People: WAA; Virtus Brands; Prohire

Lydia Tideswell has joined Birmingham-based WAA Chosen as a director, heading up the agency’s Leisure & Lifestyle client services division.

Tideswell brings a wealth of on-trade and drinks industry knowledge, connections, and experience to the agency, having spent over a decade of her career at Mitchells & Butlers PLC (MAB), one of the UK’s largest operators of restaurants, pubs and bars.

During her time at MAB, she held several senior management roles spanning brand marketing, drinks category and operations, following the completion of their highly regarded graduate scheme.

With experience working across the full breadth of high-profile brands in their portfolio, including Miller & Carter, Toby Carvery and All Bar One, she brings valuable industry insight to the specialist Leisure & Lifestyle hub, as well as strategic marketing,
brand and team leadership experience.

Most recently, she has spent the last two years working in a consultancy capacity for Aquavista Waterside Marinas, various M&B contracts, and leading a key project for Tate & Lyle at WAA Chosen.

WAA Chosen managing director Dan Clifford said: “Our proposition is focused on three specialist hubs – Automotive, Trade & Construction and Leisure & Lifestyle and so to find someone of Lydia’s calibre was the perfect fit for the business. She has a very impressive track record in terms of strategic marketing, bringing a passion for insight and data alongside financial acumen and experience in all communications disciplines.

“Lydia also has a thorough understanding of the importance of having strong and authentic relationships across all stakeholder groups and has delivered fantastic results at an operational level for some of the best-known hospitality brands in the country.”

West Midlands independent drinks collective Virtus Brands has welcomed a new retail sales director.

Tony Houlston, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the food and drink retail sector and was previously at symbol group Select & Save, was appointed sales director at Virtus at the start of the year.

Baz Kooner and Tony Houlston

Virtus Brands was founded by Wolverhampton entrepreneur Baz Kooner, who made a splash into the industry by launching his five-times distilled premium vodka, Jatt Life, in 2020.

Virtus now consists of 15 different up-and-coming brands, including Jatt Life, as well as Rico69, which is a vegan cream tequila, Sweet Shop spirits, a range of flavoured vodka based on popular sweets, and Pink prosecco.

It also sells a range of pre-mixed cocktails under its Bartender’s Secrets range, ensuring Tony has plenty of variety when it comes to promoting and selling the products, which he intends to achieve via wholesalers, bars and festivals later in the summer.

Houlston said: “I have worked in the retail and off-licence trade for many years so while much of this sector is familiar to me, Virtus Brands is bringing a young, fresh and ambitious approach to the market, which I find exciting. It’s a brilliant time to move into this sector because new, independent drinks brands are on the up. People are moving away from the big brands, they want new ideas, new people and new stories, which is just what Virtus Brands is all about.

“Ironically, I’m teetotal myself but I’ve been getting customers and my family, to taste-test our products. There’s something there for everyone, whether they’re a VIP sipping a vodka cocktail or a festival-goer looking for a quick alcoholic shot.”

Kooner said: “Getting somebody as experienced and well-known as Tony on board is a massive step for us. He is hugely well-known in the retail and drinks sectors and has an extensive network that we are excited about plugging into to grow our sales.

Stoke-on-Trent-based Prohire, a commercial vehicle hire and fleet management solutions provider, has promoted Jay Edwards to managing director.

With a career spanning 25 years, most recently as Prohire’s chief operating officer, Edwards will lead the business, shaping the long-term strategy for both the commercial vehicle arm and the alternative fuels division, ProGreen.

In addition, he will oversee Prohire’s finance, IT, operations, and commercial functions.

Prohire provides nationwide commercial vehicle rental and long-term vehicle contract hire, together with fleet maintenance, accident repair management, and fleet compliance to customers across the UK.

Jay Edwards

Jay Edwards, managing director of Prohire, said: “‘I’m delighted to be stepping into this new role at an exciting time for Prohire as we look to the future. The commercial vehicle sector is going through a period of legislative and technological change and it’s our vision to lead the charge as the UK’s most trusted provider of sustainable vehicle hire. We have the best team in the industry, and I look forward to working with them to deliver our strategy.”

Pat Skelly, CEO of Prohire, said: “Jay’s ability to balance short-term efficiency with long-term vision has been instrumental in Prohire’s sustained growth over the last five years. Jay has supported the business in developing the finance function alongside putting in place the operating platform, reporting and more importantly the significant funding required to support that growth.

“As we continue with our ambitious growth strategy, the board is delighted to name Jay as Prohire’s new managing director, and I’d like to congratulate him on his well-deserved promotion.”

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