The American ‘king’ of Italian coffee bars

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It has taken an American to build one of the most successful Italian coffee bar chains in Britain.  His name is Dr Gerry Ford, who is 47, studied for his MBA at French business school INSEAD and launched his company – Caffe Nero – in 1998, a full year before the US chain Starbucks invanded the UK.

After buying a couple of Caffe Nero outlets, redesigning them and keeping the name, Ford, a jovial Californian, now now 250 stores in 115 UK cities and yesterday, against the background of a strong set of interim figures he announced plans to build a national cian of 450 outlets within the next six years.  He’s also looking seriously at major cities in Europe and the Middle East.

For a coffee bar owner, Ford has an untypical background. After INSEAD he gained a PhD from Oxford and began his business career at Hewlett-Packard, then spent 3 years with APAX, the international venture capital firm, where he helped develop a series of small business. In 1991 he co-founded Paladin Associates, a venture capital group to invest in and manage food, consumer brands and media business.

Back in 1997 investors scoffed at Ford’s conviction that people would pay  upward of £2 for a cup of coffee. But they did and Caffe Nero was floated on the London Stock Exchange a year later.

The market is growing fast and intensely competitive. So is Caffe Nero and it is gradually closing the gap between the leader Starbucks and Costa Coffee, owned by British leisure company, Whitbread. 

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