International Women’s Day Series: Jillian MacLean MBE

Jillian MacLean MBE
Credit Jillian MacLean MBE

In this series for International Women’s Day, we sat down with Jillian MacLean MBE, Founder & CEO of Drake & Morgan.

Jillian was awarded an MBE for services to the hospitality industry and is a Trustee for The Drinks Trust – a charity that provides vocational, well-being and practical support to those working in the drinks industry.

Q. You are the founder of the award-winning bar and restaurant group, Drake & Morgan. Talk us through the journey of having a vision of owning a restaurant to being CEO and Founder of the award-winning bar and restaurant group, Drake and Morgan?

A. Hospitality has always been a big influence in my life and we started Drake & Morgan in the height of recession in 2008. While some people said it was a risk, I had a vision to create accessible female influenced bars based in and around the City of London. We saw a gap in the market and we took it! The team and I embarked on several market research and innovation trips around the east and west coast of America to get inspiration for the spaces. I loved what venues were doing there, from San Franciso to New York. When we opened our first site, The Refinery Bankside in Southwark in 2008, the trips abroad really helped us gain a fresh perspective and keep up with new trends. The Refinery Bankside had a female influenced advisory board which definitely helped shape the business and I’ll always remember that as a big part of the journey.

Q. What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

A. I’ve been influenced some incredible women in my life and International Women’s Day is a fantastic time to amplify brilliant women and celebrate inspirational role models. Championing women in the hospitality sector is something we feel is an important responsibility but that also brings us great joy at Drake & Morgan, from our wonderful female mixologists to chefs to bar backs and duty managers.

Q. You’ve been awarded an MBE for services to the hospitality industry. How did it feel to receive this award?

A. It was a complete honour, surprise and privilege to receive my MBE in 2013. It’s a wonderful achievement personally but it also celebrates the hard work and dedication of the whole team at Drake & Morgan. On the day of the ceremony, Clare Smyth (the incredible chef from Michelin-starred CORE by Clare Smyth) also received an MBE, so it was brilliant to see women I personally look up to in hospitality being celebrated.

Q. What are your tips for building a successful business in the City?

A. I’d advise you do your best to have the right funding and business plan in place to ensure a successful business. However, one very important thing that has driven the success of Drake & Morgan is becoming part of the local community – knowing our neighbours and supporting the city of London. For example, City Giving Day is very important to us as a business, as is our work with city-based charities. This includes Maggie’s who support people affected by cancer and digital charity box Pennies.

Q. Talk us through some of the challenges that you’ve faced as a female entrepreneur in the City and how did you overcome them?

A. Starting out as a female entrepreneur it can feel daunting, and a challenge to find support. However, there are some excellent groups and networks out there – when I started the business, our day-to-day lending was done with Coutts which, as well as being a bank, introduced me to a fabulous female entrepreneur network. This meant I was able to go to workshops and courses to participate with other entrepreneurs which helped enormously. This solid network to lean on was vital when I faced challenges at the start of my career and it was a real privilege to get this support.

Q. What has been your biggest achievement with your businesses in the City?

A. One of my proudest moments was when we opened our first location in the City of London – The Folly. We decided we wanted to honour the City of London by donating to a Columbian rainforest charity, replanting an area the size of the City of London there. It’s not just about business, it’s about being part of the community in an ethical way and I feel very proud to look back at this moment.

Q. What advice would you give to other women in the City who aspire to do the same?

A. Get a mentor and group of people to support you – this could be a business coach or informal mentor. Women established in their careers tend to be very generous with their time and genuinely enjoy helping other women succeed. There are many excellent forums available in our great capital with amazing talent. And secondly, I’d say as a business owner, it’s always important to be kind to yourself and have self-belief.

Q. What is the secret to your success?

A. I think there is a few. Listening to customers and understanding what they want is vital. Surround yourself with people who are good and share your drive and passion. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or risks and don’t be too hard on yourself if there’s some setbacks! Always cheer on your wider team and celebrate their achievements. Finally, and very importantly, stay relevant and invest resource into the business for this. At Drake & Morgan, we are always looking for new and exciting partnerships and collaborations to pivot and adapt to current trends. We’ve been delighted with the success of our sell-out Full Fat Brunch series with Fat Tony plus the partnership with immersive dining experts, Taste Film, which have been really popular.

Q. What’s in the pipeline for 2024?

A. After a really strong period of trading over Christmas, we’re excited to continue to gain momentum in 2024. I always look forward to our spring menu refresh and the beautiful summer terraces we’ll be launching across our sites. We also have some exiting concepts with a Drake & Morgan Training Academy as well as Wine Schools.

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