100: Rupert Clevely

01 July 2010 100: Rupert Clevely

Overall ranking: 67

Pub ranking: 8

Rupert Clevely is managing director of Geronimo Inns, which he co-founded in 1995 with his wife, Jo. His belief that London was ready for a new style of upmarket pub, similar to those he had seen in Sydney while working in the international drinks trade, has proved well founded.

Geronimo's combination of the warm traditional welcome of a local pub with high-quality drinks and locally sourced, freshly cooked food has created a blueprint for a new style of city pub.

The group's outlets now number 28, with the latest addition being the Bull at Westfield, west London, a two-level venue on a prime site at the entrance to one of Europe's largest retailing centres.

Rupert Clevely - Career guide

In 1981 Clevely joined H Parrot & Co Wine Shippers, a subsidiary of Veuve Clicquot, as sales manager for central London. In 1987 he was made sales director and tasked with establishing an Asia-Pacific regional office for Veuve Clicquot in Sydney.

He developed the Champagne brand in Australasia, opened new distribution channels in Asia and created a sales and distribution structure in Japan in association with Louis Vuitton. While with Veuve Clicquot he also identified and managed the purchase of the Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle wineries in New Zealand and Australia.

In 1990 he returned to the UK to be managing director of Veuve Clicquot. By 1995 he had changed career track and acquired his first pub, the Chelsea Ram in south-west London.

Rupert Clevely - What we think

While most of us have sat in a poorly run restaurant and bar in a prime location and pontificated about just how much better the business could be if only we were in charge, such talk usually goes no further. Rupert and Jo Clevely, however, made it a reality, putting their money where their mouth was and mortgaging their home to acquire the Chelsea Ram.

Fifteen years on, with 28 pubs, the business might look like something of a minnow compared with the pub industry's big fish, although in a sector where ownership is fragmented, that still makes it a top-75 business in simple terms of number of outlets. More importantly, Geronimo Inns is a business that punches far above its weight in terms of respect and influence.

At a time when many operators were trying to disguise the pub origins of their estate and reinvent their businesses as restaurants, Clevely recognised that pubs were precisely what a new, affluent market living and working in London's more upmarket locations was looking for.

He later told The Times: "At the time most pubs in London were dingy booze bars where women wouldn't wish to go, I felt there was an opportunity to turn pubs into really lovely places that were warm and cosy and an extension of people's homes."

While his background in the trade enabled him to source interesting and unusual wines, just as important to Clevely were well-kept cask beers and freshly cooked, high-quality and, where possible, locally sourced food. In 1998 the Duke of Cambridge in Battersea, south-west London, one of Geronimo's early acquisitions, was named Evening Standard Pub of the Year, at which point Clevely, who had remained part-time with Veuve Clicquot, decided it was time to become a full-time pub entrepreneur.

Jo Clevely's contribution should not be underestimated. As Geronimo's design director, she is responsible for the all-important look and feel that gives Geronimo's refurbished pubs their customer appeal.

Expansion has taken the group into new territory, such as its three airport sites and the Champagne bar at St Pancras International station, but it is in reinventing London's neglected gems that Geronimo has found its calling. In July 2009 Clevely acquired six sites from Punch Taverns, all in prominent locations in the capital and including freeholds.

These sites, including the Northcote in Clapham, the Prince Albert by Battersea Bridge, the Elgin on Ladbroke Grove and the Clarence in Whitehall, have been renovated and decorated in Geronimo's style. The success of this latest batch of pubs has reinforced Geronimo Inns's reputation as a business that can make pubs work in sites where others struggle.

Rupert Clevely - Further information

Geronimo Inns website >>

Rupert Clevely in Minute on the Clock >>

Rupert and Jo Clevely in Director Magazine >>">" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Read more about the 100, the list of the most influential people, here >>

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