So Nik, how did the journey begin?
My parents started the business when I was 5 years old so I grew up working at Authentic throughout my holidays whether it was on the shop floor or out on the road with the sales team. My parents always wanted me to work the majority of the summer holidays and get exposure to the business which at the time wasn’t fun but looking back I was learning all the time. After graduating from The University of Leeds (German and Management) in 2002 I went travelling for 7 months and started in the business in March 2003 full time when we had a turnover of £11m.
Can you pinpoint a time in your career which was a particular highlight for you?
After taking over the leadership role in 2007 and then buying out my father in 2009 we had some good years of growth. I started to realise that we were running out of capacity and needed to either buy a competitor or build a new site. I was acutely aware that that kind of jump in terms of scale and investment was the riskiest period for a business like ours so we had to get the right deal. I had engaged a number of businesses but nothing seemed to be the right fit for us for various reasons. Eventually, after a 10 month deal process, we managed to buy Heinz’ frozen ready meal facility in Ireland which is the biggest of its kind in Europe. Along with the (€60m) facility we won a contract to co-pack the Weight Watchers range on an ongoing basis for them which is going really well. The deal gave us capacity, capability, a skilled work force of 200 more colleagues and industry leading efficiency which has fast tracked our business plans. After a long, hard negotiation process with lots of highs and lows, finally walking into our new facility under our ownership was undoubtedly a career highlight for me. That day was also the first time my Mum had seen the site after starting the business with £5000 in 1985 so it was a pretty proud day for both of us!
What are the 3 most important aspects of running a successful manufacturer like The Authentic Food Company?
For us at Authentic we always talk about three things: Great people, great products and great partners. You can look at the business in different ways but for me without those three things being the best that they can be you might as well not bother. It’s also important to stress that great partner’s means suppliers as well as customers. When I took over the business we were great with customers but not so great with our suppliers. We now have a very good Supplier Performance Management system so we can explain to them what excellence looks like and we can keep track of which ones are supporting our plans the best and we reward them on that.
Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
Earlier in my career I made lots of mistakes and I have been very fortunate to learn a lot of things on the job. One thing was that I used to think hiring people from big companies was a good thing but I have learned that cultural fit and ambition is more important than competency or prior experience. You can teach competency to bright, ambitious people but if people don’t fit culturally your have no chance and it can damage the dynamics of a potentially great team.
If you weren’t so successful in this sector, would you have worked in a different industry?
Anything that I love apart from food – if you do something you love you live to work rather than work to live.
What is next to come for The Authentic Food Company?
Even though we now turn over £90m I come to work every day feeling like we are still at the very beginning of a really exciting journey. Across all departments we have excellent, talented people and that excites me. We have a core business strategy to keep growing across the sectors we currently operate in but we also have other plans to access new markets and sectors where we think we can add value. For me with the best team and culture you can deliver anything but you also have to maintain focus so you don’t become inefficient chasing ideas that won’t work.
What do you do to unwind outside of work?
I love work and I think about it most of the time but it’s important to have down time. I travel as much as I can to get inspiration and relax when I can. I am obviously a huge foodie and also love to ski when I can.
Finally, Nik if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur what would it be?
One piece of advice is a challenge! Figure out as early as you can what you want to do in life and make sure it’s something you enjoy. Once you are happy with your career choice you can focus all your time and efforts on being the best at whatever that is. You don’t get anything without hard work and dedication so if you can figure out what you want to do in life early you have a better chance of success in the long run.