Down has been with Tesco for four years and is currently the supermarket giant’s commercial FD. He replaces Jim Clarke, who had previously announced he was leaving the company.
Down wasn’t available for comment today but Wetherspoon CEO John Hutson told me that his new recruit’s broad commercial background will be useful, as will his retail and industry experience.
Wetherspoon is a recognisable brand (which Down will be used to) but it’s had an uncertain couple of years due to the new licensing act and the introduction of the smoking ban.
During the past six months, the share price has dropped consistently with the exception of a couple of peaks in mid-summer and at the beginning of September.
Hutson admits the company has been “under a fair amount of pressure” because of all the changes but you get the sense that he feels the company has turned a corner. The licensing act has been bedded down and Hutson says he’s confident Wetherspoon can do well in a non-smoking world.
In fact, he’s hoping to double the size of the company in the next ten years or so.
Wetherspoon currently has 675 pubs but Hutson says the plan is to have between 1200 and 1,500 in ten to 15 years’ time. Starting from 2008, Wetherspoon’s aiming to open at least 30 pubs each year.
Down will work with Hutson to take the pub group to the next stage of its development.
A toast, then, to Keith Down. Good luck!