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If you've ever wanted to meet a Catey winner who had the unanimous support of the judges, James Horler is your man. Despite some stiff competition, the chief executive of La Tasca Restaurants quickly emerged as the favourite for this year's award.
As David Coffer of property agents and consultant Davis Coffer Lyons summed up, "James Horler is entirely behind the success of this brand." Horler took over the reins of La Tasca's Spanish tapas restaurants three years ago. Since then he and his team have increased the number of outlets and almost doubled turnover from £22m to £40m.
However, this award was not won on financial success alone. More than anything, it was Horler's skills as a leader that both nominators and judges felt was the key to the business's success - and the reason he deserved this year's trophy.
"James is a great leader," said one nominator. "He develops people well and inspires them. Even now he has no head office, preferring instead to spend overheads on training rather than bureaucracy and status. He has introduced a pioneering Managing Partnership scheme, which gives managers a share of monthly profits."
Horler also boasts an admirable job history. Following an early career in Granada Motorway Services, he joined Frankie & Benny's as operations director in 1996, at a time when the brand had only five restaurants. (There are now 89 and judges agreed that it was under his leadership the brand really flourished.) He was also a former Acorn winner and remains consistently supportive of the charity Springboard.
Following his departure from the Restaurant Group in 2001, Horler established a new company, the Restaurant People Group under which he led a venture capital financed management buyout of La Tasca Spanish Tapas Restaurants, of which he is now chief executive.
La Tasca already has a healthy portfolio of restaurants and a dedicated team of staff, but it has no plans to stop now. Horler has an ambitious expansion programme in place for this country and abroad.
As one judge put it: "At La Tasca James has once again proved his ability to manage, market and develop a restaurant brand, while at the same time challenging the conventional methods of group restaurant management."