Now Adrian is putting hotel industry under microscope at Ivy House near Lowestoft...
- Credit: Nick Butcher
For an academic turned entrepreneur who had spent half his life building up science based enterprises before selling them for millions, the hotel trade was quite a departure.
In fact Adrian Parton MBE confessed friends had told him he was 'nuts' when he decided to buy Ivy House Country Hotel in Oulton Broad in his 50th year.
Two years on, it has been his strong commitment to the community near Lowestoft rather than the appliance of science that has enabled him to build another business success story, this time one with his cousin Keith – his own experience gained in the rarified atmosphere of top-end hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants – playing a key role as hotel manager.
Taking down barbed wire fences and opening up 21 acres of broadland to the public with new pathways and picnic areas overlooking the water is the latest project being undertaken to put the community back at the heart of what was once almost a forbidding place to locals.
Adrian, 52, is proud of the results they have achieved with the expert help of Matt Gooch from neighbouring Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Carlton Marshes reserve.
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And his resolve to keep the paths clear – including the passing Angles Way trail along the Waveney Valley – has even seen him invest in a small tractor, having (personally) found the hotel's sit-on mower not up to the job.
Adrian, who has a doctorate in cancer studies from Birmingham University, looked to be on course for an academic career after taking up a research post at Cambridge University but the financial demands of fatherhood – he now has five children aged 11 to 25 – opened his eyes to the commercial potential of his expertise in micro-biology.
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His first big coup came in the late 1990s when he acquired the Cambridge-based company Genera Technology he had been working for and perfected a solution to filtering the harmful cryptosporidium organism out of water supplies.
He said: 'In the year 2000 the government insisted every water company had to use the filter. In the space of six months I had sold 40 systems at £42,500.'
He rapidly sold the business to a US corporation for $17m before setting up a food diagnostics company with his wife and fellow academic Amanda.
The business, Matrix Microscience, developed new faster ways to detect the presence of bugs such as salmonella and deadly strains of E.coli and found success in the US as well as the UK, allowing Adrian to sell up again in 2011 for $20m.
Far from quenching his entrepreneurial thirst, he has become involved in a succession of other businesses and his proceeds from the sale of one – Cronto – specialising in secure solutions for online banking, enabled him to buy Ivy House.
Adrian said he and Keith, who started out as a pot washer at the Birmingham Metropole but advanced as a chef to work under such icons as Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White, had talked about setting up a family business for some time.
He said: 'We went to see the Ivy House and thought, 'wow, this place is run down and needs attention but it's really amazing, we have got to have it'.'
After buying the hotel in July 2013 – 'with a £100,000 discount for paying cash' – Adrian spent some time with a friend in the trade, learning how his different inns and hotels worked.
He concluded that the Ivy House needed a bar and Eve's Bar was built in seven weeks as part of an £800,000 improvement programme that saw all 20 bedrooms, toilets and public areas refurbished.
In the following months, they set about developing the hotel's modest trade in weddings and functions using a marquee, but Adrian was keen to find a way to satisfy unhappy villagers' complaints about noise.
Following a public meeting, they struck on a solution to suit everyone – a purpose-built hall with the highest standards of sound-proofing.
Ivy Hall was built earlier this year by local builders PJ Spillings as part of a further £850,000 project.
Adrian, who spends one day a week in Oulton Broad, the rest of the time attending his other business interests in Cambridge, is happy that the hotel has now truly become part of the community, with former complainants now happy customers and friends.
He said: 'When we took over, we would be lucky to see 10 people for Sunday lunch, now we are disappointed if we don't get 100.
'The hotel used to only cater for about 10 small weddings a year. This year we have attracted 40 and we are still looking to increase that.'
Corporate events were also doing well with regular Lowestoft Chamber of Commerce networking functions as well as Rotary meetings.
Expressing contentment about his second career, Adrian said: 'The reason that makes it special is that it is a family run business.
'With tech businesses, you may know the customer but it is just a product they are using.
'This is a business that makes people happy. Lots of locals will come up and give me a hug and tell me what a lovely family meal they had.'