but the first two offer leisure facilities and all cater for the business market. The business-to-leisure split is 70:30.
Don't the four Oxfordshire hotels compete with each other for business?
No. Keeling says their varied styles and locations attract different customers. Oxford Spires, for example, is a large, contemporary hotel five minutes' walk from the city centre, while the smaller, country house-style Oxford Thames has parkland, river frontage and two medieval barns housing a bar and lounge.
Is the group in a marketing consortium?
No. It was a member of Best Western but quit when it formally branded its hotels in 1996.
What are its expansion plans?
Once the economic and political climate clears, it will seek new properties along the M4 corridor within an hour's drive of head office.
Expansion plans are presented to the board, which comprises general managers and head chefs as well as directors. "Decisions for the whole company are made by the people who work in it," Keeling says.
Does this democratic approach help the group retain senior staff?
Yes. Keeling has been with the group since he left college in 1979 to work as a commis chef in its Pinner restaurant, and two others have clocked up at least 15 years each. n
Your Vital Statistics
Staff: 700 full-time
2002 figures: turnover £15m, earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation £3.5m, average occupancy 82%
Ownership: Brian Murtagh, John Oldman, building firm Ede of Kidlington, Oxfordshire
Who Are You?
Brian Murtagh: chairman and founder
Ian Keeling: managing director (pictured right)
Rex Clayton: financial director
Vicky Begley: sales director
Brian Fraser: operations director
Katherine White: group human resources manager
John Oldman: projects director and founder
Where Are You?
Osterley Four Pillars, Isleworth, Middlesex (61 bedrooms, acquired 1982)
Abingdon Four Pillars, Oxfordshire (62, 1986)
Witney Four Pillars, Oxfordshire (83, 1989)
Oxford Thames Four Pillars, Oxfordshire (60, 1997)
Oxford Spires Four Pillars, Oxfordshire (115, 1999)
Tortworth Court Four Pillars, near Bristol (189, 2001)