Overall ranking: 91 (ranked 76 in 2010)
Pub ranking: 9 (ranked 9 in 2010)
Mark McQuater: Snapshot
Mark McQuater is chief executive of the Barracuda Group which he co-founded as a start-up business backed by private equity in July 2000.
The business started with 35 managed pubs bought from Enterprise Inns for £50m, which in turn had acquired them as part of a bigger package from Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants a month earlier.
Through a series of acquisitions and take-overs, Barracuda Group has built up a turnover of more than £150m, operating 220 units nationwide over a number of retail brands. The business employs more than 4,200 people.
The company’s accounts for the year to 25 September 2010 show an operating profit of £5.1m on turnover of £153m, with an £18.6m loss posted after writedowns and other charges.
Mark McQuater: Career guide
McQuater is a graduate of Edinburgh University, and a qualified chartered accountant. He has previously held a number of senior executive roles, including at NatWest Ventures, JD Wetherspoon, Rank Group and Greenalls Group.
In 2000, with a number of former colleagues, McQuater decided to leave the corporate world and set up a managed pub company operating at the quality end of the market, which became the Barracuda Group.
Mark McQuater: What we think
When the going gets tough, the tough can be judged on how quickly they react. Mark McQuater and his team at Barracuda Group have clearly found the recession a challenge, but have moved to refocus the business accordingly.
The ambitious opening programme which marked McQuater’s ambitions for the business from its inception has been put on hold, with the focus on refurbishing and refreshing the existing business.
In July 2009, McQuater successfully led negotiations to refinance the business. The deal cut Barracuda’s debt from £247m to £163m, freeing up funds to re-invest back into the estate, while the senior management retained its 23% stake in the business.
The business is now being refocused on its most successful brand, Smith & Jones, which currently trades at 150 sites after pubs from other concepts such as Barracuda Bar, Juniper and Varsity, were transferred over to the Smith & Jones format. A busy, urban local concept, Smith & Jones has itself been revamped and now offers Costa Coffee in most of its pubs, alongside good value food and drink.
The food side of the business has been revitalised, with a new catering team, a strong focus on innovation and a drive to raise the bar on food quality. The team has trained the pub chefs to introduce a few “chef finished” dishes each time it re-launches its menus, breakfast and carvery menus have also been introduced, widening the brand’s appeal across longer trading hours.
McQuater describes Smith & Jones as a “contemporary classic for today’s pub customer” with “diverse appeal and proven scalability”. That seems to be a recipe for success in a fast-changing pub trade.