M&B grabs rival exec as new CEO

PUB chain Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) yesterday ended its 18-month search for a new chief executive, poaching Alistair Darby from rival group Marston’s.

Darby, who served as chief operating officer at Marston’s, will join M&B at the start of next month. The appointment caps a turbulent period for the company, which last year saw off a hostile takeover bid from billionaire investor Joe Lewis. The owner of the All Bar One, O’Neills and Harvester pubs has been without a permanent CEO since Adam Fowle was ousted in March last year.

The move was welcomed by the market, with M&B shares rising to a six-month high while Marston’s price fell. Citigroup also downgraded Marston’s to a “sell” rating and warned about future growth while Nomura said Darby’s appointment would “provide some welcome stability at M&B”.

M&B’s executive chairman Bob Ivell will revert to his non-executive role when Darby takes over. Ivell said: “I am confident that we have secured the right person for the role and that drawing on his wealth of operational and brand experience, Alistair will contribute greatly to M&B’s continued strong performance.”

Marston’s said it was not immediately replacing Darby but that the managing directors of its two divisions will report directly to chief executive Ralph Findlay.

M&B has suffered constant boardroom upheaval since Lewis became the biggest shareholder in 2008. Ivell stepped into the top role last October after Jeremy Blood lasted just six months as Fowle’s replacement.

PROFILE: M&B’S NEW LANDLORD

After M&B has seen three different chiefs in the past 18 months, Darby is viewed as a pair of safe and experienced hands to steer the company forward. He joined Marston’s in 1997 when he assumed responsibility for the firm’s own brands of pubs and remained with the company for 15 years.

He took a position on the Marston’s board in 2003, the year he became managing director of the beer division, and rose to chief operating officer last year, where he oversaw the company’s wide-ranging operations from its chain of inns to breweries and exports.

Since the 46-year-old’s appointment, Marston’s has seen a steady rise in its share price. The company has also expanded its own branded range of pubs since Darby joined the board. Marston’s chairman David Thompson paid tribute to Darby yesterday, saying he has made a “valuable contribution to the business”.

Before joining Marston’s he had previously held roles at Mars Confectionary, Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries, and United Distillers, now owned by drinks giant Diageo.

Darby was often touted as a possible successor to Marston’s current chief executive Ralph Findlay during his time in the number two position, but is believed to have made the decision to move on as a succession is unlikely. The two men are of a similar age.

On joining M&B, Darby said yesterday the firm is “a market-leading business with tremendous potential that is well advanced on a transformation programme”.

“I am excited by the opportunity to lead the Company and, together with the management team, to build on M&B’s strong estate, brands and operations,” he added.