UK Cypriot who went from a salary of £2.75-an-hour to becoming CEO of Pret A Manger
Coming from a modest background, Pano Christou grew up in Tooting, South London – where his half-Greek, half-Italian father was a mini-cab driver, and his mother was a nurse from Cyprus who at one stage was forced to also work as a cleaner for extra cash.
With clothes from a jumble sale on his back, he left school at 16 and joined McDonald’s on a low salary.
He then went on to join Pret A Manger, rapidly rising through the ranks to become CEO of the high street sandwich chain.
The married father-of-two, 45, has given thousands of Pret staff their third pay rise in a year.
The day-to-day struggle inspired Mr Christou to begin work from an early age.
“My first job, at 14/15, was delivering mini-cabs cards through doors. I washed my father’s car every Sunday,” he told the Mirror. “He would pay me a pound or two, but I would probably find more change under the seats than he paid me.”
He skipped university in favour of a job at McDonald’s at 16 – where he earnt £2.75-an-hour, “to my parents’ displeasure.” But rather being the dead end they feared, he had fallen in love with the business of hospitality and a couple of years later, had begun his career at Pret.
“My mum and dad were not at all happy then, but they are happy now,” he said.
Starting at the company at 22, he became their third chief executive in 2019, following Julian Metcalfe and his mentor Clive Schlee, who was at the helm for 18 years.
His salary stands at £400,000, and he received long-term share options linked to performance, taking the total for last year to £4 million.
Pret has 430 stores in the UK, some 200 in London. As a result of Covid, Christou says, “we re-evaluated the estate,” closing about 30 stores, of which five have come back, and opening 30 to 40 new ones.
He has ambitions of becoming a global brand on par with McDonald’s. And that means expanding in the UK – and growing overseas, adding to the existing 200 outlets in the US, Europe, and further afield.
“We want to be genuinely worldwide. Why can’t it be like McDonald’s – we haven’t really got a British brand that has done that, so this is our aim,” he said.