What started out with three brothers moving to Belfast with just a suitcase full of silverware and a dream of selling fine jewellery and gifts has ended up as a thriving business celebrating a century of trading this year. Founded by Isaac, Harry and Maurice Adlestone, Beaverbrooks now operates some 72 stores across the UK, saw operating profits increase to £13.7m in 2018 and received a bevy of awards at The Sunday Times Best Companies Awards in 2019.
For its centenary year, Anna Blackburn, the group’s managing director, says the company wanted to focus on creating a “year of celebration” looking at everything that has led up to this point. “We wanted to focus on our successes as a great employer and a great workplace, but we also wanted to celebrate with the people that we do business with, and our customers,” she adds. “So it was this balance of celebrating but also using it as a real commercial opportunity to talk about our history and heritage and what we stand for.”
Blackburn says Beaverbrooks has historically been “very modest”, so the celebrations this year were about “getting the balance right”. “No one wants to shout too much about the great stuff they do but people do need to hear what makes us different,” she adds, “So I feel we have gained great confidence over the last two years in terms of internalising that philosophy with our people and making sure the competency is there. Additionally, the belief internally of everything that we stand for and what we are here to do is important, as we are certainly doing more of that than we have ever done.”
Naturally a lot can happen in 100 years, and Mark Adlestone, chairman and grandson to founder Isaac, says a major change that happened within the business during that time was the transition from a family-owned and run business to a family-owned, professionally run business. Adlestone says the “best example” of this was when Blackburn became the company’s first non-family CEO, going on to become managing director, which Adlestone and Blackburn felt was a more “appropriate” title given the nature of the business.
He explains how it has been a “very interesting transition”, which started in around 1990 when his father Gerald Adlestone and his cousin Michael Brown both retired due to poor health. “I needed to build a senior management team around me, which I did,” he recounts, “Over time that senior team became stronger, more involved and taken on more responsibility.
Adlestone adds that as a result of Anna’s appointment, Anna has been able to pull the best out of the company’s family history and background, while blending it together with its professional approach, in order to bring everybody in the business together and pulling in the right direction.
THE BEAVERBROOKS WAY
Beaverbrooks’ core purpose is to ‘Enrich Lives,’ which simply means making a positive difference to the world we live in – their colleagues, customers, suppliers and the wider community.
Adlestone and Blackburn both agree that its successes comes down large in part to this core purpose of enriching lives and the company’s mission statement, the ‘Beaverbrooks Way’, which Adlestone and Blackburn says dictates “how we treat each other.”
Adlestone notes that he was inspired to create a stronger company ethos from a book he read by James O’toole called Leading Change. He explains how the book was an argument for “values-based leadership” and about the importance of having a mission statement. “We had some sort of mission statement at the time,” he adds, “but it was a corporate mission statement that was created by consultants because we felt we needed one. But it didn’t resonate with us and we only had it for a couple of years.”
He says he ripped the old statement apart and started again, this time bringing people together within the business from its stores and in its head office to sit down and define what the company was. “It was a fantastic exercise,” says Adlestone, “and we created our first mission statement which has evolved over time. Additionally, around three years Blackburn got to grips with the mission statement and relaunched it completely – further strengthening it.
Adlestone emphasises how the ethos is the “DNA that runs through the business”, and while the company has kept its consistency through the product that it sells and the brands it stocks, he notes in terms of the “heart of who we are, it is the ‘Beaverbrooks way’ that has kept us together”.
Charity has also been another major focus of the company, and Adlestone says previously he had felt for some time there was more it could do in terms of formalising philanthropic giving and actually enabling its colleagues to get more involved. With this in mind, there are two major events that Beaverbrooks sponsors. One is the Beaverbrooks 10K fun run in Blackpool and the other is the Beaverbrooks 45 mile bike ride. The run was started over 37 years ago by Andrew Brown, but the bike ride was started by the company’s colleagues – inspired by the original event.
The company also gives 20% of its retained profit each year to charity through the Beaverbrooks charitable trust. “This is something that I instigated with Andrew on the back of a Jewish ethic which is that we are obligated to give 10% of one’s net income to charity up to a maximum of 20%”, Adlestone explains, “We decided to go for the 20% and that is what we have been doing ever since, which is why we are now at £13.5m given since the year 2000, donated to over 750 charities.”
Adlestone says the company is looking very “carefully and protectively” at the business and what it might look like in the future. His middle daughter Chloe recently joined the business in October last year, which he says has been “very well received” by the retailer’s colleagues. “I’m really pleased by that. Our people seem to get some sort of confidence or security from the knowledge that we are still a family business and that there are commitments to that business going forward, evidenced by the fact that my daughter has come into the business,” he adds.
It is that sense of family that also appears to be one of the core values at Beaverbrooks, as Blackburn explains how the colleagues have said how much the company feels like a family to them as well. “There are very clear expectations and very clear lines of accountability, but there is a lot of fun doing it and there is that real balance,” she adds, “That’s really important because I want people to want to come to work and feel happy and engaged, because then they give even more of themselves and the business thrives as a result.”
Adlestone concludes by saying he wants the business to be remembered from a legacy perspective, because he feels the company has created something “very special here”. “They may not remember the figures we produced, although they are extremely good, but may very well remember the amount of money we have given to charity and the good we have done and how our people felt when they were working within the business. That is the legacy I want to protect and cherish, and when we talk about the future it has to be very much around that.”
Mark Adlestone’s appointment as High Sheriff
Adlestone was appointed by her Majesty the Queen to become the High Sheriff in March of this year, and was officially installed in April. He will now take on the role for 12 months as an unpaid ‘Keeper of The Queen’s Peace’ in Greater Manchester, and here we hear more about what that will entail
The role is based on people’s involvement in community and the voluntary sector, and originally dates back over 1,000 years. It was originally mentioned in as many 27 of the 63 clauses within the Magna Carta in 1215, and the sheriff used to be the most important person in the county. He would collect the taxes for the reigning monarch and dispense law and order and be responsible for that.
However, now that is dealt with by the judiciary and the local authorities, but these are the areas I am now notionally involved with. I am the ceremonial head of the judiciary in the county of greater Manchester, in reality what that means is I entertain high court judges when they come to do their very high profile crown court cases from London.
I am also very close to the police, and very involved with the voluntary sector. But I was recently advised to try and make a difference in my year, and the theme I chose was one of diversity and integration. Greater Manchester is extraordinarily diverse, and there are over 200 different languages spoken there. So for me this is a huge strength, that can equally be a huge weakness if we don’t get it right and don’t talk to each other or understand each other.
I am very big into interfaith work. Personally I am Jewish and I accepted the role of High Sheriff as, quote, “a proud British Jew”. For me it is those British values that should bring us all together and that is my challenge to all the different communities that I speak to, to just check and see if they see feel the same way.
I want to use this year to build the bricks to allow me to continue with this theme beyond my year as High Sheriff, where I will continue as a Deputy Lieutenant in Greater Manchester – which I will continue for the next 15 years and thereafter.