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Why Red Mist Leisure are the toast of Surrey - how to run a local pub group

PUBLISHED: 14:06 03 December 2015 | UPDATED: 14:23 03 December 2015

The Cock Inn at Headley is the most recent addition to the Red Mist Leisure family

The Cock Inn at Headley is the most recent addition to the Red Mist Leisure family


Founder and managing director of local, independent pub group, Red Mist Leisure, which has five much-loved pubs in Surrey, Mark Robson knows a thing or two about running a successful business. Here we put him under our spotlight…

Mark Robson is proud to have done most jobs in his company, which helps him have a fuller understanding of any challenges facedMark Robson is proud to have done most jobs in his company, which helps him have a fuller understanding of any challenges faced

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2015


Tell us a bit about yourself…

My job is to manage the board of directors at Red Mist, to support each director in their role and to set our strategy for future growth. There’s a bit more to it than that of course. Much of what I do is about keeping our senior team motivated and enthused to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, to juggle the financial demands that growth brings with it and, most importantly, to ensure we are delivering great food and service to our customers at each of our pubs.

I was the first employee in the company some 11-and-a-half years ago (I’m always proud that my payroll number is 001) so I have done most jobs in the company, be it cleaner, accountant, kitchen porter, chef and pub manager, which has given me a great grounding and a solid understanding of what each role entails and the pressures that accompany it. I suppose that I became MD through much hard work, determination, a little risk and some good luck along the way.

I also have a lovely wife, Grace, who supports me a lot in my role and a young family (Jack, who is three, and Isla is six months), which as any parent will know brings its own demands and pressures but also gives me a great release from work in the evenings and at weekends.

What makes you good at your job?

You need to be able to wear many different hats when you run a pub company and I think the ability to juggle and manage very different situations is essential. I’ve learned to be good at this but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. For me, this can vary from negotiating the right deal on a new pub to managing a sensitive situation with a member of staff or a customer to just coping and prioritising with a busy workload.

I am also highly motivated and I always look forward to going to work, especially if I have been away from the business for a while on holiday. When it’s your own business and it has absorbed so much of your life, I suspect this is quite normal.

My role can be challenging at times but I love it and wouldn’t swap my job for any other.

Are there any particular challenges and, if so, how do you deal with them?

Funding is tough, especially in our industry. Historically, banks aren’t huge fans of pub companies. Our sector has always been viewed as high risk and so many lending regulations and protocol changed following the global recession. As we own all but one of our pubs, funding is critical to us. In the same way most people can’t buy a house without a mortgage, we can’t buy a pub without a commercial loan from a bank or financial institution.

It has been a tricky road persuading lenders to give us the funds to purchase pubs that we know we can make a go of – particularly as we target rundown and poorly performing pubs that we believe we can bring back to life. I have had some interesting conversations with bank managers having taken them to a rundown, dilapidated pub and then asked them for several hundred thousands of pounds to buy it because my gut feeling is that we can make it work!

I don’t think there are many things more stressful in business than dealing with difficult financial situations and most businesses face this one way or another at some time.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

I have read most of Richard Branson’s books as I have always admired the way he does business. He lives by the principle that the most important people in an organisation are the staff not the customers. If you look after your staff, they will take care of your customers. It’s very true and certainly something we live by at Red Mist.

Are there any other entrepreneurs you particularly admire?

The entrepreneur I admire most is my father. He started his business (InstaGroup) in 1980, which is now a large market leading company in the insulation industry. It was a tough start for him initially; he ran the company for two years in the evenings and weekends as he had a full-time job Monday to Friday and by then also had four children, the last of which was born this same year.

When I look back, I’m not quite sure how he achieved it but he did – and every time I talk to him about my business now he fills me full of enthusiasm and optimism for the future.

How do you manage to get the work/life balance right?

Having a young family, my demands at home can be quite tough. When I’m at work, I try to be as effective as possible avoiding unnecessary driving or meetings. I plan my days and my weeks to get the best out of my time and to ensure my work doesn’t routinely run over into my family time.

What do you think your legacy will be?

Our vision as a company is to be the most reputable and highly-valued pub company in the south of England, with an outstanding family of pubs united in their passion to please and impress every time, while achieving market-leading results.

All being well, my legacy will be exactly this having started with a small dilapidated pub in South Surrey.

Finally, what do you most enjoy about doing business in Surrey?

Surrey is a great community in which to do business. The towns we work in and around, such as Farnham, Godalming and Guildford, have such vibrant business communities. There is also a common desire between everyone for companies to fuel the local economy and work with individuals and suppliers that have a vested interest in helping and supporting each other.

• Red Mist Leisure is based in Farnham, and its pubs include The Queen’s Head in East Clandon; The Duke of Cambridge in Tilford; The Stag on the River in Eashing; The Wheatsheaf in Farnham; and The Cock Inn in Headley. For more details, see their website at



A brief case

The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den?

Dragons’ Den. I love seeing new business ideas, and who doesn’t love hearing the opinions of Peter Jones – very entertaining and certainly a must-watch for me.

Lunchbreak or work straight through?

Work straight through. Lunch- breaks are for sustenance not generally to enjoy a meal. I prefer a sandwich at my desk knowing I will get more done. I prefer to enjoy my meals in the evenings and at the weekend!

Blackberry or iPhone?

Does anyone use a Blackberry these days? iphone all the way.




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