‘Be­ing dif­fer­ent was our route for­ward’

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - News -

Wine­maker Chapel Down has built a busi­ness on do­ing things dif­fer­ently.

Three years ago it paid for land to plant new vine­yards across Kent with the pro­ceeds of a then world-record £4m crowd­fund­ing cam­paign, the first ever un­der­taken by a quoted com­pany.

Last year, it was at it again, rais­ing £1.7m through an­other crowd­fund­ing bid, this time to build a new brew­ery in Ashford for its Cu­ri­ous Brew lager brand.

At­tract­ing an army of new in­vestors – and fans of its sparkling tip­ple – has seen the Ten­ter­den com­pany’s share price nearly tre­ble to 91.5p since March last year.

Its chief ex­ec­u­tive, Frazer Thomp­son, be­lieves this is not just about its fun­da­men­tally tasty wine but about set­ting it­self apart from other wine­mak­ers in the UK, by do­ing things like mak­ing beer as well.

“Brexit is com­ing up and if you don’t have a plan B you’re mad,” he said.

“When ev­ery­one was strug­gling to meet de­mand for Eng- lish wine we put our en­ergy into cre­at­ing beer. I al­ways be­lieve the fu­ture is about try­ing to do things which other peo­ple can’t.

“We will never be the cheap­est and you can only be the best for a short time. Be­ing dif­fer­ent was our route for­ward.”

Mr Thomp­son be­gan his ca­reer at Whit­bread, the UK’s largest hospi­tal­ity com­pany,

What is the key to good lead­er­ship? “A great team is about trust. A lot of CEOs check that peo­ple are do­ing what they are sup­posed to be. That is wrong. Great lead­ers lead by ex­am­ple and not by telling peo­ple what to do. You must listen to your team and do all you can to help them do what they need to do. Then let them do it.”

Should small and medi­um­sized busi­nesses be con­cerned about changes ahead from Brexit? “The world is chang­ing and big com­pa­nies are the slow­est which owns Costa Cof­fee, Pre­mier Inn and Beefeater Grill.

He led a team to ac­quire and in­te­grate the Bod­ding­tons brand into the com­pany, aged 29, and be­came a direc­tor at the busi­ness be­fore a move to Heineken in 1995.

He said: “The strong­est part of Whit­bread was not its sales and mar­ket­ing or fi­nance but its HR to re­act. This is our time and times are chang­ing. Big com­pa­nies are noth­ing to be afraid of. Con­sumers are on your side and should fol­low you with the same de­gree of pas­sion you have.”

How can com­pa­nies at­tract en­thu­si­as­tic in­vestors? “Not all money is the same. One of our early in­vestors was Nigel Wray, who is one of our non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors. He in­vested in 2004 and hasn’t taken a penny out of the busi­ness. In­vestors are dif­fer­ent from spec­u­la­tors. Peo­ple who want to take shares and sell depart­ment. It was an in­cred­i­bly hard com­pany to join, the qual­ity of peo­ple was in­cred­i­bly high and they cared about ev­ery­one when they got there.”

At Heineken, he said they were world class pro­tec­tors of their brand.

“They were ob­sessed with how it looked, how it was po­si­tioned, how it was dis­cussed and how them are spec­u­la­tors. Peo­ple who want to hold on to them are in­vestors. Nigel in­vests in peo­ple first, then looks at the prod­ucts and then looks at the num­bers.”

How do you at­tract good staff? “We em­ploy some very smart peo­ple from out­side the com­pany. We hired a new manag­ing direc­tor last year, who said he had learned more in 18 months here than he did in 20 years at his old em­ployer. Our aim is to go to bed a lit­tle bit less stupid than when we woke.” it was sold,” he said. “My life was about rules and guide­lines, re­search­ing ev­ery­thing to death and ig­nor­ing my in­stincts.”

He joined Chapel Down in 2001 af­ter see­ing an ad­vert for the manag­ing direc­tor’s job in his Sun­day pa­per, not long af­ter he had tried it in a bar with a friend. His wife re­minded him that he had thought the wine was good, adding “you think you’re good at mar­ket­ing and you said the bot­tle was rub­bish”.

He was of­fered the job once he re­as­sured the com­pany that the salary was not the rea­son he was join­ing. It was a third of what he was then earn­ing.

“If salary is the only rea­son peo­ple want to do some­thing I don’t want to be around them,” he said.

Tak­ing the com­pany into the beer mar­ket has also lim­ited dam­age from bad har­vests in years of poor weather.

How­ever bad har­vests have not al­ways been a bad thing. A short­age of stock meant the com­pany had to put its prices up in Mr Thomp­son’s early years with the firm, at about the same time it won its first in­ter­na­tional gold medal.

Shortly af­ter­wards he was sell­ing three times the vol­ume at three times the price. He said: “The best thing I ever did was putting the prices up. The higher price gave peo­ple more con­fi­dence in our prod­uct.”

Chapel Down chief ex­ec­u­tive Frazer Thomp­son

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