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Jamie Oliver Responds to Allegations That His CEO Is an Incompetent, Arrogant Bully

Oliver’s brother-in-law Paul Hunt was appointed CEO in 2014; former staff members have claimed he is destroying the business

AWXI - Day 1
Jamie Oliver has been forced to defend his brother-in-law CEO Paul Hunt
Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for AWXI

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has been forced to respond to allegations, published in The Times, that his brother-in-law CEO Paul Hunt is “incompetent” and a “bully who is destroying his business empire.”

Former Oliver company employees allege variously that Hunt — who is married to Oliver’s sister Anna-Marie and who was made CEO of Jamie Oliver Ltd. (before the merger with restaurant group) in 2014 — is “arrogant,” an “incompetent failure” and “a City boy from central casting” who “knows virtually nothing about restaurants and even less about publishing.”

The allegations continue, with one former employee saying that Hunt had a “problem” working with “strong, creative” women in the company:

“There have been some wonderful women made redundant. I saw how Hunt eased them out. They would stop getting invited to meetings, then kept out of the loop, and slowly their job would be taken over by someone else and they would get a call saying, ‘Your job doesn’t exist any more.’”

Meanwhile, Hunt is also accused of mistreating a long-serving PA in the company — someone at whom he would “bark ‘tea, tea’...when he wanted a drink, there was no please or thank you. She found out she was being made redundant when he asked her to type up redundancy letters and she was one of them.”

Oliver, for whom the accusers say “family is everything,” is himself alleged to be aware of Hunt’s failings. Yet the chef was moved to post a statement to Twitter “refuting the press comments.”

He called the stories from “so-called friends” “nasty,” “untrue” “nonsense.” He calls Hunt a “loyal brother-in-law and a loving father as well as a strong and capable CEO who I charged with re-shaping the business.”

Although Hunt was appointed to lead the division of the company that oversees Oliver’s brand work, TV shows and book deals, his tenure preceded the cost-cutting measures Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group began implementing early last year. In 2014, when Hunt was brought in there were 42 Jamie’s Italian restaurants nationwide; there are now just 25 and Oliver was also forced to place his two London steak houses into administration at the start of this year. Last year, both arms of the Jamie Oliver company merged.

Oliver says that Hunt has “radically transformed” the business which is “now more successful, vibrant and creative.” And yet according to former employees, Hunt — who in a previous career led a team who was convicted of insider trading at Refco Overseas by Liffe, London’s future and options exchange — “didn’t grasp the fundamentals of the business. He was really opinionated but usually wrong.”