Overall ranking: 34
Restaurateur ranking: 11
Ian Neill - Snapshot
Ian Neill is the doyen of the casual dining scene in the UK, with more than 40 years' experience in the industry. He has played a key role in the growth of successful brands such as Pizza Express, Wagamama, Leon and Jamie’s Italian.
Ian Neill - Career guide
For Ian Neill, life in hospitality started at Berni Inns, followed by stints working for Esso Motor Hotels (now Scandic Hotels), Granada’s motorway service areas and supermarket giant Sainsbury's.
In 1978 Neill joined PizzaExpress to set up its franchising operations under the man he considers his mentor, company founder Peter Boizot. He rose to become director and general manager at PizzaExpress before leaving to become managing director of branded restaurants at Rank Organisation between 1989 and 1993.
In 1995 he was hired as a consultant to drive Wagamama’s expansion plans, and in 1996 led the sale of 33 franchised restaurants - of which he owned three - back to PizzaExpress. In 1997 Neill brought in Graphite Capital, which bought out Wagamama founder Alan Yau to kick-start the group’s methodical yet meteoric growth.
He oversaw the £102.5m sale to private equity firm Lion Capital in 2005 and became executive chairman in March 2006, when finance director Steve Hill took on his old role.
In 2008 Neill took on non-executive roles at Latin American restaurant chain Las Iguanas and Jamie Oliver’s casual-dining concept Jamie's Italian.
Ian Neill - What we think
Ian Neill is probably best known for steering Wagamama’s heady rise from just two London restaurants in 1998 to a hugely successful chain with 65 UK sites and 37 international restaurants, but his imprint can be found on many of the UK’s best casual-dining groups.
Wagamama’s innovative blend of healthy Oriental cuisine served in a minimalist hi-tech setting was praised as “an extremely attractive, sexy thing” and “classless and accessible” by the judges of the 2001 Cateys, who voted Neill Group Restaurateur of the Year. Four years later, the group won its second Catey – Best Group Marketing Campaign – for the campaign promoting its new cookbook.
The noodle chain achieved more recognition in 2006 when it was named Most Popular London Restaurant by the influential Zagat guide – a title it has retained for the four years since. The significance of a chain restaurant beating the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Le Gavroche, Nobu and the Wolseley cannot be underestimated.
Wagamama has always been at the cutting edge: it was one of the first restaurant groups to use hand-held personal digital assistants to take orders and, earlier this year, became the first hospitality operator to launch an iPhone ordering application.
In 2008 the noodle chain picked up the Evolution trophy at the Peach Factory awards for already-established businesses that continue to evolve successfully. "It is a story of great management - a textbook case study of how to handle growth and vitally manage transition,” the judges said.
Neill’s involvement in a casual-dining operation might not be a guarantee of success, but it is certainly a good indicator. He is a director of Chez Gérard owner Paramount Restaurants and Deliverance, which delivers bespoke meals directly to London homeowners, an investor in the Leon chain and a partner in PizzaExpress founder Peter Boizot’s Soho Pizzeria. He also holds non-executive roles at Las Iguanas and Jamie’s Italian. It was Neill who persuaded former PizzaExpress operations director Simon Blagden to head up Jamie’s Italian.
Ian Neill - Further information