Google 'Mark Fairweather and Kingsmill' and you won't find one quote attributable to Allied Bakeries' elusive CEO.

"The press is not something I normally get involved with," admits the down-to-earth Yorkshireman. "It's not that I don't want to, it's because we are a fairly conservative business. I don't want to rock any boats and I previously haven't had much to say."

These days, however, there's plenty to shout about - in the year to 21 February, the brand's sales soared 24% to £339m and increased 4.8% in volume [IRI] - and in his first interview for five years, the amiable 46-year-old finally reveals how he pulled off the brand's transformation.

Proudly showing The Grocer around Kingsmill HQ in Maidenhead, he stops to greet everyone from white-coated bakers to suits with spreadsheets. Fairweather is clearly well liked and it's no surprise. The brand - by far the biggest in Associated British Foods' bakery division - has come a long way since 2007, when it was languishing in the shadows of its more established rivals, Hovis and Warburtons.

Fairweather, who by that point had been MD for a year (he was made CEO last year), realised drastic action was required.

In February 2007, he relaunched Kingsmill with reformulated recipes, updated packaging and a £10m advertising campaign. He also embarked upon a comprehensive overhaul of its manufacturing infrastructure, including logistics, supply chain and customer service.

"Internally, it was known as Project 180 as the objective was to turn around the way the business was running," he elaborates. "The relaunch was the re-engineering of the business, but the work that went on behind the scenes was significant and it was never going to happen quickly."

Improving the service to retail customers was Fairweather's first priority. "The 97.5% order fill success rate Kingsmill was achieving was okay, but the retailers were demanding higher efficiency," he admits.

ABF dug deep and invested significant sums in upgrading manufacturing capabilities and renewing equipment across Allied's 11 bakeries and seven depots. The company's key West Bromwich plant is set to receive a further £20m cash injection this year.

The order fill success rate now runs to a "world-class 99.7%", claims Fairweather. Technology upgrades have also enabled Kingsmill to improve the bread's quality - and increase the level of scrutiny paid to each product.

"For our Toastie loaf, we spent a long time understanding the measurements of the perfect depth of a slice," he says. "So when you toast, you get the slightly soft middle and crispier surface. We are now putting that level of detail into all of our products."

One of Fairweather's most important decisions was to decentralise ABF's network of bakeries. "When we relaunched, we took a big chunk of control away from central office and moved a lot of management into the bakeries," he says. "Our national commercial teams remain centrally based to look after the multiples, but each bakery has commercial managers who drive exceptional execution locally with the stores and corner shops."

Being closer to local retailers enabled Kingsmill to respond swiftly and react strategically to their individual sales requirements and availability issues. Fairweather gives the example of a seeded batch loaf that was delisted nationally, much to the ire of consumers in Scotland, where it was popular. "That wouldn't happen now," he claims. "Our Scottish team is demanding support for different levels of NPD, saying 'we do things differently here' and we can provide for that."

With the basics back in place, Fairweather is now free to get creative. His long-term goal is to cement Kingsmill as the definitive modern bread brand, which is why he's trying to boost its appeal with young families. "We haven't got the heritage we would like," he admits. "But the modernity gives us licence to do things that hit the heart of the family. If we are a modern brand, let's have a bit of fun. "

He cites the marketing tie-up with Wallace & Gromit last Christmas as a case in point. The chance of winning a Wallace & Gromit delivery van toaster rack really piqued consumers' interest. Months on, they are still calling the helpline in their hundreds, desperate to get hold of the toy, says Fairweather, lowering his voice as he walks past the customer careline team handling the calls. "I'm not too popular with that lot," he confides with a wry grin.

So how do the rest of his staff feel about his style of leadership? "I was expecting you to ask that," he grins. In a recent team meeting with his top 60 executives, Fairweather asked them in confidence to describe his management style. Positives include 'inspirational' and 'challenging to the status quo'. Under the 'needs improvement' column someone described him as 'trying to do too much at once'.

Not that the criticism bothers Fairweather. "Part of my job is to be unreasonable," he says defiantly. "I've always got to look for more from my staff."

Indeed, it is Fairweather's ability to do just this that has already revived the fortunes of the Kingsmill brand. Safe to say his name won't be slipping under Google's radar for much longer.
Name: Mark Fairweather

Age: 46

Job: CEO, Allied Bakery Foods

Background: Fairweather started life at ABF 23 years ago as head miller of the group's James Neill Allied Mill in Belfast. He became Allied Mills' operations director in 1998 and director of the Allied Technical Centre in 2000. He exited milling to be MD of Allied Bakeries in 2006 - which incurred the leading role at Kingsmill - and was made CEO in 2008.

Hobbies: Climbing mountains: "It's a reality check - there's more to life than work!" Playing on the same rugby team as his teenage son. Tearing up racetracks on his Yamaha Supersport bike. And... watching shoppers in the supermarket bread aisle.

Biggest influence: "My father. He taught me a strong work ethic, respect for other people and that you're only as good as your word. The day I lose these values is the day I lose credibility."