Caterersearch.com 100: Robert Cook

Thursday 1st July 2010 00:01

Overall ranking: 26

Hotelier ranking: 7

Robert Cook - Snapshot

Robert Cook is chief executive of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin. He initially oversaw the acquisition of Hotel du Vin and has subsequently been instrumental in developing the brands into two distinct markets within the UK’s boutique hotel sector. The group now has 12 city-based Malmaison properties and 15 "cathedral town"-based Hotel du Vin properties. The group is owned by investment property group Marylebone Warwick Balfour (MWB ).

Cook is also an investor in the Alternative Hotel Group, a joint venture between MWB directors and the Bank of Scotland, which owns the De Vere Group of hotels, resorts and conference venues.

Robert Cook - Career guide

Robert Cook, who is 44, was born into a hotelkeeping family and spent his first 18 years living in Room 114 of the Swallow Palace hotel in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. He graduated from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and, in 2007, was honoured with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his contribution to the hotel industry.

After taking a three-year trainee programme with Holiday Inn, Cook served as food and beverage manager at the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh under Peter Tyrie from 1990, when he was part of the preopening team for its relaunch in 1991. Between 1992 and 1995 he was resident manager at the Forum InterContinental hotel in Glasgow (which became a Moat House) and from 1995 he was resident manager at the Midland hotel in Manchester.

In 1997 Cook began his first term with Malmaison, spending four years in the group, firstly as general manager of Newcastle and Manchester and then as regional operations director, before the company was sold to Patriot Hospitality of the USA.

From 2000 he worked with Malmaison founder Ken McCulloch on the Columbus hotel in Monte Carlo and became managing director for McCulloch’s Columbus and Dakota hotel group in the UK.

In 2000 MWB and joint partner Rezidor bought the five-strong Malmaison group for £77m, gaining full control of the chain in 2002. Cook rejoined Malmaison as chief executive officer in 2004, in time to oversee the acquisition of the six-strong Hotel du Vin chain from founders Robin Hutson and Gerard Basset for £66.4m that October. He has since been responsible for securing funding to expand both groups nationally. He launched the Pub du Vin in 2007, with the first site opening next to the Hotel Du Vin Brighton in 2008.

He was involved in MWB’s bid to sell the company for more than £650m in the UK hotel industry’s first REIT (real estate investment trust) with Sir David Michels in 2007, but the recession stalled the plans.

In 2006 Cook was awarded the Catey for Manager of the Year and in the same year Malmaison was named AA Hotel Group of the Year. In 2009 Hotel du Vin won the same award, and for the sixth consecutive year won the Guardian Observer Business Travel Award.

Robert Cook - What we think

Cook can point to several achievements while at the helm of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, not only almost doubling the portfolio but also successfully distinguishing the two lifestyle brands, making them independently two of the leading midmarket boutique chains in the UK.

During the recession the group fought hard for market share by cutting rates. It also stalled its expansion programme - to concentrate on consolidation – something it has only just announced it will be resuming. Occupancy at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin has held up well during the recession, with a figure of 80% achieved during 2009, compared with 81% in 2008. Average room rates, though, fell by 8% year-on-year in 2009, down from £117 in 2008 to £107. Figures for the first quarter of 2010 were ahead of target, with occupancy across the two brands at 72.8% and an average room rate of £102.80. Annual turnover for the year 2010 is projected to be £114m, of which £55m is from food and beverage.

The brands have become well established in the UK and a continued roll-out at home is almost a given, but it is success abroad that has so far eluded Cook, who has made no secret of his desire to “take the brand international”. Plans include expansion in Europe – including Amsterdam and Brussels - as well as taking the brands into the USA, the Middle East and Asia through management contracts

Cook is also looking to expand the group at home, with more Hotel du Vin properties in cities such as Salisbury, Chichester, Aberdeen, Durham, Knutsford and Guildford. He also hopes to expand the Pub du Vin concept.

MWB’s plans to sell the company for more than £650m before the recession have now been put on hold while Cook grows the "capital value" of the brands.

Cook, along with the group’s former human resources chief, Sean Wheeler, has also been responsible for instigating the "people culture" within the group and its policy of training and recruiting from within. This culminated in the Newcastle Hotel du Vin opening in 2008 being carried out solely by trainees and achieving considerable success.

Robert Cook - Further information

The Young Ones - catching up with Hotel du Vin's graduate-staffed hotel >>

Cook to expand Malmaison and Hotel Du Vin brands >>

Malmaison and Hotel du Vin bid made >>

Two iconic hoteliers on verge of floating first European hotel REIT >>

Read more about the Caterersearch.com 100, the list of the most influential people here


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