Brewing and pubs giant Marston’s was facing the future without a member of its founding family at the helm this week for the first time in its 120-year history.
Former chairman David Thompson officially left the company founded by his great great grandfather.
Mr Thompson was the fifth generation of his family to run the former Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries and oversaw its dramatic rise to become one of the leading brewing and pub-owning groups in the UK, employing 12,000 people at its six breweries and 2,100 pubs.
When Mr Thompson, now aged 59, took over from his father as managing director in 1986 the company had just the Park Brewery at Wolverhampton, where it still brews Banks’s today, and around 750 pubs.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In 2000 the company was caught up in a bitter battle to fend of a hostile takeover bid from the Pubmaster group.
As the dust settled, a boardroom reshuffle saw David Thompson elevated to the role of chairman while finance director Ralph Findlay became chief executive.
They have forged a highly successful team as the company has gone from strength to strength in recent years, renaming the company Marston’s in 2006 after its biggest selling ale.
Their success in tough economic times is underlined by the continuing strength of the group’s financial figures – in the six months of March this year profits were around £28 million while sales were up to £358 million.
A further trading statement is due on Wednesday, its first with new chairman Roger Devlin – current chairman of internet gaming company Gamesys and Porthaven Nursing Homes.
David Thompson has praised his success, saying: “It is a pleasure to hand over the chairmanship to Roger Devlin.
“He brings to Marston’s his intellectual rigour and extensive board experience.”
And the company has paid its own tribute to its departing chairman. A statement said: “David’s contribution to the company and the industry has been immense, and his intellect and capacity for hard work have been invaluable.”
And Ralph Findlay, his close colleague for the last 17 years, added: “I would also like to thank David Thompson for his immense contribution to Marston’s over 35 years including leading its expansion into a truly national pub operator and brewer.”
While Marston’s has been a central feature of David Thompson’s life, it is just one of a string of businesses he has been involved with. Over the years he has held more than 80 directorships and will be continuing with roles on the board of housebuilder Persimmon, Caledonia Investments and Smiths Flour Mills as well as his job as chief executive of Anglia Maltings – which supplies more than 250,000 tons of malted cereals a year to the world’s top brewers, distillers and food producers.
Away from work David Thompson and his wife Marika have raised their children at the family farm at Boningale, where they have a reputation among friends as excellent hosts with a fine wine cellar.
Mr Thompson is an Old Wykehamist – he attended the historic Winchester College public school in Hampshire from 1967 to 1971 – and has opened his home to a visiting party of fellow old-boys on occasion.
He is also a prominent member of the local community – both Mr Thompson and his wife have served as parish councillors in Boningale. He was a member of the West Midlands Regional Development Agency and the first chairman of the former Wolverhampton Training and Enterprise Council, from 1991 to 1996.
On a lighter note, he is also president of the Dudley Book Society, the UK’s oldest book club dating back to 1732.
It meets for an dinner once a year and has an exclusive membership of just 30, who raise a toast to civil and religious liberty before a light-hearted auction of books at the end of the formal dinner.
In the rare spare time between business commitments, Mr Thompson is also an enthusiastic fly fisherman, with a fondness for a distinctive fishing kit including a blue boilersuit and a beret.