From his office window, the chairman of the Warburton family's eponymous 125-year-old bakery business can survey many of the company's landmarks, including the shop where his great grandfather, great uncle and great aunt started baking and selling bread, as well as two of the firm's 11 bakery plants. Together with cousins Brett (managing director) and Ross (part-time director), Jonathan Warburton is one of a triumvirate that comprises the fifth generation of family members in charge. Business is on a roll. Turnover has doubled to £200m in the last five years and market share is around 13%, making it the biggest independent UK bakery, and the third largest overall behind Allied Bakeries and British Bakeries, with a trading base that covers 60% of the UK. With business going well and Bolton Wanderers (Warburton's favourite football team) continuing to confound their critics by thriving in the Premiership, it's no wonder this friendly, personable, 44-year-old public school-educated businessman seems happy with life. Warburton concedes that he is fortunate. "My friends tell me I'm part of the lucky sperm club," he says. "And it's true that my name's over the door, but I don't play the big role. I don't even have a job title on my business card." If there was any risk of him growing smug, he has only to think back to one experience to keep his feet firmly on the ground ­ a series of TV ads made several years ago in which he featured as a van boy being reprimanded by his father. "It still makes me wince," he confesses. "They were desperate ads but I did them for all the right reasons ­ to emphasise the company's family values. If I ever become famous though, they'll be dragged out to ridicule me." Going into the family business was not a foregone conclusion for Warburton. After attending sports-mad Millfield School in Somerset (where his housemaster was Olympic champion hurdler David Hemmery), he spent some years in London, flirted with advertising, explored the US and cut his commercial teeth at Unilever in sales before returning to Bolton. After his father Derrick retired 14 years ago, a series of non-family chairmen and senior directors steered the company while the next generation developed their skills. The retail businesses were offloaded five years ago. Ross, an economist, became chairman two years ago, with Jonathan and Brett as joint managing directors. In March 2001, Ross branched out into other areas, so Jonathan became chairman while Brett remained md. The combination works well. "Brett is a details person and good at the nitty gritty," says Jonathan. "I'm more about building the power of the brand." Jonathan's sister, Jill Kippax, co-ordinates the company's community scheme and Derrick still pops in to see how things are going. Despite the smattering of relatives in the company hierarchy, Warburton is quick to point out that the right heritage is not enough to ensure longevity with the company. He emphasises the strength of performance of those in place now. "We couldn't attract good people if there were family passengers all over the place," he says. And having the right people is essential for the man who states that the key to success is "employing people who are better at the job than you are, but not telling them". The words may be flippant but the sentiment is genuine. Further expansion is planned but Warburton likes to put key people in place before opening new premises and the company's expansion is dictated less by money and more by having the right people available for key roles. "We like to put in people who know the Warburtons culture ­ at least at first," he says. Nevertheless, there is a family feel to the company. From the friendly receptionist to the general factotum, staff paint a rosy picture. It is not uncommon to find other families which have provided Warburtons with multi-generational service. A senior supervisor, for example, lays claim to 42 years' service with the company ­ but his father still tops that at 48 years. One plant manager says that people in Bolton would leave a better paying job to go and work there ­ such is the town's affection for Warburtons. Warburton himself is chuffed; internal PR matters as much to him as do external ones. "I would like good people to see Warburtons as a career destination. I would also like them to think, He sounds a decent bloke, I wouldn't mind working there'," he admits. The family culture spreads beyond the factory walls too. In every neighbourhood where it puts down roots, Warburtons carves out a community role for itself. Each plant or depot has a community budget with which to get involved in local activities and local staff are asked for suggestions and often become involved. Bolton is particularly well-blessed, with Warburtons funding, among other things, the Bolton Lads and Girls Club's after school clubs. The family theme runs through all aspects of Jonathan Warburton's life. His favourite relaxation is spending time with his wife and children ­ one aged 10, eight-year-old twins and a three-year-old (for the record, the others are golf, the gym and dinner with family and friends). And there is little doubt that family is also good for business. "Consumers believe a family will take more care," agrees Warburton. Being a family business has also given it the freedom to grow steadily. Warburton confesses that one of his worries is that the company will become too big, too slow and end up a "lumbering juggernaut". "Everything we do manifests itself in a loaf of bread," he says. "We need to make sure that growth is at a rate where we can deliver the quality. Grabbing business now might be tempting but the consumer's going to get something less fresh than we'd like if we deliver too far afield." The ultimate aim is nationwide distribution but for now products are available from Inverness to Basingstoke. They go out from nine depots across the north of England, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland and, apart from a few specialities, travel a maximum of 70 miles from their point of manufacture in insulated heated vans. Warburton relishes the independence and lack of pressure from shareholders. He can't remember the last serious bid for the company but says bidders never get far because it's clear that the family is committed to staying independent. It's a key issue for him. He says the most enjoyable aspect of his boarding school days was the independence he gained and reveals rueful parental pride in the fact that, on leaving for their own boarding school, one of his eight-year-old twin sons' last words were: "You won't ring us too often will you Dad?" He takes pride in the fact that the plants run perfectly efficiently without him, although he says he feels guilty that he doesn't get his hands dirty often enough. "I enjoy visiting all aspects of the business," he says. "But the bakeries don't really need me." The programme of gradual expansion from a solidly established base means the Warburtons brand is at different stages of development throughout the country. "That has to be managed carefully," says Warburton. "The hardest problems have been brand support and marketing key values." The brand's advertising campaign, Respect the bread', has led to a few anxious moments of a different kind. The tongue-in-cheek storyline encourages viewers not to waste Warburtons' bread on the ducks but to eat it themselves. A few animal lovers missed the irony and complained to the Advertising Standards Authority. Luckily for Warburtons, the adjudicators had a sense of humour and knew that bread should not be part of a duck's diet. The complaints were dismissed. The company doesn't make own label products. "We've always been able to keep our bakeries full with our brand," says Warburton. "And from a selfish point of view, making Warburtons brand more successful and bigger is of benefit to me. Own label means you give ideas away." And he has plenty of ideas to work on. Warburtons launched into the par-baked sector in May, and treats in August, and Warburton isn't ruling out further diversification into other baked goods areas. "We're still a challenger brand and that does keep you sharp," he says. Warburton says his only real worry is complacency. "You want to leave the business in an even better position than when you took it on, so, you have to keep asking the questions, Is it growing?', Is it profitable?' And there is still a lot to do. South of Swindon, it's still Warbur-who?" n {{FEATURES }}

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