M&B calls time on boss after subdued summer


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The Independent Online

Mitchells & Butlers, owner of the Harvester and Toby Carvery groups, has sacked its chief executive after shareholders lost patience with the rate of improvement at the pub company.

Alistair Darby will leave Mitchells this week to be replaced by Phil Urban, the chief operating officer, who joined in January.

Bob Ivell, its non-executive chairman, said: “The non-executive directors have considered the issue of the leadership of M&B very carefully and are delighted to announce Phil’s appointment. Phil is a strong leader with… a proven track record of operational delivery, who we are confident will build on the progress made under Alistair.”

Mr Urban was previously a managing director at Grosvenor Casinos, which is a division of Rank. Before that he was managing director for Whitbread’s pub restaurant division.

The surprise management reshuffle was accompanied by a warning that full-year results were likely to be at the bottom end of management expectations, after a poor summer.

The pub company said: “The UK eating and drinking out market has been subdued in the summer leading to a slight slowdown in the rate of sales growth, exacerbated by the wet weather.” Shares in Mitchells fell 7 per cent, or 24.2p, to 327.2p, making them one of the worst-performing stocks in the FTSE 250. The company has underperformed compared to its rivals in the pubs sector in the past six months, falling by nearly a quarter, compared with falls of 4 per cent at Greene King, 6 per cent at JD Wetherspoon and 0.5 per cent at Marston’s.

In the 50 weeks to 12 September, food sales increased by 2.1 per cent on a like-for-like basis, while drinks sales fell by 0.3 per cent. Overall sales edged up by 1 per cent. The group said that it expected the slow pace of growth to continue.

The new chief executive will be paid £510,000 in basic salary, while Mr Darby will receive a pay-off of £543,500 in lieu of his notice period of one year.

Mr Darby will also be eligible for any bonuses from this year’s work, but the company said it was not likely that he would hit the level needed for any performance-based payouts.

Mitchells has opened 14 new sites this year and converted 48 sites to core M&B brands – notably Toby Carvery, Ember Inns, Miller & Carter and Harvester.

The programme of conversions continues into next year, with a further 40 pubs due to be revamped. Returns from the refurbished and rebranded pub restaurants have been strong, the company said.