How I got to where I am now:
I studied engineering in Dublin in the 1990s and while there I worked part-time in a very famous pub called the Stag’s Head.
I took some time out from university, came to London, started working for Taylor Walker, got a live-in job in a pub called the Anglers in Teddington and that was it – it was a lot of fun and I saw an opportunity because the assistant managers around me weren’t very good. I got promoted to assistant manager very quickly and I was running my own pub the following year.
At the time, Taylor Walker was surprisingly good. They were a part of Allied Breweries and they had a good outlook on management training; they were ahead of their time. In terms of recruitment and training, things slipped in the 90s because of mergers and demergers but I had already got into management at that stage. There were a lot of opportunities for trained people my age to get the best jobs.
When I worked for Scottish and Newcastle at the St Margarets Tavern in Twickenham, an opportunity came up for me to run a second pub at the same time. Since then I have always run two pubs – it just stretches me and keeps me going.
When I joined Young’s in 2006, I was running the Boathouse in Putney and the Ship in Wandsworth at the same time. They were two very big, very busy pubs. I have grown to really love the Ship – it has got a lot of character and soul and it is certainly my intention to be here for at least a further five years.
Apart from a short spell of having a couple of leaseholds, I have always worked for the large companies and some are better than others. Young’s have been absolutely fantastic – they have an understanding that, while we have standards and ways of working across the company, all the pubs should be treated individually. As long as we keep meeting the targets that we are given and keep achieving the standards in terms of customer service, it is a brilliant relationship.
I would much prefer to be working in managed houses than leaseholds or tenancies right now. There is the security of having a training department and an IT department and somebody to do all the paperwork while we can concentrate on keeping the customers happy.
My greatest achievement:
I ran the St Margarets Tavern between 2002 and 2006. That was a down at heel pub that nobody wanted to touch.
At the time, Scottish and Newcastle put a big investment into it and asked me if I would like to run it. I spoke to a lot of colleagues and they said ‘don’t touch it, it is a terrible pub, nobody has ever made any money there.’
We had a weekly turnover target of £17k in order to achieve a return on the capital expenditure – we took £32k in the first week and that rose to £50k over four years.
We had a very strong food offer, I had a great crew of staff and lots of support and there was a great neighbourhood who really appreciated the way we did things. There was no particular target market – we were a pub for all.
To this day I quite often think back and go ‘wow, I really don’t know how that happened.’
My biggest challenge:
The biggest challenge running the Ship is being able to flex between when it is cloudy and when it is sunny. We can go from taking £40k a week to taking £160k just on a change in the weather.
You have got to make sure that you have the staff to deal with the customers but that you have also got the produce. Given that all of our food is fresh and we have close and careful relationships with our suppliers, especially the butchers and the bakers, that can be a big challenge.
My future plans:
Young’s has put a massive investment into the Ship – we recently re-opened after a huge refurbishment.
I will have 75 staff by the time the sun comes out so I think taking on a third business would not be a good idea.
Almost every company I have been with has tried to push me and promote me to work in head office, either in marketing, management or operations. I am a little bit unusual in that I have got no interest in doing that because I love being on the coal face, in the pubs with the customers, making things happen.
I couldn’t think of anything worse than working in the head office and the incentives for me to stay at the Ship, both personally (I have the best job in the world) and financially, just wouldn’t make it worthwhile to think about going it alone.
My top tip for people entering the pub industry:
Spend an awful lot of time in the pub.
It is very easy to do a course or a couple of weeks working in a restaurant or pub and think you know it – you don’t. It takes years. Some people have a natural ability but it still takes years to get really good at it.
Running a pub in the right way is very, very tricky. You have to be able to listen to the customers and be in tune with what they want – what they say is not necessarily what they want either.
If I wasn't in hospitality...
I think I would always have been in a customer-facing role. I don’t feel like I go to work – I just do what I do and I really enjoy it.
I don’t take a day off, I am usually at work, I have the best customers, I have brilliant staff, I have a lot of fun, I am well paid for it and I am pretty happy.