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East Anglia Future 50

'I would abolish job titles' says Adnams boss

PUBLISHED: 16:52 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:52 13 June 2019

Andy Wood, chief executive, at The Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Andy Wood, chief executive, at The Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

If he had his way, brewery and pubs boss Andy Wood would consign job titles to the dustbin.

The Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodThe Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Andy has been a director of Southwold brewery and pubs firm Adnams for 19 years, becoming its managing director in 2006 and its chief executive in 2010.

One of the hallmarks of the family-owned business has been its forward-thinking approach, and its ability to innovate and attract new generations to its products as habits and outlooks change.

A key to this is its staff, says Andy, who is a strong believer in a 'flat' organisational structure which encourages new thinking to come from within.

"If I could win all the arguments in the business, I would abolish job titles. That's one symbol of hierarchy that really gets in the way of innnovation and listening to one another and treating each other as great team mates," he says.

Andy Wood, chief executive, at The Copper House, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodAndy Wood, chief executive, at The Copper House, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

"We try to encourage people to have ideas and people are valued for what they contribute - that gives us a very exciting and progressive culture here."

This valuing of all employees has been evident in its approach to internal promotions: Karen Hester rose from part-time cleaner in 1988 to chief operating officer today, while former Swan Hotel waitress Sadie Lofthouse is now HR director - an almost impossible feat in the big corporates.

Ten years ago, Adnams used to depend on two core products - its Southwold Bitter and its Broadside. If the business had stood still, it would be in a very different place today, he says, with that side proportionately a third smaller than what it was.

It's meant capital investment, which has shown through in the last couple of years' results, but Adnams has always been a long term business.

The Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodThe Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

"Running a company is a tough gig: you have got to nurture and grow the brand with all the changes that are happening in the market place," says Andy.

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The company has developed craft beers and craft spirits, buoyed by a nimble and forward-thinking attitude within the team. "We were into that market early on. We could also see the no and low alcohol market was growing," he says.

Their attitude was to go out and find the "best possible equipment to make the best possible beer in the market" . Adnams reverse osmosis method for producing Ghost Ship 0.5% uses a £1m piece of equipment installed in only two breweries in all of Europe, which he feels was money well spent in a growing market. While there are other methods for producing low and no alcohol beer, Adnams believed it was onto a winner, with a product very similar in taste to the alcoholised version. "We experimented with one called Sole Star, a low alcohol beer where we restricted fermentation (another method), and that was a very good beer, but we decided that the opportunity in the market was big enough for us to do this seriously.

The Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodThe Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

"It's a bit of a mug's game trying to predict the future," he adds, which is why businesses like Adnams have had to be adaptable.

Andy tries to be "as approachable and accessible as possible". If it wasn't for the restrictions of the old set of brewery buildings which they inhabit, they would probably be open plan, and it's this open attitude, which is key, he believes.

"I think over the long run, Adnams is a bigger and more successful business than it would have been adapting other approaches - I would never be arrogant enough to say this is the only way you can run a business," he says.

Outside, Adnams tries to be "really good neighbours", and there is a a symbiotic relationship with the town, along with a "huge sense of place" within the business, he says, which comes from the top, and chairman Jonathan Adnams, an important shareholder. "We are lucky to have him as the steward with his hand on the tiller, and I think that has informed our approach to sustainability here," he says.

Anita Marriott at The Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie HoneywoodAnita Marriott at The Swan, Adnams, Southwold. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

"I think the success of Southwold is due in part to Adnams having its home here," he adds.

Adnams employs about 600 staff, with about 250 to 300 in or around the town, taken from about a 30 mile radius and with a payroll of around £18/10m. It has a distribution centre at nearby Reydon, sitting on 84 acres, which opened in 2006. That took around 30 to 40 HGV movements out of town, to the relief of residents. But it decided, after consideration and heart-searching, that the brewery should stay put. "We decided no, because Southwold is special and has a grit to it."

Sustainability remains central to the business's ethos, alongside product innovation and believing in people, he says.

"Believing in the right thing is really important to this business," he says.

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