Hailing from Liverpool, Stein says his interest in the food industry was sparked by his experiences as a student. "During my formative years I spent a fair bit of time in some of the big plants in Liverpool, working on the factory floor, and my interest was in the interaction of the people working there. I was fascinated by how distant the shop floor had become from management." It was a time when unions ruled the roost and industrial relations were appalling, he says. "If people were on their break when things arrived there was no-one there to unload the goods and in some cases that meant chilled products ended up being devalued. It was very inefficient." The experiences had a profound effect on him and he became determined to work hard to ensure the best possible industrial relations in his future career. His interest in sport also came in handy. "I would organise football matches and cricket matches and join in. I wanted to build a rapport with the people I worked with and do things to get closer to my staff to build up trust and get across that I was more trustworthy than the shop steward." Although, at the age of 53, Stein maintains he's retired from the sporting life, he still appears trim and athletic and instead of taking part he now encourages his managers to organise their own events in a bid to maintain that closeness with their staff. Stein began his career proper working for meat processor Bowyers in Wiltshire, although his plan was to move back closer to home. "I was hoping to work in Liverpool as they had a factory there, but after an interview I was sent to their head office in Trowbridge and offered a job as a trainee manager. "My logic at the time was to try to get a transfer back to Liverpool. However, they put me in Wiltshire and I decided it was a nice place to live and work and I ended up staying for 12 years." In fact Stein, who now lives near Nottingham, has yet to work and live in his home town and although he still visits family there on a regular basis, doubts he'll move back. "I like Liverpool and I like the Liverpool people. But at the same time I've settled in Nottinghamshire and it's a lovely part of the world." Despite this, after 30 years away, he maintains a Liverpudlian accent, albeit somewhat diminished with time. Community certainly seems to be important to him, and he's actively involved in both his home community in Nottingham and also in the Leicester scene, where Samworth Brothers is based, and says that he wants to put something back. This stability is reflected in the fact that he has worked for only three companies during 30 years in the business, although he maintains it was more to do with the fact he kept getting promoted. Stein worked his way up at Bowyers until he was factory manager of the company's Trowbridge site. However, after 12 years, he was starting to feel a growing sense of frustration. "I began to recognise that there were opportunities that Bowyers were missing and they seemed to be stuck in the past." At the same time he was attending a course, and part of his studies was to compare two businesses. "I started comparing Bowyers with Pork Farms which was effectively comparing Unigate, which was the parent company at that time, to Northern Foods, and the more I looked at the comparisons between Bowyers and Pork Farms, the more attracted I became to the culture Pork Farms was developing." Stein eventually applied for a job with Northern Foods and became general manager. Again he stayed with the company for 12 years before becoming disillusioned again: "What had attracted me to the company was an incredible entrepreneurial flair, and at the end of those 12 years it was beginning to die and I would argue that it was the structure they were putting in place that was the cause." Stein says this realisation caused him a great deal of heartache, but fortunately he soon found a company that met his expectations ­ Samworth Bros ­ and has remained there for the past eight years. The company, privately owned by David Samworth, is famed for both its pork pies and Ginsters pastie range, however it has more recently branched out into sandwiches and salads and provides own label ready meals to Tesco. Moving into a family firm after working for plcs was something of a jolt, although he says he has yet to find a more demanding shareholder than David Samworth. He also acknowledges that he's paving the way for a future generation. "I'm something of a stop-gap between David and his son, Mark, although he's always said that he'll only have family running the business if they're competent, so it's partly my job to ensure Mark is well trained." Stein points to the company's structure, describing head office operations as "lean and mean", a fact reflected by the functional office surroundings. "Each of our sites is autonomous and they're run almost as if they are separate businesses. The culture we're trying to get in the business as it gets bigger is the culture of small, entrepreneurial businesses staying close to the market and their customers." And the company is certainly getting bigger. Since joining, Stein has watched the business double from sales of £150m a year to £330m. He adds that even in the slower areas, such as the sausage, ham and pork pie markets, the company is obtaining growth of between 10% and 20%. He again puts this down to the entrepreneurial flair of his organisation and the fact it's managed to avoid losing control despite the exponential growth. "We make sure our businesses don't get too big. Once we feel that is happening we stop putting extensions on and build a new business." Given his interest in staff and industrial relations, culture and staff motivation are obviously close to his heart and he is keen to point out that the organic growth of the business has allowed him to develop an open and friendly culture from scratch. "We encourage people to feel ownership for the company and commitment and we try very hard to communicate all the time­ I'd rather over-communicate." Staff are regularly asked to take part in surveys to gauge their opinions, actively encouraging them to share their views on the company. "We compare those results with other companies and our score is often higher." Perhaps most telling, he says, is that almost 85% of the survey forms are returned. One thing that does concern Stein, however, is the behaviour of the retailers when it comes to on-line auctions, which he describes as frightening. He says that own-label production requires massive investment and if retailers are then going to turn round and put that business up for auction, then manufacturers may not bother investing. "It's irresponsible," he says angrily. "Manufacturers might start to think, I'm not going to invest if your loyalty to me is such that next week you'll e-auction that business'. I think retailers are being very, very short sighted, and that's a scary scenario." But perhaps one of his biggest battles for the future will be to steer his younger daughter away from the food industry ­ otherwise all three of his children will be involved. "Two already work in the industry and my wife wanted them to be scientists. My youngest is studying physics but I've no idea what she'll end up doing yet." Stein is a pretty contented chap, pointing out he's managed to achieve most of the ambitions and goals he set himself, and now has only one remaining. "My ambition would be to ensure I retire gracefully," he says, with a slight smile, "because unfortunately the one thing I've seen in this industry is that there are very few chief execs who do." And there's one final thing he's keen to emphasise: "I don't dream of pork pies." n {{PROFILE }}