Many of you will no doubt have eaten in Pizza Express and been served up decent quality pizzas and maybe some dough balls to keep your kids quiet. Well the group recently served up something of world class quality – the announcement that the business had appointed the president of McDonald’s Europe to run the pizza chain.

It’s not fine dining, but it’s mighty fine at recruiting.
What a coup. At McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook had been overseeing 7,000 outlets in 40 countries, having worked his way up over a period of 18 years, and now he chose to jump ship to run a UK business with a mere 400 restaurants.

It is an incredibly exciting piece of recruitment and highlights that what you see on the surface with many such high level placements is only a small part of the whole picture. Each will comprise three key components – cultural fit, opportunity and of course remuneration.

In the case of Easterbrook the latter will undoubtedly involve a deal of sorts. As part of the private equity-owned business Gondola Group, the Pizza Express chain could be split out and Easterbrook will be in the box seat to lead that one and own a stake in the enterprise.

Or there could be plans to list the whole Gondola Group – that also owns Zizzi, ASK and Byron – with Easterbrook then in situ to head up the UK’s largest quoted restaurant business. Whichever route is taken there will be plenty of financial upside for the new man if things work out.

The second component is opportunity. Easterbrook will have worked out that there is plenty to get his teeth into at Pizza Express and make a genuine difference. The reality is that the chain is getting hammered on its margins from vouchers and discounts, whereas rivals Nando’s and Wagamama are flying.

Please, no more Big Macs and fries.
Pizza Express sits somewhere in all our hearts but we probably only go once a year while the aforementioned pair have a model that achieves high frequency rates. This brings us on to the final component – cultural fit. There is no doubt that Easterbrook can harness his McDonald’s experience to help bump up the frequency rates at Pizza Express. 

Consider how McDonald’s has gone from Formica tables and plastic uninviting interiors five years ago to now a place where there are vibrant colours, comfortable chairs and quality coffee that rivals that of Starbucks and Costa.

So successful has Easterbrook been at making a difference at the burger chain that he arguably realised his job was done and the opportunity afforded at Pizza Express was therefore much greater. The lack of opportunity at McDonald’s in the UK has certainly prompted one senior executive of a major food company to turn down the role of head of McDonald’s UK.

With many retail businesses on the ropes we are seeing a growing number of opportunity plays that present experienced individuals with great prospects of making a difference and in the process earning a name and a decent bit of financial gain for themselves.

Jessops is one such business where chief executive Trevor Moore came from a senior role at Esporta. He bought a stake in the business from its private equity owners and has transformed it from an emporium for beards and geeks looking for the latest tripod into something akin to an Apple store.

Yes, times are tough but adversity also brings opportunities for those with the appetite to make the difference.

Nigel Sapsed is director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens