He attended Cheltenham College. His father died when he was young.
Bruce began his career in 1966, brewing with both Courage Brewery and Theakston Brewery (in North Yorkshire) for six years. This was immediately followed by six years licensed retail experience with Charram Ltd and The Star Group of Companies.
Bruce went on to found the Firkin Pub chain and Bruce's Brewery, which started as a single pub in Elephant and Castle, London, in 1979. Peter Austin oversaw his choice of kit and the design for its small basement brewery. He borrowed £10,000, secured against his house, and opened the Goose and Firkin at 47 Borough Road (A3202) next to the junction of Southwark Bridge Road and a railway bridge leading to Blackfriars station over the river to the north, and close to the Ministry of Sound and the Student Centre of the Polytechnic of the South Bank (now London South Bank University). The pub is now the Duke of York. By 1986 he had six Firkin pubs and ten by 1988, turning over £3m; at the time Britain had 75,000 pubs. The pubs sold their own beer, Dogbolter. Each pub cost around £250,000. The Firkin motto was Usque ad Mortem Bibendum.
In February 1988 he put his eleven Firkin pubs up for sale, selling them for £6.6m in May 1988 to Midsummer Leisure, who were taken over by European Leisure. After the sale the pubs were run under the company Bruce's Brewery. In July 1990, European Leisure put the 18 pubs up for sale.
Allied Lyons bought the Firkin chain (fifteen pubs) in 1991; Allied Lyons became Allied Domecq in 1994. In 1996 Allied Domecq opened 40 sites, taking the number of Firkin pubs to 160, turning over £100m. The chain would grow to 170 sites under a succession of owners until it was bought by Punch Taverns in 1999 and disbanded. Many former Firkins became O'Neill's, owned by Mitchells & Butlers, and have a similar sparse décor to the original Firkin pubs. The Firkin chain had a steep decline after October 1999, when all on-site brewing was discontinued. The chain had been effectively bought by Bass Brewery (which became Six Continents in June 2000).
Following the sale of the Firkin pubs and Bruce's Brewery, Bruce, together with his wife, Louise, set up The Bruce Trust and Bruce Foundation to provide canal boats for holidays for the disabled.
Bruce is Chairman of Country Food & Dining, a multi-site farm shop business.
Bruce was Non-Executive Director of The Capital Pub Company PLC, which he co-founded with Clive Watson. The Capital Pub Company PLC raised over £15million under the EIS and was admitted to AIM in June 2007. It was acquired by Greene King for £93m in July 2011.
Bruce was Executive Director of Grosvenor Inns PLC, where he was responsible for the roll-out of the Slug and Lettuce brand, where he worked with Tim Thwaites.
In October 2011, again with Clive Watson, Bruce co-founded The City Pub Co East and The City Pub Co West, raising £28m in EIS funds. Bruce is also chairman of The West Berkshire Brewery PLC.
Since the 1980s he has lived in Hungerford.