It will very soon be the end of an era at Pret A Manger following the news that Clive Schlee will step down as CEO at the end of September after 16 years leading the business.
Schlee will be replaced by Pret’s current chief operating officer, Pano Christou, who himself has worked for the high street food chain for the best part of two decades.
Pret’s chairman Olivier Goudet describes Schlee as “the beating heart of Pret” and it’s no exaggeration to say that the Oxford University graduate, who spent the first half of his career in the investment sector, has transformed the Pret business.
Under his leadership sales have grown tenfold to over a billion pounds and the brand now has a footprint of 550 shops across nine markets.
The UK remains by some way Pret’s largest market and it’s here where Schlee’s legacy will arguably be most visible. The growth of Pret’s store estate, in the south of England and London in particular, has been astonishing and the brand has been at the forefront of a number of new industry trends and initiatives.
Pret was one of the first high street food brands to recognise the growing trend for vegetarianism when it launched its Veggie Pret pop-up in Soho in 2016. The Veggie Pret brand has since expanded to three further locations across London and Manchester and is set to grow even faster following the recent purchase of rival high street chain Eat whose outlets Pret intends to turn into Veggie Pret’s where possible.
Schlee has also proved effective at responding to a crisis. The business found itself under fire following the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, the teenager who died of an allergic reaction on a flight after eating a Pret baguette in 2016. Following an inquest last year in which the coroner expressed concern about the adequacy of current labelling regulations, Pret has piloted and is now rolling out full ingredient labelling across all of its pre-packed foods; a move that has influenced a recent government decision to make full ingredient labelling a legal requirement for food-to-go brands by 2021.
By publishing a regular blog in which he openly tackles some of the biggest questions facing the business (Example: Should Pret introduce a plastic bottle deposit scheme?) Schlee has marked himself out as a CEO prepared to be both a visible face of his brand and a thought leader in his industry.
Schlee will remain involved with Pret as a non-executive director and, one would assume, an important source of wisdom for his successor and long-time colleague Pano Christou.
Christou has worked his way up through the ranks at Pret having joined as an assistant manager in its Carnaby Street store nineteen years ago. He knows the business inside out and is the obvious candidate to build on Schlee’s formidable legacy.