Peach Report

Freeman steers Orchid on

10 October, 2011

Orchid’s financial director Charles Freeman has a steady hand on the tiller as the group continues to grow, a profile by Financial Director magazine reveals.

Freeman looks back on Orchid’s rapid growth since he joined in 2006, when it ran just 12 restaurants. But within two months of joining, it had picked up 290 former Punch pubs for £571m, leading it to be dubbed ‘the billion dollar start-up’. It required some serious rethinking by Freeman and his colleagues at Orchid. “I joined a company to acquire 20 pubs a year, not 300 in one go,” he says. “All of a sudden, Rufus [Hall, chief executive] and I found ourselves in Slough, with 290 pubs to look after. I suddenly had to choose which accounting, payroll, banking, reporting and capital expenditure systems to put in place. We just didn’t have any of those systems.”

Orchid spent £50m on reworking the Punch Taverns sites. “We changed menus and interiors, transforming pubs from snooker halls to family carveries. That meant a tremendous transformation in the customer base.” But that has also served to energise the company, prompting it to attract more women, increase food-led business and re-imagine interiors.

Freeman is proud of Orchid’s reputation as a good place to work—something that has seen it win a string of people awards over the last year—and says he gets out and about in the group’s pubs. “Managers like to meet the senior people in the business. I’d like to think that if I go into a pub for a visit, the managers are pleased to see me.”

Freeman also looks back on 2008, when the company went into pre-pack administration and was then overhauled financially. The involvement in the company since then of several banks has helped Orchid to grow further. “We are open and honest [with the banks]—the numbers I produce are correct, on time and clearly presented. There is mutual trust. If trust doesn’t exist, the relationship will flounder.”

He also sees more opportunities to pick up distressed, recession-hit pubs and turn them around. “Every retailer on the high street is fighting for sales – that is part of the economic climate we are in. But the closure of pubs is more of an opportunity for us to maximise our position in that community. We have the solution and we can put our people in, introduce our menus, and reposition it.”

To read the full profile, see FD Interview: Charles Freeman.