Why a family business is still Bettys and Taylors’ cup of tea

THE retired head of iconic Yorkshire firm Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate insists the company will retain its family values after appointing the first non-family chief executive in its 92-year history.

Jonathan Wild, who has bowed out of the company after more than 35 years, has handed over the day-to-day control of the business to Andrew Baker, former chief executive of Duchy Originals, the organic food business founded by the Prince of Wales.

Mr Wild’s wife, Lesley, will continue as chairman of the company, which was founded in 1919 by Mr Wild’s great uncle, Swiss confectioner Frederick Belmont.

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Mr Wild said: “I’m going from an active role as a chief executive to a passive role as part of the owning family. But that family has to set the values and say ‘This is what we stand for and this is where we want to live it and lead it’. If that doesn’t come from the family, then you’re not a family business any more.”

Mr Baker was appointed following a year-long search.

“Anybody coming in was not going to be the owner-manager in the way that I’d been, so it was very different. Actually working out what that meant took a long time, and we took a lot of advice from other family businesses who had gone through the same thing,” Mr Wild said.

Mr and Mrs Wild have two children. Their daughter, Chloe, 29, works in market research for the film industry, and their son, Daniel, 27, is a freelance graphic designer and a DJ. Although they both sit on the family’s owners’ group, neither has shown any indication of joining the family business yet.

Mr Wild, 58, said: “Both our children are very creative. What we want for our children is the freedom to make the right choices. They commit a lot of time to working together on what it’s going to be like for their generation, whether or not any of them are working in the business; what it actually means to be stewards for their generation of an iconic family business, which is a huge responsibility.”

Mr Wild believes it will be easy to step back in his retirement and let someone else take control. “I think I’m prepared for it now,” he said. “I feel I’ve made the contribution that I can make in my generation, and I stand judged by the people around me and the way they take the business forward.”

The well-deserved break comes after he stamped his mark on the company and grew it to a £103m business with 1,246 members of staff. Taylors of Harrogate now produces about 10 per cent of the UK’s tea, making 30,000 tea bags every minute over a 16-hour day from its factory at the firm’s Plumpton Park headquarters, in Harrogate.

There are currently six Bettys tearooms – two in Harrogate, two in York, Northallerton and Ilkley – despite requests to expand outside the region and as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada.

“We’ve always been careful about not franchising Bettys,” said Mr Wild. “We’ve resisted that because we feel very grounded in Yorkshire.”

Mr Wild said a turning point for the business came when he bought a tea chest in the last London Tea Auction in 1998, which now sits in the company’s boardroom.

“It was worth about £120 and I paid £18,000 for it,” he said. “In buying that tea chest and spending an extravagant £18,000 more than I needed to, I realised that we had an important future in the tea trade and were big enough to stand up for what was important to us in terms of ethical and environmental trading.”

Environmental projects have formed a core part of the company’s work ethic over the years, planting three million trees and launching the Yorkshire Rainforest Project, a pledge to save an area the size of Yorkshire from destruction. It also runs The Cone Exchange, a community recycling project.

Bettys is often perceived as a traditional business but Mr Wild winces at the description. “I like to think that when people come to Bettys or buy a packet of Yorkshire tea, they’re not thinking ‘this is traditional’, they’re sensing there is hope for this world because those values they thought were dead are here,” he said.

Welcome to the business...

Jonathan Wild joined Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate in 1975. However, his first customer walked out on him. “I was trained in half a day at Bettys York,” he said. “At 2pm, they gave me my own station and said ‘There’s a customer over there.’ I went up to him and said: ‘Good afternoon, sir, can I take your order?’ He looked at me and said: ‘No, I’m not going to do that,’ and walked out. I later discovered they’d set me up. The customer had just paid his bill and he was about to leave.”