He may have just stepped down after 35 years at brewing and pubs group Marston’s, but retirement is the last thing on David Thompson’s mind.
As well as running the family farm near Albrighton, the 59-year-old has a string of company directorships, a housebuilding venture to pursue and his job as chief executive of a maltings company in East Anglia.
And Mr Thompson is unsentimental about this resignation as chairman of Marston’s, even though it effectively ends a 120-year period that has always seen a Thompson at the head of the company, originally called Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries.
None of his four children work at the company or even in brewing, although one daughter works for a distiller’s.
It was created by his great great-grandfather, George Thompson, a malt wholesaler and owner of the Dudley & Victoria Brewery in Dudley. He had helped finance a Mr Banks, owner of the Park Brewery in Wolverhampton. When Banks disappeared, Mr Thompson took over the heavily indebted brewery and then added the Fox Brewery in Wolverhampton, then owned by Charles Colonel Smith.
Mr Thompson took the new Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries public in 1891 and founded a dynasty. David Thompson’s father, Teddy, was the last member of the family to hold the joint roles of chairman and managing director.
But, for David Thompson, there is no sense of entitlement over his role at the company. “It’s been a public company since 1891, and it’s always been run in the interests of the wider group of shareholders.
“I have always known that ever since I joined in 1977.”
He is clearly proud of his stewardship of the business, which has grown into one of the biggest regional brewing and pub-owning businesses in the country.
The investment bankers Rothschild worked out that since Mr Thompson joined the business in 1977 it has seen overall growth of 5,722 per cent. That works out as an annual growth rate of 12.3 per cent, at a time when the Stock Market as a whole managed just five per cent.
“But after 36 years, it’s quite a long stint,” said Mr Thompson. “I have been chairman for 13 years and on the board for 33. That’s a pretty good innings, and it has been thoroughly enjoyable.”
Over that time he has seen dramatic changes, not least the loss of the steel works in Brierley Hill and in Bilston, where he started his career as an area manager.
“The old cottages have gone from Bilston, the steel works have gone, the heart has been torn out of it sadly. The area has changed and we have built new pubs to cater to it.”
Renamed Marston’s after its best selling beer, the company’s growth, including a constant building programme, means it now has 2,100 pubs nationwide, and David Thompson exhibits an encyclopedic knowledge of them.
He recalls paying what was then ‘an exhorbitant price’ for land at Perton to build the Wrottesley Arms in 1982. The result today, he said, is ‘an absolutely fantastic pub’.
And he knows why the brickwork changes half way along The Roebuck, on Wolverhampton’s Penn Road: “Work started in 1939 but after war was declared you weren’t allowed bricks to build pubs. Work didn’t start again until 1954 when bricks came off rationing.”
Mr Thompson is also proud of the company’s commitment to training and developing its staff. He started its graduate recruitment programme in the 1980s and says many of those graduates are among the senior managers and executives he leaves behind with chief executive Ralph Findlay and new chairman Roger Devlin.
“The result has been some very good, dedicated people. It is a company that inspires a lot of loyalty and they exhibit a seriousness of purpose.”
“It was a well-run business in 1977 and it remains a well-run business in 2013.”
But life after Marston’s – in which he remains a shareholder – won’t be all work. David Thompson is a keen fly fisherman: “I went fishing twice last weekend; I didn’t catch any salmon but got a few trout and grayling.”