Many believed that, after Steve Richards chose to remain as CEO of Novus Leisure (following its sale in July to LGV Capital and Hutton Collins for £100m), the process to find M&B’s latest CEO had gone back to square one, with Ivell tipped to stay as executive chairman well into 2013.
This was slightly unfair on Ivell, who it is now understood had a list of three credible candidates — namely Richards, Darby and Nick Basing, chief executive of bowling-alley operator Essenden — all of whom had received the OK from M&B’s notoriously picky major shareholders, Joe Lewis, the billionaire trader, and Irish racing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus.
Darby’s appointment now paves the way for the firm to make its long-anticipated independent non-executive director appointments.
From the middle of March 2011, when Adam Fowle was shown the door, the All Bar One and Harvester operator has been without a permanent chief executive. Jeremy Blood left as interim chief executive last October, leaving Ivell alone to oversee a restructure of the group.
While Darby will from now garner most of the attention, the job that Ivell has done should not be ignored. Over the past year, he has often stated that the process regarding the CEO search was progressing and that only forces out of his control were holding things up. Ivell seems to have relished running one of Britain’s biggest and best managed pub and restaurant operators, and has done so in style, at the same time exorcising the demons of Regent Inns and restoring his credentials as one of the pub sector’s top operatives.
Darby is picking up what many consider to be a poisoned chalice, with Lewis still casting a shadow over the company. While he will have to get used to the shifting sands of M&B, he is sure to have sought assurances over the make-up of the board and operational freedom.
There are plenty of existing initiatives (including the Ways of Working operational management process and the expansion programme) to keep Darby busy and he will be expected to hit the ground running.
It has been a period of dramatic upheaval at M&B, and commentators have been alarmed at the talent drain that has taken place. However, it could also be argued that this was just what the company needed. Darby’s appointment should bring much-needed stability, and ease some of the concerns about recruiting and keeping talent.
Meanwhile, it says a lot about Marston’s and its stable management team that Darby’s departure will be taken in its stride. Peter Dalzell (managed and franchised pubs) and Stephen Oliver (tenanted/leased pubs and brewing) will now report directly to chief executive Ralph Findlay. Darby was considered the favoured candidate to replace Findlay at some stage, having overseen Marston’s managed pub division for almost a year and also enjoying successful spells in the company’s tenanted and brewing operations.
Marston’s own succession plans may now have to change. But one cannot imagine any other pub industry CEO search will take as long as M&B.
Mark Wingett is editor of M&C Report, sister title to the Publican's Morning Advertiser.