Jam firm no longer a family preserve

AN HISTORIC jam-making entersprise reaches the end of an era this month as the last member of the founding family hands over the day-to-day running of the firm.

By Sarah Chambers

AN HISTORIC jam-making enterprise reaches the end of an era this month as the last member of the founding family hands over the day-to-day running of the firm.

Peter Wilkin took over as joint managing director at Tiptree jam-maker Wilkin & Sons 22 years ago and two years later became its chairman.

He is the great grandson of company founder Arthur Charles Wilkin, who started to turn his locally-grown fruit into fine preserves in 1885.

Peter will remain as chairman, but the firm's production director Walter Scott takes over as joint managing director following his retirement at the end of the year, working alongside current joint managing director Ian Thurgood.

“At the ripe old age of 67, I feel I can afford to start to slow down,” said Mr Wilkin. “I just hope I won't meddle too much really. We have got a young team of directors who have been in place for several years.”

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The firm had a “young and enthusiastic” management team, Mr Wilkin said, but he admitted it was hard to give up the day-to-day role despite his continuing involvement as chairman.

“It has been my hobby as well as my livelihood for over 40 years,” he said. “I have got every confidence in them and really I think it's about time they had the chance to run the show themselves. I shall be keeping an eye on them.”

His son-in-law, Tim Came, has been involved in the business for the last four years, but Peter is the last of the Wilkin line. “It all ends here really as far as the Wilkin connection is concerned really. I think that's sad in a way,” he admitted.

However, they had made arrangements to involve the 180-strong workforce in the ownership of the business through an employee trust, he said.

“The key thing is in time it will have a controlling interest in the business which will mean the employees will have a good say in the business which I think is very nice. It's as it should be,” he said.

“It's a slow progress because it relies on buying shares back from the existing shareholders as and when we can afford to do so.”

This year had been “very good” for the business,” he added. “I don't like counting my chickens before they hatch, but certainly we have had record sales and our profitability has been much better as well,” he said.

Mr Wilkin studied at Wye Agricultural College and the London School of Economics, and travelled to the United States to study at the University of Massachusetts before joining the firm in 1966.

He has been keen to preserve the traditions of the company, and it still cultivates hard to grow Little Scarlet strawberries and uses fruit from old gnarled mulberry trees at the site.

He was appointed director responsible for fruit farms in 1971 and in 1987 he succeeded Tom Wilkin as chairman.

Today, the company makes a wide range of products including jams, marmalades, sauces and Christmas puddings.

A share option scheme introduced by Tom was continued and developed by Peter, and it now holds almost half of the issued share capital of the business. Peter is keen to continue the tradition of providing affordable housing for 70 employees and retired staff.

Mr Scott joined the company 22 years ago as factory manager. “I am looking forward to working with Ian Thurgood and to the challenges ahead as we take the business to the next stage of development,” he said.