Ted Tuppen: Large measures all round as country's biggest publican toasts the FTSE 100

Try Going to the pub at lunchtime and telling your friends you know about a man with a scheme for selling beer that has made 1,000 per cent profit. See how long it takes before your audience deserts you for the attractions of pork scratchings and the pool table, rolling their eyes at yet another drunken fantasist who really ought to be barred.

Luckily I can help with a few details to keep your midday drinking buddies from holding open the saloon bar door while the barman chucks you out.

To be precise, it's a profit of 1,250 per cent. That is the total return for shareholders that bought into Enterprise Inns, a tenanted pubs company, when it floated for 50p-a-share in November 1995. In little more than eight years Ted Tuppen, the man in question, has taken the company where he is chief executive from a value of £50m to £2.2bn. To round it all off, Enterprise will next week become the newest member of the FTSE 100, the index of Britain's leading blue-chip companies.

So it's large ones all round at Enterprise, by the sounds of it. Instead of buying the troops a few beers, however, Mr Tuppen was slogging round Boston, Massachusetts, yesterday, helping to persuade his US shareholders of the merits of the olde English pub.

"Hang on, there's a demonstration about same-sex marriage," says Mr Tuppen, walking to his next investor meeting. "I'm not sure whether it's for or against."

Having established that Bostonians have not suddenly discovered a new-found radicalism, he is back on his mobile, focused on the task in hand.

Enterprise yesterday confirmed plans to exercise an option to buy Unique, the former Nomura-owned pubs business, for £609m - a deal a long time in gestation having been conceived on the back of a big game fishing boat off the coast of Costa Rica exactly two years ago.

A satellite phone and a fish haul weighing in at 900lb were all Mr Tuppen needed to persuade himself to leave his warm Pacific waters and fly back to London to lay the lines for his biggest catch. The deal establishes Enterprise as the undisputed leader in the pubs business.

"Getting in to the FTSE 100 became a reality only gradually," says Mr Tuppen. "We've been helped by a fundamental restructuring of the industry with brewers originally being forced to sell 11,000 pubs by the Government in the early 1990s.

"That led to a re-evaluation by brewers as to whether they should be in pubs at all. Most of them concluded they shouldn't. We've been helped by assets becoming available, and assets of ever increasing quality. It could be argued we've bought at good prices as well."

As a monument to Britain's incredible drinking habits, the success of Enterprise has few peers. But Mr Tuppen's story is a little more complicated than simply selling beer, although his company does shift a lot of the stuff. By my reckoning, about 576 million pints a year, but then the country needs to down plenty to produce annual profits running at £235m including the Unique business.

Anyway, the question is how on earth has a string of local boozers, complete with horse brasses and dodgy fox-hunting prints, become a multibillion-pound company when we are supposed to have developed a preference for trendy wine bars and low-carb lifestyles?

"The British pub is the best unbranded franchise in the world," says Mr Tuppen. "Everybody knows what it is. We own more than 9,000 pubs, every one with a different character. What makes them attractive is that they reflect the demands of the local customers rather than some centralised idea of what makes a good pub."

This latter comment is aimed at the All Bar Ones, Hogsheads and Yates's Wine Lodges that crowd our high streets and offer a sanitised pastiche of a British watering hole.

So much for the touchy feely analysis. Mr Tuppen is a fairly unsentimental businessman who finds this kind of interview generally excruciating, although as the country's biggest publican and newest FTSE 100 boss, the torments of the media are about to get that much worse.

"I think it's a fair point," he says with an unmistakably gloomy note. "I've never sought publicity. I'm happy to talk to anyone who wants to talk about the business. I take no personal pleasure by being in the public profile."

Although he has never looked for publicity, it has on occasion found him regardless. A nasty, albeit fairly half-hearted, tabloid exposé last year that reported the break-up of his 23-year marriage and his new relationship with an investment banker who had worked on some of his company's deals, undoubtedly hurt.

Quoted company bosses are always in the public eye but very few experience the sort of salacious banner headlines reserved for pop stars, footballers and their wives.

"It's all tomorrow's fish and chip paper," he says.

Mr Tuppen is not just a stoic. He is a hyperactive deal maker, having acquired 11 companies in less than eight years - much to the delight of his advisers at Deutsche Bank and HSBC.

The acquisitions have been a key part in the company's growth, its entry into the FTSE 100 a particular pleasure for Mr Tuppen as it brings him into the same club as his close friend Sir John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls Royce - still a bit bigger at £3.5bn.

"John's a good mate of mine. He owns a holiday home near my farm in Devon," says Mr Tuppen.

His farm provides one diversion from selling beer and buying companies. Mr Tuppen, like many businessmen, likes indulging in earthy, laddish pleasures to counter the tedium of meeting rooms and banking covenants.

Wielding a chainsaw on a Saturday morning, Range Rover nearby, is where you are likely to find Mr Tuppen. If not, try a pheasant shoot if in season or, likely as not, he will be racing cars round Brands Hatch or some other racetrack. Failing that, check the flight schedules to some marlin-friendly coastal retreat.

He hates being teased about these Hemingway-esque pursuits and certainly Mr Tuppen does not have to worry about overly complex business models while feeling the strain on his fishing rod. Part of the Enterprise success is its simplicity.

The company earns its revenues by collecting rent from its tenants - it owns practically all the freeholds of its pubs - and selling them beer in addition. Enterprise tenants are tied to the company by a beer supply agreement. The company buys barrels in bulk from the brewers for a discount and sells them on to its tenants.

"The average turnover of our pubs is £5,000 a week and the average licensee profit is £40,000 a year," says Mr Tuppen.

The system also lends itself to a devolved management structure with about 70 regional managers responsible for looking after the pubs in their areas.

Not that Mr Tuppen is about to kick back with a pint and take things easy. He intends to carry on improving the quality of the Enterprise estate by buying good pubs and selling his worst performers.

Now you can get off down the pub armed with a real drinking tale without fear of being barred or referred to Alcoholics Anonymous.

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