My name is Edward Baker, I am 44 years old and I currently live with my wife and three children in Oxfordshire. I left Stamford school in 1990 having spent 3 years in Southfields as a border and then a further 3 enjoyable years in Byard house.
Due to the expected poor performance of GCSE results, moving onto A levels was not really an option unlike my two brother before me, so when one road closes, another tends to open and I left Stamford with an enormous amount of gratitude but knowing that to succeed in what I eventually wanted to do would mean effectively starting and making my way up the ladder. I had always dreamed of owning my own business.
Having gained experience of farming over the years near my family home, I spent a year at agricultural college before moving to Cambridge to work for a wine company in order to gain experience in the retail sector as well as engage in student life. Having developed a keen interest in wine I moved to Henley-on-Thames, selling wines throughout the Thames Valley to trade customers for a small entrepreneurial company called Woods Wines who also owned a small food wholesale business. I spent four years selling wine for this particular company and during that time it became very apparent that the wine trade (for me) had its limitations, it was a luxury product, wine companies were consolidating to create larger entities with greater buying power and the market place was extremely competitive and difficult for small wholesalers. On the flip side to this, the company I worked for had a small food business, supplying all sorts of ingredients to the sandwich industry and more. I thought this had a huge amount of potential, everyone has to eat right? This was not top end food, just good quality products delivered to the customer’s everyday on time with a good service.
In late 1998 I left my employment with Woods Wines to set up my first business. Due to my loyalty and friendship with my friends at Woods Wines (still to this very day), I had agreed to move out of the area so not to impinge on their territory.
Hampshire Fine Foods was created in early 1999, and after purchasing a second hand refrigerated van and renting coldstore space I was off and running my own business, keen to put into practice what I had learnt over the years from my previous employers.
Over the course of three years I had developed a small but stable business, running three vans supplying ingredients to the sandwich industry and pub trade on the south coast of England. The business turned over £2M and looking back now, it had been a great learning curve with many mistakes made along the way. The biggest being cash flow and cash management. With the help of a supportive bank the business continued to grow.
In 2002 I decided to sell my business to another company called Atlantic Foods and took a shareholding in the business. Due to the synergies of our product range and the opportunities to have access to larger national ‘Food Service’ customers the business grew relatively quickly whilst maintaining a respectable level of profitability.
In 2006 my business partner decided he no longer wanted to work in the business and was keen to realise the value of the business. I was of the opinion the business had a bigger future, so with a colleague whom I was introduced to over a lunch some months earlier with a view to joining the business we were introduced to the world of Private Equity. We spent evenings writing a business plan to take to the city in order to raise enough money through PE channels to buy the business.
In April 2007 my new business partner (Russell) and I acquired Atlantic Foods with the help of PE and some senior debt from a bank. The company was turning over £15m and although the process of buying a business in this way was interesting, it was very apparent that the pressure was on to perform from day one under the stewardship of a PE house.
Over the next four years the business grew rapidly in turnover, profitability and headcount. Even through the banking crisis we continued to grow. The company was now trading with some great ‘blue chip’ businesses (Domino’s, Whitbread, Subway, Prezzo…..)
In 2010, we ventured into buying our first manufacturing business making Sauces and Dressings which was not only a great opportunity to grow the business but also a great strategic proposition to demonstrate to our customers we were committed to the future and were prepared to invest behind them in order to further our growth as well as theirs. This was a win win and we doubled the size of this business in 5 years.
In 2013 still being partnered by Private Equity, there was some significant interest in our business from a foreign investor, a company called Flagship Food Group based in the USA who had a similar model of business in the States. They put an offer to us to buy our business. At this time our PE investors had been with our company for longer than expected due to the banking crisis and they were keen to make a successful exit. Russell and I welcomed the offer and sold a small proportion of our equity, still keen to maintain a significant shareholding in our new company, now branded Flagship Europe.
We had an excellent relationship with our American partners over the next three and a half years. We were part of a highly capitalised business working with like-minded people with real entrepreneurial spirit.
Managing an extremely tight cashflow on a daily basis was becoming a distant blur, and being so highly geared trying not to breach banking covenants was no longer such a concern, and we could all really focus on the day job.
In 2015 we acquired a ready meals business based south of Birmingham and a Handmade Pie Company based east of Birmingham. These companies were chef lead businesses with a huge amount of creativity, which was key to the success. By adding an effective sales structure we now could grow these businesses further and add some real value.
In mid-2016 we acquired a Sandwich Fillings business based in Carlisle. This acquisition was made for two reasons. Firstly, it was a sound business, privately owned with a good model and no real competitors on a national level. Secondly it had the capability to manufacture Sauces and Dressings.
We already had some significant contracts on Sauces and some of our customer were keen to have a secondary source of supply, this was a great fit.
Flagship Europe was now a group of companies under the one banner supplying the Food Service Sector of the market, we have a successful importing division, currently procuring over 10,000 tons of food products from abroad per annum. We have four manufacturing sites producing excellent quality products supplying to all corners of the UK.
In 2006 we had 8 members of staff, and at the end of 2016 we were a team of over 350. With a turnover of £120M.
On December 19th 2016, Flagship Europe was sold in its entirety to another American business called OSI who are based in Chicago, they have circa 70 manufacturing businesses across the globe and have an annual turnover of 7 Billion Dollars.
I am currently employed as Managing Director of Flagship Europe (no doubt our name will be changed again soon) and work for the OSI Group.
We created a wonderful business with a great culture and self-empowerment, delivering profitability to our investors and we created significant value whilst having fun.
I am very proud of what I have achieved so far in my life, and would like to give comfort to those people out there who may not necessarily be top of the class academically or feel university is not necessarily for them.
When I look back at my days at Stamford, I realise my education was not just about what I learnt (or didn’t learn in my case) in class. The real value for me was the underlying education I wasn’t really aware of. ‘Manners maketh Man’…….it’s true, good etiquette, respect for others and how to communicate effectively with other people, all great life skills.
Very few people succeed without hard work, but hard work can be measured in many forms, not just by exam results.
When you leave school you will find so many opportunities and choices, some of these choices may end up being mistakes, I have made many of these along the way, but we learn from them and hopefully grow wiser.
Most people want to be successful in life, and again success can be measured in many different ways. But I believe to achieve success in business for the long term there are no short cuts. Surround yourself with good people who want to achieve the same result and then It’s about understanding your market and delivering a solution or product whatever industry you’re in………quality, service, innovation, commercial, relationships / trust and integrity.
I was never taught this in a classroom but through experience, and I’m sure it works.
My First Van £500