The Veuve Clicquot Award shortlist: Jillian MacLean of Drake & Morgan

Jillian MacLean, the entrepreneur behind the recession-busting bar and restaurant group, on the value of innovation and networking.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
It hasn't taken Jillian MacLean long to make a name for herself as an entrepreneur. She founded her bar and restaurant business Drake & Morgan in 2008 - just as the UK was entering a recession that hit the leisure industry harder than most. And yet three years later she has four London sites, with another one due to open in May, and finds herself on the final shortlist for the Veuve Cliquot Business Woman of the Year award. At a time when pubs have been going under by the score, that's pretty good going.

It helps that D&M's bar-restaurants are the polar opposite of the identikit chain pubs that have been popping up across the country in recent years; these are funky, individual bars, with a very trans-Atlantic flavour. Which is no surprise: the inspiration behind MacLean's concepts came from her travels on both the east and west coast of the US (including the famous McNally's in New York). In fact, she argues that innovation is the key to surviving in a downturn: 'It's best to be bold and brave. Try lots of different things; they're not all going to work, but some will.'

Listening to your customers is also key, she says. D&M have organised special feedback sessions and wine tastings, while MacLean says she takes every opportunity to get out inot her bars and talk to people directly. 'We've had some brilliant feedback, and it's helped us to evolve and change.'

MacLean reckons her gender has never been a bar to progress in the hospitality industry - the reverse, if anything. 'I've always been really welcomed - and you probably get some additional PR too. The industry as a whole is quite egalitarian and progressive. And there are so many brilliant role models’ (i.e. women in senior roles).

However, like the other women on the shortlist, she's a big believer in the value of mentoring and networking. She tells MT that she was once invited to a high-powered all-women event - and (once she'd worked out that she wasn't being asked to do the catering) was thoroughly inspired by some of those present. 'It would be so cool if there was a proper mentoring and support network in the UK. Hopefully it will come!'

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