April 12, 2016

The Interview: David Wright

First published in Milling and Grain, March 2016
David Wright is the current Managing Director of G R Wright and Sons Ltd. A sixth generation miller and self-proclaimed man of “many hats,” Mr Wright’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the day-to–day running of the company remains smooth, although he particularly focuses on the commercial side of the business. 
Mr Wright still resides in the quaint Mill House which stands on site at Wright’s Mill, Ponders End, Enfield - a site which has roots traceable all the way back to 1087. In fact, whilst driving into the mill you pass the house, a veritable monument of milling history, which has been inhabited by six generations of the Wright family for the past 149 years. It is the house in which Mr Wright was brought up, which is still in fact his family home, and which was previously inhabited by his great-great grandfather, so it’s got a “few ghosts running around the place!”   

You officially joined the family company in 1982, is that correct?

Officially yes, but I don’t think I ever really joined, because I lived on site and grew up at the mill and from the age of about thirteen I was working in the business. I think there might be a law against that now! But it was all great experience that shaped the rest of my life.

So what was that progression like?
Fantastic! Well I did it just for the money originally but I also enjoyed the work and working with the guys in the mill. Every school holiday I worked cleaning in the mill or packing flour and as I got slightly older I got more jobs and more responsibility. So when it came to thinking about what I was going to do as a career I soon knew it was going to be milling. Actually my father had tried to dissuade me from becoming a miller in the early days because he thought that the future wasn’t always that great back in the sixties and seventies, as competition was really hard and we were competing against very large units of production so it was difficult. But I soon realised it was what I really wanted to do.

So when you worked out what it was that you wanted to do, did you have a vision for the company and if so what was it? Did you see a certain path and think ‘this is where I want to go’?
Yes, you start off wanting to learn about the business, the learning was the most important bit. When I left school, I trained at other mills, Timm’s of Goole, and with Heygates, and then with the milling engineers Henry Simon s and then the Swiss Milling School. In fact, that’s where I met Alan, he was working for Allied Mills and we were classmates on the milling course, before he came to work here. So it was all about getting my head around how milling works and I was very much on the production and the technical side to start with. I knew that as a small miller we needed to specialise if we were to succeed. So high quality flours and specialist products were the way forward for us but made alongside mainstream flours so that we also got the economies of scale with higher volumes. The company has always invested quite heavily in the business. My grandfather built our wheat storage silos and a new milling plant and my father rebuilt and renovated most of the site. So we have a track record with this amongst my ancestors and I have always shared the same philosophy. Getting the business ready for the 21st century was very much part of the plan. Alan and I both enjoy getting in new plant – I think it is called “boys and their toys” but I believe it has served the business well.

People seem to be at the heart of your business. Our research found that you prefer to give people a career path and trajectory rather than simply a job. Do you find that this ties in nicely with the very evident family like ethos here?
We are a fairly small company so sometimes progression can be more difficult compared to a large multi-site business, but we do try to do that. It is true to say people come here and hardly ever leave so it’s a good indication that they like working here in the main. Alan, for example, worked here for 24 years and he’s still quite a new boy compared to a lot of the staff! So if they do leave it’s usually because they are retiring. Most people here believe it’s a very happy place to work. So that probably gives an idea of how we put people in the centre of things. Experienced, skilled and loyal staff obviously bring a lot of benefit to the business. We are very lucky in that respect. Training and development has always been central to what we do. We became an “Investor in People” about twenty years ago and that really got us focused on training and involving everyone in the main goals. We need quite a few staff here because of the nature of the business. We make lots of different specialist products, value added and premium flours and have lots of the smaller type customers compared to other businesses.

With that complication it is inherent that you bring something new to the market as well?
Yes innovation has been very much at the core of what we do and we do bring new products to the market I believe that is how we have survived when many small milling businesses have not. I think the other thing is that we do really take care about the detail of things. Maybe an outsider coming in may think “why’s he getting involved with that?” Particularly when it comes down to quality and efficiency, if things aren’t right then all of us in the senior team know about it.

Going forward, how do you envisage the future of developing for the flour milling industry as a whole?

It’s an interesting dynamic, in recent years we have seen the decline in market share of some of the bigger millers and the resurgence of the some of the independent millers; Whitworth’s is now the biggest miller in the country and has grown considerably in recent years. I think much of that is down to ambition and the investment they have made in their business. Whilst we have no such ambition to be one of the “big boys” we do believe that long term investment is absolutely crucial to our future success and longevity. As a business that is 150 years old and staunchly independent, when we look at a project we are often planning for the next generation. Most of the bigger investments we have made have had that philosophy behind them, like the new warehouse we built and the facility at Delta Park. They were major investments at the time but hopefully my son James and the next generation will look back and say ‘that was a good decision, I’m glad they did that. ’

Read the magazine HERE.  

The Global Miller
This blog is maintained by The Global Miller staff and is supported by the magazine GFMT
which is published by Perendale Publishers Limited.

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