At the launch of the inaugural Berwick Partners Emerging Leaders Programme, on Tuesday 29th January, Anthony Fletcher spoke about his experiences and learnings as CEO of Graze. A great deal was covered but the core themes are noted here.
A lot can be read about Anthony’s scientific and academic background; how he introduced himself to this new business having received a cardboard box of snacks in the post; and the bumpy road to success. In this session, though, Anthony provided a real insight into what helped him ‘lead’. The entertaining, astute, informal and honest session was hugely informative, but the themes below resonated.
Staying true to the cause and doing the right thing
As Anthony looked to grow the business by offering more products, he found a dilution from the core purpose of the business. He realised that the customer now had the choice of many tasty snacks but not all were healthy, which is what had attracted the customer in the first instance. Bringing the business back to its roots and true cause clarified the message and offering to the market. A sense of honesty and purpose was also restored within the business and the unifying theme kept the team true and focused.
Paying more attention to the ethics of the brand and products was to have a fundamental impact on supply chain and costs. Anthony prepared himself for challenges from the CFO when making plans to move to a non-sugar based sweetener, a more expensive alternative. However, even those focused on the ‘bottom line’ were won over by the “call to the cause”, recognising that the sense of identity and honesty would pay dividends in the long term.
Sticking so rigidly to health snacks shut down some of the easier routes to growth. This forced Anthony and his team to be creative and scientific. Some of the most popular snacks, and exciting ones still to be launched, have been as a result of the team having to take the more difficult and challenging route - pushing the team to perform and innovate whilst staying true to the cause.
Being well informed and prepared
By self-admission, Anthony is a data junkie. The Graze business is constantly fed by a huge amount of data that informs discussions and backs decisions. Being armed with the appropriate and current facts and figures gives Anthony an absolute platform from which to discuss issues with the team, and identify opportunities in the market. The frank and honest figures also mean that everyone in the business knows everything – there is nowhere to hide.
Using external resource to “sense check” the journey so far has been helpful to Anthony. Asking outsiders to ‘look in’ provides useful perspective and absolute objectivity. Similar to analysing data, asking others to review, comment and advise reveals the reality that has to be faced.
The growth of Graze probably could have been quicker but, sensibly in hindsight, it was decided that organisational design should be a priority. This period of ‘check’ and preparation allowed for greater growth in a more controlled and measured way.
Anthony was also quick to mention the importance of preparation for the more day-to-day work. Just turning up to management and board meetings, for example, is not good enough. He diligently prepares with clear agendas and specific matters to be discussed and decided upon. This sets the tone amongst the team, and means that meetings are productive and effective instead of just a recurring event in the diary.
Having courage, commitment and agility
Anthony took a brave step in 2009, knocking on the door of Graze. Arguably, it was also a brave move for an internet-based business, selling healthy snacks, to take on a Chemistry graduate from Oxford University when he came knocking. To move forward, risks do have to be taken; however, Anthony pointed out there is courage in not taking the risks as well. “Fail fast” is something that Anthony stresses – a project having taken up significant time and resource is not a reason for it to continue. At Graze, staff from across the business are given three week projects dedicated to innovation, and these projects are either terminated or taken to delivery stage from that point.
Anthony spoke with modest pride of his run-in with a business owner on the West Coast of the US, whose business was the market leader in a similar product to Graze. The individual pointed out some absolute obstacles to Graze’s international growth, and how they would never get to the scale that his business had managed. Well…they have, and Graze successfully launched in the US in 2015. Not accepting the status quo is important to realising potential.
The scientific approach mentioned earlier created the compelling healthy products, and the variety of trialled snacks has only been possible because Graze has its own production facility. Anthony told us of the significant commitment in investment that such a facility costs; however, it is one that allows for a 24 hour turn-around on new products, and real agility.
In 2014, Graze moved into the bricks and mortar retail market – a risk when the business was based on subscriptions on the internet. Anthony credits the success of this to “lucky timing”, as the Government was looking to restrict sugary snacks at tills. However, from his tone, you guessed that this was an educated risk based on research and that by taking a risk, ‘you make your own luck’.
This courage of convictions should not be interpreted as any form of arrogance, however. Anthony told of how egos stifle business and there is no room for them at Graze.
A hugely enjoyable and insightful talk by Anthony with many ‘take homes’ for both ELP participants and mentors. We thank him for his time and candour.