Reflecting on success with Mark Derry, Executive Chairman of the Heartwood Collection

Mark Derry has been operating hospitality businesses for over 25 years, notably founding the Loch Fyne group of seafood restaurants in 1998 before selling to Greene King. He has held senior roles in major UK hospitality companies, including TGI Friday’s and Be At One, so he knows a thing or two about serving up dishes that satisfy. He was also part of the team that founded the Brasserie Bar Co that expanded upon Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc to scale the chain around the country.

Following a rebrand, Brasserie Bar Co became Heartwood Collection, where Mark is now Executive Chairman. He has seen the food-based pub group evolve from a single unit to its current 33 outlets spanning much of the country. 

Reflecting on how he has been able to keep innovating after many years in the industry and the impact of covid on hospitality businesses, we asked Mark 10 questions to share his thoughts on his successes so far.

Can you give us your definition of success?

Personal success for me is to see my colleagues fulfil their individual potential. I try to hire people that are recognisably more talented than me and then encourage them to take responsibility.

Ultimately, success in business is counted in pounds. Doctors’ success may be in lives saved, but a businessman’s is in delivering sustainable profit. To get there, you need the three principal stakeholders in a business to be equally satisfied: your guests/customers, investors and employees.

Fill in the blank: I’ll consider this year a success if…? 

I consider the year a success if the business achieves its budget and my team is satisfied with what they have achieved.

What made you get into the hospitality industry, and what keeps you in it? 

Like many people, I ended up in this industry through good fortune. I’d had a series of jobs, including working on drill crews in the oil industry. I got into hospitality as a marketeer in the wine and spirit sector and then transferred to TGI Fridays within the Whitbread brand. It’s a sector like no other. It’s populated by a broad group of highly motivated and energetic people who inherently like being around others. I have loved it from day one and continue to do so.

What has been your greatest success and your biggest flop in business? 

To date, my greatest success has been the launch and development of Loch Fyne Restaurants. My failures (and there are several) have been investing in businesses that I am not involved in and don’t really understand intimately.

What is one song that is guaranteed to lift up your mood in a stressful situation? 

Angels by Robbie Williams — I love a sing-along!

Who has been your most important mentor in life?

Simon Ward, who was my boss for quite some time and he was a brilliant man. He died a few years ago, and I miss him. I also really admire Ian Glyn, who was my business partner for many years and more recently, I have learned a considerable amount from Matthew Collins. Finally, I greatly admire my current MD, Richard Ferrier, for his tenacity, work ethic and intelligence.

Get a good crew around you and share in the spoils of success that you help to create. There is literally no finer feeling.

What kept your momentum and ambitions high in tough times like the pandemic?

It was absolutely no doubt the team around me, who worked with me from one day to the next, facing each problem as it arose. 18 people particularly stood out as tireless workers from my team, in particular, Richard Ferrier, Chris Guy, Helen Melvin and Henry Olney — they were amazing. 

I would also say that the cooperation of banks, investors and advisors helped immensely.

What was the most important thing you learned from running a hospitality business during the coronavirus?

Coming out of the other side of covid I would say really sets you up for success in the future because there is literally nothing worse for a business than zero revenue. Every future challenge is surmountable having survived this.

If you could give one piece of advice to those just starting their entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?

Get a good crew around you and share in the spoils of success that you help to create. There is literally no finer feeling.

What are you most proud of outside of your career?

Obviously, my children. It’s not an easy time to grow up despite material advantages, but they’re finding their own way, and I am so proud of them. 

OakNorth has a track record of backing successful restauranteurs like Mark and the Heartwood Collection as they scale hospitality businesses to new heights. So if you’re a restaurant or pub also looking to take the next step in your growth journey, check out how our hospitality loans could fund the future of your care. 

You can also hear from Mark himself on his experience securing an OakNorth business loan when we caught up with him at one of his restaurants last year.