Born and Bred: Jonathan Warburton on Running a Family Business

Posted on the 12 March 2019

Born and Bred: Jonathan Warburton on Running a Family Business

Jonathan Warburton, chairman of market-leading bakery brand Warburtons, and one of the UK’s most recognised business leaders, paid a visit to the North East to share his business advice with the region’s entrepreneurs.

At a member event organised by the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, Jonathan gave over 75 business leaders an overview of the history of the bakery, its achievements, its future plans, and the lessons Jonathan has learned since becoming chair of the company in 2001.

As the fifth generation to lead the family business, Jonathan has overseen the company’s transition from a northern bakery to a household name brand, with growth of over 60%, turnover rising above £500m and the number of bakery and distribution sites growing by more than 40%.

In an honest and insightful talk, Jonathan acknowledged that focusing on ‘what you do best’ has given the family bakery its competitive advantage and advised North East entrepreneurs that in order to succeed, they should stick to their strengths, “I would encourage people to be incredibly focused in a simple manner on their opposition.

“We’re all led to believe that you need to be a master of everything. I’m quite the opposite: you have to manage your weaknesses and dial up your strengths. Just be world-class at doing what you know best.”

For Warburtons, this means using the highest-quality ingredients and investing in its infrastructure to deliver the freshest products across the country. The bakery’s continued commitment to quality has led them to being recognised as Britain's favourite bakery brand and the largest family-owned bakery business in England.

But for Jonathan, it’s the people who make the bakery a success. Named as One of the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For, Warburtons now employs around 4,500 people across 12 bakeries and 14 depots across the UK.

At the heart of the company is its founding family values and, while Jonathan says his son would rather have a head office in London, he insists that the values and culture of the bakery should remain in Bolton.

“You’ve got to remember where you’ve come from. There’s a lot to be said for the grounding a town like Bolton gives you and I think it’s really important to understand the culture of where you operate, whether that’s a depot in Aberdeen, a bakery in Newburn, or a head office in Bolton.”

Reflecting on the lessons he’s learned throughout his career, Jonathan offered a final piece of advice for North East entrepreneurs, “Surround yourself with people who are better than you, but be absolutely brilliant at something, better than anybody else you know. Spend all your time and energy on a uniqueness that gives you a lot of pride rather than pretending to be something you’re not.”

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