John Hutson

21 September 2006
John Hutson

Overall ranking: 78 (New entry)

Pub ranking: 6

John Hutson is the chief executive of JD Wetherspoon, which owns and manages more than 650 pubs (around 70 under the Lloyds Number 1 brand) employing 15,370 staff.

The group was founded by 24-year-old law student Tim Martin when he bought his first pub in Muswell Hill, London, in December, 1979, and turned it into the sort of pub he wanted to drink in.

Martin served as executive chairman from 1983 and returned from a six-month sabbatical in April 2004 to become non-executive chairman, when John Hutson assumed the role of chief executive.

John Hutson - Career guide
John Hutson, who was born in 1965, served as an area manager between 1988 and 1991 for 18th century London brewer Taylor Walker when it was part of the Allied Lyons business that became wine, spirits and quick-service restaurant group Allied Domecq.

Hutson joined JD Wetherspoon in 1991 as area manager when the group had just 20 pubs in London and was responsible for all new openings for about a year. He rose to the position of general manager, took on the role of operations director in 1994 and became chief executive in 2004, when Martin took a backseat role.

John Hutson - What we think
Wetherspoon's early success was founded upon a simple but consistent offering - low prices, no music or TV, large no-smoking zones and facilities for the disabled. Martin's "real-ale, no juke-box" approach was credited with revolutionising the face of pub retailing at a time when many operators were more focused on brewing than on pubs. It won him the 2001 Catey Pub Industry award.

The group floated on the London Stock Market in 1992, opened the first of 11 budget Wetherlodges in 1998, and bought ten Lloyds No 1 pubs from Wolverhampton & Dudley in 2000 to create an alternative city-centre brand offering music and dance floors.

It has long been seen as an excellent employer, actively seeking feedback from shop-floor staff and regarding all employees as potential managers - in 1999, one in five managers had started as bar staff or cleaners. It was the first pub company to introduce a 48-hour week in 1995, ahead of European working time legislation and at the cost of £2m in profits.

Between 2000 and 2004, group turnover grew from £369.6m to £786m, while pre-tax profits rose from £36m to £54m. However, the City's love affair with the group took a dive with Martin's new backseat role and a 16% drop in profits to £38.71m in the year to July 2005.

This fall from grace was reflected in the group's plunge in the peer-reviewed ranking of Britain's Most Admired Companies in December 2005 from 21st to 95th position in the pan-industry top 220.

Hutson responded by slashing the new openings schedule from 50 to 15 pubs a year. This slowdown also served to gauge the impact of upcoming changes in licensing laws and the smoking ban due in 2007, along with rising competition from high street rivals and supermarkets.

Hutson abandoned a drive to achieve a cigarette-free estate a year ahead of legislation in 2006 after hefty investment in new kitchens failed to counteract declines in alcohol consumption.

But he sees food as an important element in the new non-smoking regime. Between 1998 and 2005, the group used the expertise of veteran food critic Egon Ronay to help raise food quality and food now accounts for 40% of sales in new-kitchen pubs and 27% at other pubs (off an average weekly sales per pub of £29,000).

Hutson also took advantage of the new licensing regime to open the pubs at 9am to build upon Wetherspoon's pioneering assault on the breakfast-and-coffee market in 2002 with 10am openings. The group now claims a 6% share of the branded coffee shop market, with volumes matching those of the third largest player, Caffé Nero. Its pubs are now selling 200,000 breakfasts a week.

To further woo the breakfast market, Hutson has intalled plasma TVs across the estate to provide mostly subtitled and soundless news to diners after this proved popular in its Wetherlodges and airport branches.

Hutson has also sought to stand out from the crowd by expanding the drinks offer with a wider range of Perries, and cider and beer brands from around the world that can't be found in other pubs or supermarkets.

In September the company announced a £15m investment in cutting-edge beer-chilling equipment that will serve up draught beer at 1-3ºC, compared with an industry average of 6ºC and more. Hutson is hoping the technolgy will improve the uptake of draught wine - wine is Britain's top tipple but largely shunned in pubs for quality reasons.

The group's results for the year to July 2006 suggest it has turned the corner. Profits soared by 24% to £58.4m and turnover by 2.5% to £847.5m.

John Hutson - Further information

JD Wetherspoon profile on CatererSearch

JD Wetherspoon official website

Read more about the CatererSearch 100, the list of the most influential people here

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