How retires as Majestic boss

07 March, 2008

Drinks industry says farewell to 'truly great' chief executive after 19 years

Majestic chief executive Tim How is to retire after 19 years in the role.

Chief operating officer Steve Lewis will take over as boss of the specialist drinks retailer later this year, after a handover period.

How said his greatest achievement was to turn a "loss-making business into a very profitable, growing business. The financial results speak for themselves".

H e was part of the Wizard Wines team which acquired then-struggling Majestic in 1991, and Wizard and Majestic were combined a year later.

The acquisition of Majestic was "quite a challenging time", How told OLN. "There were quite a lot of people who thought we were mad. Some thought the business might work in the south east and in London but didn't think it would work elsewhere."

How said Majestic was not widely known outside London when he bought it, but most people now know something about the business. "What we've achieved is a brand that now has a very strong appeal," he added.

Majestic, which specialises in by-the-case sales from warehouse-style shops, has built up a strong reputation for quality and customer service.

Once he has stepped down, How will seek to take on more non-executive roles outside the drinks industry as well as spending more time at his house in north Norfolk.

Drinks retailers praised How's achievements. Wine Cellar's trading director Steve Parker said he'd made a "big impact" on the business. Matthew Hennings, owner of West Sussex-based Hennings Wine Merchants

and a former Majestic manager, said: "I never felt intimidated by him and we always got on very well. He really encouraged staff morale and always gave graduates great opportunities. He is a big credit to the wine trade."

Majestic chairman Simon Burke said: "Along the way he has created tremendous value for shareholders, acquired a loyal and dedicated customer following, and built a highly professional retail and management team.

"He has been a truly great chief executive and we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude. We wish him a long, happy and prosperous retirement."

The change of leadership was planned more than two years ago, with Lewis appointed chief operating officer in preparation for the handover.

Lewis told OLN his key priority was to "ensure we have a smooth transitional period". He said: "I've been part of the team that has helped to grow Majestic in the first place and don't intend to make any radical changes. We'll continue doing what we do best."

Lewis joined Majestic in 1985 as a graduate trainee manager at its Clapham  store, progressing to store manager soon after. He became retail director in 1991 and was appointed to the board in 1998.

Majestic timeline

1981 Majestic forms in 1981, with a single store in Wood Green, London

1991 How, as part of Wizard Wine management team, buys Majestic

1992 Majestic and Wizard operations combine as Majestic Wine Warehouse

1996 Floats on Alternative Investment Market

2000 Launches Online orders processed through local stores

2001 Buys Les Celliers de Calais "booze cruise" business, renamed Wine & Beer World

2003 First temperature-controlled fine wine warehouse opens at St John's Wood

2005 Majestic Gift Solutions launches

2007 Interim results to Oct 1 2007 show pre-tax profit increase of 16.7 per cent to £7.5 million. The group now has a 141 stores in UK.

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