Ted’s Talk

Ted’s Talk by Ann Elliott

I have known Ted Kennedy for a while, more than 30 years I think, working with him fairly closely when we were both at Beefeater. I was in marketing and he was in operations but despite that we had a healthy respect for one another. He brought a lively and entertaining approach to his annual ops review meetings with the board, which were so popular he could have sold tickets.

He now owns Pebble Hotels and is regarded as a “veteran operator of pub assets”. Despite knowing him such a long time, I had never seen him present on stage so I was keen to hear his key learnings since starting out in the sector at last week’s Propel Multi Club summer conference.

It seems anyone over 50 with more than 25 years’ experience in the sector is labelled a “veteran” but Ted doesn’t act, speak or, indeed, present like a veteran. His enthusiasm is infectious, his passion for the Alan Yau-inspired Duck and Rice – the “eclectic Soho pub with a world-class Chinese kitchen” where he’s a director – is wonderful to hear and his sense of humour and self-deprecation are infectious. As you might have gathered, I’m a huge fan.

I thought it was worth sharing some of the learnings from his presentation. These are my notes but, as I find it difficult to listen and write simultaneously, they don’t reflect what he said word for word but rather the sentiment.

Keep your enemies as close as your friends

“There are lots of twists and turns in this sector and a business on the way up can easily be on its way down in the future.” I think in essence he was saying “don’t criticise people when they are in trouble as you never know when you might be there yourself”.

Understand your role, expertise and position in a brand’s lifecycle

“Some people are better at starting businesses, some at expanding them from five or six sites to 40 or 50, and some at growing them to float or beyond. Few can do all roles well and it’s important to know where your skills lie.” This provoked a lively debate with the audience, who shouted the names of founders they believed had grown their business to PLC status. Ted was having none of it (nor the email suggestions I have subsequently sent him).

Know where you’re going but be flexible about how you get there

“Business plans that encourage investment are rarely used once investment comes into the business.” It’s an interesting observation but Ted believes it’s key to have clear values that are consistent across the length of the journey while providing a road map for the future. He’s testament to that belief.

‘Magic dust’ is the differentiator

“If a business doesn’t have ‘magic dust’ it can easily end up becoming a discount rather than a value-added operator – and only one business can be the cheapest.” A warning to many.

Recruit the best people and outsource all except operations

At one point Ted had hundreds of pubs but only his operations team in-house, which helped bring fresh thinking in and ensured quick decision-making. Of course, I rather like this idea.

Paper is the devil’s own work

“Have digital/social activity that’s genuine, proud and eclectic. Don’t use vouchers.” Enough said.

Customers, front-line, manager, then board

Not the other way around. Ted had a snappy model I can’t replicate here. Most successful operators would echo this sentiment.

I must admit to posting a shorter version of this on LinkedIn after the conference – comments included:

“I worked with Ted 14 years ago at Mill House Inns. One of the best chief executives I’ve ever worked with. Inspired and empowered everyone!”

“I worked with Ted way back in the day at Whitbread Bowland Inns. Inspirational leader of the very highest quality.”

“An honest and inspirational talk from Ted. You can’t buy wisdom.”

“The legend Ted Kennedy – a top man and a top operator.”

“Ted is an absolute legend and a top guy.”

“I worked for Mill House inns almost 20 years ago – a lean, focused and efficient operation. You knew the value of a pound if you worked for Mill House as a manager and that’s meant as a positive statement and testament to Ted Kennedy.”

Ted Kennedy – a great operator, leader and person. If you get an opportunity to hear him speak, leap at the chance.