'There's no amount of money in the world for which I would work 365 days a year'

Hugh Osmond: Chairman of Punch Group
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The Independent Online

1 You've said a good business deal is like three-dimensional chess. How was the battle for the Allied Domecq pubs?

1 You've said a good business deal is like three-dimensional chess. How was the battle for the Allied Domecq pubs?

That was really fantastic, although it was more like playing seven-dimensional chess. It's impossible to imagine having more fun.

2 At £2.7bn, do you think you paid too much?

When we bought Pizza Express for £20m in 1993, everyone said we were daft because the company had 12 restaurants and was losing £500,000 a year. Pizza Express is now worth £450m. Only in hindsight will we be able to judge whether we paid too much for Allied's pubs.

3 Did you resent being over-shadowed by Luke Johnson for all those years?

I think there probably is, and always was, some competition between us, but I don't think it extended to who got the most press coverage. It was great working with Luke but I think we've both proved we can function independently. It was not some kind of Siamese twin-ship. We've gone down slightly different paths and he's been successful in what he's done and, hopefully, I'll be successful in what I'm doing.

4 If you didn't run Punch Group which company would you most like to run?

The National Health Service, because it's so hopeless. If you asked someone to set up a health service for Great Britain you wouldn't set up anything like the NHS. You need to start again with a blank sheet of paper. Everybody has tried to change it but this only makes it worse. It's a totally dysfunctional organisation, which is never going to work in its current form.

5 Do you agree with Gordon Brown that Oxford andCambridge are not doing enough to take more students from state schools?

Gordon Brown made a completely hypocritical and ignorant statement and made no attempt to understand the real issue. It was breathtakingly ignorant to say that girl had the best A-level grades when she hadn't even taken her A-levels. It's a disgrace that the second most powerful minister in the country could be so badly briefed.

Fifty years ago, Oxford and Cambridge were unquestionably élitist and there was a lot of string-pulling. By the time I went to Oxford it had changed a huge amount, and people got in on straight academic and intellectual merit, which is how it should be. The real issue is the difference in the standard of state and private education. That's the crux of the matter, and that's what the Government should correct. But Gordon Brown didn't address that. He simply made a stupid statement for political purposes.

6 So you're not a New Labourite?

I'm largely apolitical. I didn't vote for Blair, or anyone, for that matter. It would be interesting to close down the Government's 600 offices around the country just to see if anything stopped working. You could get rid of the Civil Service and no one would really notice.

The last time I sat in a meeting with civil servants they talked in three-letter and four-letter acronyms. They kept saying things like: "You should take this up with the DRW, but then, of course, the DTU may be interested and then there's the DDFC and the DPVU and we can't forget the DTTP ..." No one had any idea what they were on about. They talked about things like "joined-up approaches". The Government is about as joined up as Nova Scotia and the Equator.

7 What's your idea of a terrible British pub?

There are weeds in the car park, the sign is half-falling down, you walk into a dark, smoked-filled room with no ventilation and can't get served at the bar. When you find a table there's ash on it and the remains of someone else's drinks. If you ask for a soft drink they look at you like you're a moron and charge you more than the price of a pint of Scotch. The toilets are filthy and disgusting and there's no seat.

There's a huge amount of this industry that hides behind traditionalism, like it's some kind of defence against those unacceptable things.

8 How will you take pubs into the 21st century without losing their character?

The industry has been very slow in adapting to people's changing needs and wants. It is relatively unimaginative because it comes from a place where pubs distributed beer as opposed to entertainment. Pubs are not in the business of selling food and drink, they are in the business of providing entertainment. It's important not to get confused. We want to make pubs a bit more imaginative than just a pint of bitter and a cheese sandwich.

9 Why do you have a problem with carpets?

I personally don't like them. They have to be fireproof and not show stains, which is an excuse for some of those hideous patterns. But I cannot continue on that particular crusade now because a lot of people still like them.

10 Have you ever workedbehind a bar?

Yes lots, at various times of my life. We recently had a charity evening in Battersea, where we warned everyone on the invitation that there would be warm beer and lousy service. We made the drink prices £1, £2 or £3 but we forgot to reprogram the till. As soon as I went to enter the first soft drink for £1, it registered £1.28 and I was like, "No!".

If anybody complained about slow service, which they did, I just drank the drink myself. If there was a problem with the change, I put it all in the till and told whoever was complaining that they shouldn't be so mean because the money was going to Mencap.

11 What was the first lesson you learnt in business?

That business is not simple. There is a hell of a lot more to it than just having a great idea, or a product.

12 Are you easy to work for, or do you lose your temper?

For a lot of people I'm not. I like people who are confident and use their initiative and who can live in an unstructured organisation and know what they're doing. I don't mind people making informed, reasonable, logical mistakes, but doing something that is plain stupid really gets on my nerves.

13 What was the happiest day of your working life?

The day I set up my first club in Oxford. By 8.30pm there was a queue forming around the block, which was fantastic. I'd spent all the money I had in the world, including my student grant, and the moment I saw the queue outside I knew it was going to work.

14 You've got enough money to retire on so whatmotivates you to carry on?

I'm not motivated to stay in business for its own sake. I'm a not a workaholic. I don't believe there is any link between hard work and making money, so I've got zero interest in prolonged hard work. It simply doesn't appeal.

There is no amount of money in the world for which I would work 365 days of the year, not even for one year. Money is important only when you want something you can't afford. As I can afford everything I really want at the moment, it isn't an issue. If I decided that I'd like my own jumbo jet, which is an expensive piece of kit, I'd have to get motivated to do a bit more.

15 How much have you invested in the internet?

I have a reasonable share in e-xcentric [formerly Blakes Cothing], which is an internet web agency company, and investments in about half-a-dozen other things. I don't know how much, only that it's more than £1,000 and less than £10m. An investment is worth what it's worth at the time I buy it and the time I sell it. That's the only two times I really think about it.

16 Do you think "old economy" companies are still looking undervalued?

Yes, because some of the "old economy" companies will be some of the biggest winners from new technology. When it comes to buying and selling products, traditional manufacturers will save billions by cutting out the middleman.

17 What's your biggestindulgence?

Holidays. I love skiing and being in the mountains. I like spending money on pleasure so at the end of it you don't own anything. I'm very privileged to be in business because you can make a lot of money. It's kind of irresponsible not to want to spend it on good things; it's like squandering the opportunities. I like buying things and not worrying about the consequences.

18 Who's the mostinteresting person you've met on a ski lift?

A Swedish guy called Ole, in Verbier, in 1987. We became very good friends and started doing business together. I'm not very good at spotting famous people. I could probably sit next to Prince Charles and not know.

19 What's the easiest money you've ever made?

Making bets with Alan McIntosh, our financial director, when Scotland plays in anything.

20 What's the worstinvestment you've made?

I invested in a horrible share, the old Bank Leumi, when I was about 20. It was my first stock market investment and I only bought the stock because they were at an all-time low of a penny and a quarter. Unfortunately, they went from an all-time low to an all-time lower. It was a good lesson because I lost money I couldn't afford and I have never invested on that basis again.

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