A high flyer..naturally Aviator, thinker, and Sam Walton fan Edwin Booth outlines his philosophy to Belinda Gannaway EH Booth's chairman Edwin Booth may enjoy spending his spare time in the clouds flying small planes, but he is, he says, quite an "earthy person". Booth is also, it transpires, something of a thinker. He missed out on university having been shoehorned into the family business at the age of 18, but Booth lives up to his school nickname, Socrates. And he adopts a cerebral approach to his 24 store upmarket supermarket chain. "The family and directors have a huge amount of power available to them under the throttle," he says. "The way in which that throttle is applied has to be with great thought and delicacy." With 153 years of family history to nurture in an ever more cut-throat retail environment, Booth has every reason to be thoughtful. But he does so with much good humour. For Booth, the business is not just about power and money. EH Booth prides itself on its mutual status and approach to the wider community of suppliers. Last year it won a regional commendation from the Soil Association, and the business's commitment to organics is more than corporate bandwagon jumping. Booth says: "We're also very, very keen on the whole food miles debate. Working with local suppliers is one of the planks on which we market the business." This plank was in existence long before this approach became trendy. Supplier rationalising is not part of the gameplan. For Booth, running a supermarket business is part of a broader vision. "From a philosophical standpoint, I try and relate everything to the whole. To the planet, the environment and so on. Au naturel my wife describes me as." Further ponderings on power, life and the universe ­ and bodily smells ­ do leave one enthralled if not a little bemused. And all this from a man who admits from his Preston office that his hero is none other than Wal-Mart's Sam Walton. He proudly produces a copy of Walton's biography alongside some recent editions of the Harvard Business Review ­ "I'm an avid reader and something of an anorak in swotting up on other people's businesses," he says. "It may come as some surprise, but I've used the Walton book as a manual in terms of how I've appraised and promoted the changes in this business." At 44, Booth is a keen advocate and example of lifelong learning. His acquisition of a pilot's licence has given him more than an alternative form of transport to meetings around the country ­ he already often cycles the seven miles to and from the office. Flying, he believes, has many parallels to running a business. "Inefficiencies create the same sort of problems on an aircraft as they do in business, either in the way you're flying the aircraft or its design. "On a plane you make your journey from A to B, you make it on time, using the correct amount of fuel, without getting in other people's way. All that's analogous to running a business." When Booth, one of three members of the fifth generation now managing the business, took over as chairman from his father in 1998, there were a number of areas he wanted to address. Booth joined the business in the warehouse having failed his driving licence. He moved into stores after some months' hard graft.Working his way through the different categories, he came to specialise in his much adored wines and spirits department. Under his influence, the company has won numerous awards and has recently launched an online service, everywine.co.uk. While he learnt much in his ­ somewhat unstructured ­ progress through the business, taking the company into the Nisa voluntary buying group in order to secure a sugar deal brought a whole new education. He still chairs Nisa-Today's audit committee. "That relationship was very important to me. Not going to university, I was taken out of one cloistered environment and put in another. I ended up in a family business which at the time was not so much inward looking as backward ­ though with some justification. We were cited as the Waitrose of the north and everyone cut a swathe to our door because we were good. "I soon realised that while there was tremendous pride in what we'd achieved, that wasn't going to drive us forward." Moving up to director level at 28 ­ "not on merit but because it was the seemly thing to do" ­ Booth was expected to "make things happen" and began work to bring more consistency to the store portfolio. "At that time we were a wholesaler serving retail satellites with 20 different interpretations of how the business ran." And he challenged ingrained suspicions that head office was an expense, not a benefit. "Head office was under resourced. I believed we weren't spending enough at the centre and that if we did we could make more impact with a more coordinated approach leading to better sales." Booth needed a more dynamic and flexible management infrastructure to bring in more radical changes but had to wait until his father handed over the controls before he could really begin to steer his own course. That was a taxing time for a man who, self confessedly, can be rather impatient and brusque ­ "the arrogance of youth I imagine". Once in situ, Booth created a multidisciplinary operations board for the first time and began to bring other talented, non family executives into the business. And he is committed to ensuring the same professional approach applies when it comes to the next generation entering the business. Booth and his wife Anne ­ who had her own deli business in Knutsford which competed quite happily with one of the larger Booth's stores, providing "something of a conversation point when we met" ­ have two children. Working for his father had been both a very "strange and at times a strained relationship", Booth says, and he wants to formalise the future working arrangements as far as possible. He had a great deal of respect for his father John, who died earlier in the year, and never once raised the issue of succession with him. But they were very different people; John more quiet and gentle and Edwin more talkative and impatient. Now under the founder's namesake, the company's culture is changing. "The way we lead is very different from the old days. We're not out there on the white charger any more. We're in line with the troops and take the hits together. People know each other better and are able to work with each other better." The change in style ­ Booth likes a consultative approach ­ is paying off with sales up 11.3% in the year to date and new ventures such as everywine.co.uk plus a home delivery trial. And while there are no strategic plans ­ "we have to throw a lot of balls in the air to seek planning consent and land just a few" ­ there are aspirations to reinvest to grow organically through new stores. But there are limits to the growth Booth anticipates, and he wants to optimise the Preston distribution point rather than build anymore. He believes he can service up to another 20 or 25 stores up to 90 to 100 miles from Preston. "As far as my aspirations are concerned, they don't go beyond that. I don't have to have a £1bn business before I retire. All I have said, rather quaintly, is that I would like to see the turnover double within 10 years. I think we probably will achieved that." When Edwin Booth established his business in the market square in Preston in 1847, competition was tough. He had to give away teapots to win customers. Booth may not be giving away teapots today, but he is convinced the stores' USP will continue to win him custom. "There is a preoccupation with the quality of the food, and the way in which we convey it. The founder said: I want to run stores stocked with the best food money can buy and served by the best assistants.' That's a simple mission statement and the same as it is today." {{PROFILE }}