Alison Brittain, Whitbread's new chief executive - profile

Lloyds’ retail boss, one of the most powerful women in the City, was not the obvious choice to take over the hotel and pub group

Alison Brittain is swapping current accounts and mortgages for cappuccinos and mini-breaks.

Currently the boss of Lloyds Banking Group’s retail banking arm, she is one of the most powerful women in the City. But from January 2016, she will take charge of the hospitality group Whitbread, putting her at the helm of the nation’s biggest coffee chain, Costa Coffee, and one of the largest budget hotel brands, Premier Inn.

Brittain, a career banker who spent nearly two decades at Barclays, was not the obvious choice to take over the hotel and pub group, which also includes Brewers Fayre and Beefeater Grill Restaurants. The veteran retail analyst Nick Bubb described her as a “rank outsider”.

But Whitbread chairman Richard Baker said she was the “standout candidate from a very strong field”, adding that her strong personal belief in putting the customer at the centre made her “a perfect fit with our culture and values”.

Sources close to the company stress the broadbrush similarities between Lloyds and Costa Coffee. The Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Halifax and Bank of Scotland, has 2,200 branches with 30 million customers. The relentlessly expanding Costa Coffee has nearly 2,000 UK outlets, while 25 million people are said to visit a Whitbread hotel, restaurant or cafe each month.

The group’s current chief executive Andy Harrison was also a newcomer to the hospitality trade. Before joining Whitbread, he was in charge of easyJet and the RAC car breakdown service.

Neither is Brittain a stranger to the more fun outposts of the high street. She is a non-executive director at Marks & Spencer, a job she took because she is “a huge fan and a huge shopper” of the business.

Hailing from Derbyshire, Brittain has a degree in business studies from Stirling University and an MBA from Cambridge University’s Judge Institute. She initially set her sights on going into marketing, but ended up joining Barclays’ graduate trainee scheme and working at the bank for 19 years.

She even met her husband Kevin in a Barclays branch on Baker Street - at the time just a few doors from Marks & Spencer, which was one of her clients.

As a few worries surfaced about being “institutionalised” at Barclays, Brittain jumped ship for Santander in 2007. She moved to Lloyds in 2011, at a time when the bank was still reeling from a £20bn taxpayer bailout and a string of mis-selling scandals, not limited to PPI.

In 2013 Lloyds was fined a record £28m and ordered to compensate up to 700,000 customers of Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland who were mis-sold products by staff desperate to hit targets on sales and bonuses.

In an interview with the Daily Mail Brittain blamed “the Americanisation of banking”, perceived as a dig at Eric Daniels, the Montana-born executive who took charge of Lloyds’ retail banking operations in 2001 and became chief executive in 2003.

Her defection from Lloyds is a blow to the bank, where she was seen as a favourite to replace current chief executive António Horta-Osório.

When she starts at Whitbread next January, she will join a select club of FTSE 100 female chief executives, currently numbering just five.

Brittain is ambivalent about quotas to increase boardroom roles. She told the Observer in 2012 that she worried the focus on boosting the number of female non-executives will “suck out” talented women who might have gone on to become CEOs.

“Where are the chief executives of the future going to come from when 38-to-48-year olds are missing from the full-time workforce.”

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