Steering the family business forward: Interview with Emma Fox, CEO of Berry Bros & Rudd

 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2024, we are delighted to bring the next interview in our Family Business series featuring the excellent Emma Fox – Chief Executive of Berry Bros & Rudd.

Emma became CEO in 2020. One of the world’s most iconic wine and spirit merchants, it is also a great example of a female-led business – as Emma is supported at Board level by Chair Lizzy Rudd. A combination of strong leadership and strategic vision, which continues the business founded by a woman – Widow Bourne – in 1698.

Now CEO at BB&R, Emma’s path into the 326 year old business began as a non-executive director, before moving to the executive role. This route into one of the most iconic wine brands and highly celebrated family businesses is an interesting one and Emma has been very generous in sharing her insights, experiences (and wine tips) with us.

 


 

Emma, you spent three years as a non-executive at Berry Bros. & Rudd before taking on the chief executive role. How would you reflect on this transition?

A real benefit for me was that I was able to get to grips with the issues and challenges more quickly as I had a better understanding about the company. I’d been involved for three years as a non-executive director and helped with the evolution of the strategy with our Chair, Lizzy Rudd, the board and the executive team. I was already aware of the challenges the business faced at a macro level and also at a more micro level, which was very helpful as our industry, fine wine and spirits, is a specialist one and rather complicated. Quite often when a CEO takes up their post they have to spend months getting to know the business and absorb everything. But I had already had a good look ‘under the bonnet’, knew the executive team and was ready to go. That has been really helpful to make the transition smoother.

 

You have had an interesting national and international career in large plc retail organisations before you moved into the family business sector. Did you have any preconceptions about working for a family business?

I worked for Walmart for 14 years, which is the biggest family-owned business in the world. They operate in over 20 countries, have close to 2.2 million employees with a turnover of c$550 billion. However, the real glue which holds the business together is their values and the expectations of how every single colleague should look after their customers. The Walton family takes a very keen interest in the business. For example, I was privileged to chair the President’s Global Council of Women Leaders and Alice Walton, the daughter of founder Sam Walton, was the sponsor and became personally involved in the company’s D&I initiatives.

Berry Bros & Rudd, with a turnover of c£250 million, is a very different size, but the ethos and our ‘glue’ is entirely similar to those family-led values. We put a high level of importance on how we look after and support one another; how we keep the bar held high and do the right thing with purpose – for people, profit and the planet.

I also knew that unlike plc and private equity backed businesses where results are very much focused on a quarter by quarter basis, joining a family business would be about planning for the longer term and ostensibly, the next generation. Berry Bros & Rudd has had an illustrious history for 325 years and to have the opportunity to steward it for a period of time, is an honour and a big responsibility, and I am very proud to be a part of the journey.

 

Did any of these turn out to be misconceptions?

Coming from a huge organisation to a much smaller one, communication can be quite different. In Walmart, like most plcs, there is a clear framework for communication to drive real clarity across the business. I would say that is less typical in a family business, where often communication can be implicit rather than explicit. It can be a more ‘osmotic’ type of experience in a family business, in the pursuit of gaining knowledge and insights!

The other thing that maybe surprised me, rather than being a misconception, was the importance of emotional attachment in making decisions. In public organisations, there is a more singular focus and emphasis on return on investment and customer experience. In a family business, the decisions also include some intangibles, like a gut reaction to a suggestion or proposal, that doesn’t necessarily have a commercial perspective. You learn to work with that, understand it and seek it out.

 

Berry Bros & Rudd was founded by a woman and is now being led by two women – you as CEO and Lizzy Rudd as Chair. What does this mean for you, and what can we do to support more women leaders in the industry to make this combination less unusual?

I am very passionate about seeing and supporting female leaders, however I’m equally passionate to ensure that it should always be the best person for the job. I don’t believe in quotas, but what I do believe, is that to get the best people for the job, you’ve got to have a large enough diverse talent pool to start with.

In the retail world we spent a lot of time making sure that the talent pool is sufficiently diverse, by starting at the grassroots level, and then helping team members to work their way upwards, by providing the right training, development and opportunities.  We have to work really hard as an industry and through search executives to make sure that our potential leaders reflect a true cross section. A greater level of diversity in a team, will always result in a better outcome for the organisation and its wider stakeholders.

 

As the leader of Britain’s oldest and best wine merchant can you share your top wine tip for 2024?

 My top tip is to encourage wine enthusiasts to discover the Loire region of France. The wines are absolutely fabulous for a fraction of the price of other more well-known wine-producing areas, such as Burgundy and I encourage everyone to add a case to their cellar or a bottle to their basket!

 


Emma Fox – Biography

Emma is the Chief Executive of Berry Bros & Rudd, appointed in August 2020, having served on the BB&R board as an Independent Director since October 2017. Emma has had over 30 years of experience in the retail and hospitality sectors, both in the UK and North America. She started her career as a graduate trainee buyer with Bass PLC, where she gained her WSET Diploma and that opened up the wonderful world of wines and spirits to her.

She then spent 14 years working for Asda, part of the Walmart group, in a number of senior commercial positions across merchandising, logistics and brand management. During this time, Emma spent 2 years living with her family in Toronto, as CMO for Walmart Canada, where she brought a ruthless focus on the customer, to the business and drove their own label business to be the fastest growing in the country.

During Emma’s time with Walmart, she was an inaugural member of the Global President’s Council of Women Leaders, driving diversity and inclusion across the 28 markets in which Walmart operated. Emma then became the chair of the Council, reporting directly into Walmart’s Global President. Emma joined the executive team of Halfords, as Commercial Director in 2013, responsible for Buying, E-commerce, Far East sourcing and Marketing, delivering the turnaround strategy one year early.

Before joining BB&R, Emma was CEO of a Private Equity backed multi-site retailer in the UK for 3 years where she led a major turnaround and large financial restructuring. Emma has been a former Independent Director of Punch Taverns and is currently an Independent Director for City Pubs Group.

 


Family businesses are integral to UK society and economy and play an enormous role in so many different industries every day. The business model requires leadership that balances entrepreneurship with stewardship, risk-taking with longevity: not an easy combination. At the very core of that is the focus on the people and a genuine commitment to culture and values, which cannot be underestimated.

Our interview series ‘Steering the Family Business brings views from leaders across family business in the UK – family and non-family, executive and non executive. We hope it will encourage shared learning whilst increasing awareness of this vital part of our business fabric.

 


 

Saxton Bampfylde – Executive Search and Leadership Advisory for Family Businesses

For nearly 40 years Saxton Bampfylde has developed a particular niche in supporting organisations at key moments of growth and evolution. We have a well-established and longstanding experience in supporting family businesses through transition, leadership development, succession planning and in bringing on board new talent.

Find out more about our Family Owned Business Practice

 

Practice Contact

Kate Ludlow, Consultant

 

 

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