How every business can learn a lot from the example of Bettys boss Lesley Wild - Mark Casci

Lesley Wild in the Bettys Cookery School
Lesley Wild in the Bettys Cookery School
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As a new decade gets underway we bear witness in Yorkshire to the end of a genuinely historic era for one of our best-loved family businesses.

Yesterday afternoon we broke exclusively the story that Lesley Wild is to step down as chair of Bettys & Taylors after a 41-year career with the firm.
Ms Wild’s tenure at the firm has been unquestionably unique in the sense that it is one which has seen the company become a global brand whilst staying rigidly loyal to the ethos and culture created by founder Frederick Belmont in 1919.

Outside the Harrogate tea room

Outside the Harrogate tea room

A trained lawyer who attended art college and has a life-long love of cooking equipped Ms Wild with a unique set of skills and expertise which made her a natural when it came to working in the much-loved tearoom and food retailer.

From the appearance of the tearooms and the design of the packaging to a massive increase in the company’s financials her time with the business has been an unqualified success.

However, the success of Betty’s & Taylors has been beyond the balance sheet.

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True, during her 10 years in the role of chair alone turnover has increased from £88m to £227m, its tea rooms welcome more than two million people through the doors each year and the firm’s headcount is now more than 1,500 people.

In the boardroom

In the boardroom

The greater achievement of Bettys however is both pledging and delivering on the philosophy of delivering achievement in the right way.

The firm’s innovative collaborative management model and focus on customer experience have worked to elite level.

Perhaps most important of all is its genuine commitment to putting its staff at the heart of the business at every level. Many firms say they do this but Bettys & Taylors actually does.

There’s a great lesson to be learned for all business leaders, not just those at the head of family-run firms, about the Bettys’ approach. Exponential growth is not part of the firm’s mission statement. Indeed it is precisely not the aspiration of its shareholders who see the true value of the firm and know that a constant clamour for ‘more, more, more’ seldom ends in anything other than tears.

Rather Bettys has kept pace with the realities of modern business while keeping its feet on the very ground at which Frederick started the firm, growing at a responsible rate by doing what it does to the best of its abilities.

It is fair to say that Lesley Wild has been more responsible for this winning recipe than anyone.

One of her first acts alongside her husband Jonathan was to restore Bettys to being the Swiss tearoom it was always meant to be. On her watch the firm has opened a cookery school, published cook books, been mentioned on smash hit television series and become a major player in the black tea market.

Speaking to me yesterday in the boardroom above the Harrogate tearooms, Ms Wild was her usual self-effacing self.

Our interview took place in the very room where she, her husband Jonathan, and her uncle Victor agreed that she should enter the business, more than four decades ago.

It has been for her, to use her own words, “my life’s work and joy” to work for the company but at every step she was at pains to point out that the firm’s success had been a team effort.

Bettys today is absolutely what it was a century ago; a fantastic treat to suit all ages.

I can still remember my mum and dad taking me to the York branch as a young man.

Today, my eldest daughter is imbued with the same heady brew of emotions whenever my wife and I take her to visit. She knows, as I did as a child, that it is something special.

As Lesley sets off to enjoy a well-earned retirement, I and the rest of Yorkshire give all our best wishes to Clare Morrow who will take the captain’s wheel from March following the AGM.

While she undoubtedly has some enormous shoes to fill I am sure her five years on the board during such a successful time for the business will help her protect the impressive legacy that Lesley and the whole Belmont family have created.

Here’s to the next 100 years.