Master and apprentice: Mike Clist & Tom Davies

By Mike Berry

- Last updated on GMT

Mike Clist and Tom Davies both picked up Publican Awards earlier this year
Mike Clist and Tom Davies both picked up Publican Awards earlier this year
For two of the winners at the Publican Awards earlier this year, being recognised as the best in the industry was a particularly noteworthy moment and warranted a special celebration. Mike Berry met the award winners to find out more.

"Always two there are, a master and an apprentice."

In the Star Wars​ films, knowledge and training in The Force passes down through master/apprentice relationships. It was a similar kind of special relationship with his own ‘master’ that culminated in Tom Davies, chief executive of Brakspear, picking up the award for Best Tenanted & Leased Pub Company (up to 200 sites) at the Publican Awards in March.

The ‘master’ in question is Mike Clist, operations director for the tenanted division at fellow family brewer Fuller’s, who in turn celebrated winning the award for Best Tenanted & Leased Pub Company (201+ sites).


Their working relationship began back in 2006 when, following a stint with Geronimo Inns running their managed pubs, Davies joined Fuller’s in order to gain experience of what working life was like in a top tenanted business.

Clist takes up the story: “Quite often you will have relatives of other family brewers come and spend time with the business. I didn’t treat Tom any differently as I would have anyone else,” he says. “He got what I call the full ‘Fullerisation’ — spending time with the different departments to see how the business works, and experiencing everything that our tenants come into contact with.”

Although it was originally meant to be a short-term arrangement, Clist quickly recognised Davies was someone who could be an asset to the business and offered him a full-time BDM role. “He said he’d even pay me — which was very kind of him,” laughs Davies.

He soon discovered that working at Fuller’s was completely distinct from previous jobs. “It’s a very different management style from running managed pubs. There you dictate what you want and it gets done,” Davies says. “With tenancies, you’re dealing with different pubs in very different locations and very different personalities, so it’s a case of convincing them that your ideas are worthwhile.

"Mike said to me that the art is to make them think that they came up with the idea themselves. If you can do that then you will get buy-in.”


Davies made an instant impression, according to Clist: “Tom was very young to come and work for us — BDMs generally tend to be of a certain age. I always remember our tenants asking me who the handsome young man going round our pubs was. I’m sure every one of my tenanted landladies fell in love with Tom!” he jokes.

“Taking on Tom proved to me you could work with a younger team. In the past few years, tenants’ age has probably come down a bit, so they are more likely to accept someone a bit younger — and that’s a good thing. But it’s more about maturity and attitude.”

Davies agrees: “When I was talking to tenants I could fall back on the experience of managing businesses doing £20,000-plus a week and communicate with them on a level playing field. Had I not had that experience, it would have been difficult — especially being younger, I would have struggled without that.”

Davies left Fuller’s in mid-2007 to join the family business, which had just acquired Brakspear and its tenanted estate. “Having done the job and learnt from the best, I felt equipped to go to Brakspear and assess our business practices and the way we were working with tenants,” he says. “At that time, we weren’t doing things nearly as well as Fuller’s.


“However, I felt confident I had the knowledge to make changes and influence what was going on in the business. Having had that experience, I could see what we were doing well, but more importantly what we were doing badly.”

Davies took over as chief executive in 2010 and set himself and his team the goal of winning a Publican Award and gaining recognition as the best in the industry. “We were absolutely thrilled we won and it was fantastic recognition of how far we had come. There’s a real sense of pride in the achievement,” he says.

Clist also talks proudly of Fuller’s victory and what it meant to him on a personal level. “We’ve made a big play across the company to make sure everyone has been recognised by the fact we have won the award. The company has tried to give the best support package in the industry to our tenants over the years and the award is recognition of that. I was personally chuffed to bits.

“Tom and I joked about both winning at the start of the evening and, thankfully, it came to pass.”

Mike Clist and Tom Davies falling through the stage at the Publican Awards 2014

The excitement was — literally — ground breaking because when the two of them got together for a picture after the ceremony, they ended up falling through a hole in the stage.


They still find time to talk regularly — checking on how trade is and often bouncing ideas off each other. And the master still has a few tricks up his sleeve for the apprentice. “A few years ago, over one summer, trade had not been good and I was looking at my figure and getting depressed,” Davies recalls. “So I rang Mike up and asked how trade was.

“He said: ‘I tell you what, it’s never been better.’ When I heard that I was about to slit my wrists and must have gone really quiet. Then I heard this laugh down the line and Mike said: ‘It’s been shit, don’t worry!’ It’s great we have that type of relationship.”

In Star Wars, under Sith Law, the apprentice would eventually rise up and slay the master then take on his own apprentice, thus continuing the cycle.

But with Clist planning on retiring next year, there will be no call for a lightsaber battle. More likely just some more gentle ribbing on the phone.

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