What is it like being the grandson of the founder?
It’s a huge responsibility to carry on the success. It was not forced on me. Initially I wanted to go into politics and got my Batchelor’s degree in Political Science. Then I became wiser, matured a bit and did an MBA. My dad, Bob Rich, who still runs the company worldwide, said: "The door is open, but if you come, bring skills." So I worked for a number of years in sales for other companies. These included an ad agency in Buffalo, New York, a publishing company in Seattle, then the Seattle Supersonics, a basketball team that was family-owned. It was there I learned some valuable lessons about working in a family business. One day I said to the son of the team’s owner: "Hi, I’m Ted Rich in sales." But he just looked down on me and said nothing. That day I also realised how not to treat the people who work for you.
Any other Rich members in the family firm?
Yes, my dad, Bob is chairman along with Mindy Rich, my dad’s wife, who is co-chairperson. I have siblings and cousins who are also in the business. My older brother, Bobby focuses on logistics and runs a subsidiary of Rich’s that focuses on transportation. In addition, my sister Kim works in international marketing. My cousin DJ works in operations and another cousin Steven is part of our culinary technical sales team. I came up through sales and marketing in North America, but also spent time in our international marketing and business development and, more recently, as president of North American foodservice before arriving here.
How long will you be in the UK and what do you hope to achieve?
I will be here for three to five years. My defined strategy is to build a strong team, enhance the skills of those who work for us, show we are leaders on new product development and, importantly, help our customers be more successful. We supply the major multiples, foodservice, the craft sector and industrial dessert and cake customers. We hope to do more through wholesalers.
We take our influence from global trends. Right now we are investing a lot in toppings and icings, for example. We are also working with customers on how to create winning cake programmes through recipe development. One thing that enhanced our reputation was working with a successful customer in the coffee sector to develop products that can be sold in the UK and Europe. Additionally, we are working with a successful retailer to enhance their cake offering in store. It’s not just about supply, it’s about customer support and partnership.
What are your company’s values
Our values are explicitly stated in our Rich Promise which focuses on cherishing our culture, innovation, being the trusted first choice, bettering our communities, and doing what’s right. We believe in good people and good skills. One of our biggest areas of focus is our people. That means you have to put more into developing and training them, which leads to better innovation.
We like to challenge our people, no matter which country they live in be it China, Brazil, Russia, the UK, everywhere. We look at our strategic talent pool and ask how can we challenge that person in India, for example. It might mean moving them, then sending them back. Our philosophy is: ’If we are going to dazzle customers we have to have the right people’. That means training and passion. But community is also part of our value system and Rich always supports local community fundraising efforts.
What are the main business challenges the baking industry faces right now?
There are many companies out there after the same business. We look to differentiate our products. We deal with the major retailers already, but would like to be known more for our cake and dessert options and products for special occasions to help our customers differentiate their offering.
It’s tough with all the commodities going up [in price]. It’s the same for everyone, but we are always working on how to minimise the impact. And there is red tape. In the UK and India, in particular, the government doesn’t make it easy. Regulation levels are very high. But when it comes to products, we have so many new ideas.
What trends do you see?
UK trends are for smaller sizes; that way consumers can indulge, but it appears to cost less. Health is looked at in the same way, indulge but have a smaller amount.
In a tough economy, people’s perceptions change. They still want quality, but they want value products and their habits reflect this. They may also eat out less, so when foodservice goes down, retail goes up. There are many disadvantages along the way, but we grew from being in one nation to being in 100 by focusing on solving problems for customers by enhancing their offering.
How has your family settled in over here?
My wife Nena and our three children, a boy aged 10 and two girls, aged eight and four, are doing really well now. At first, when we told them about moving to England it was as if we’d shot the dog! That’s Gulliver by the way and he came too, after his six-month quarantine.
Nena keeps things together as a family. When working, I run at a million miles per hour, but off-duty we love walking and public footpaths. We have seen the most beautiful countryside. I also like running. We didn’t make many friends for the first year, but the kids were fantastic. In fact it has been a high point the number of friends they have made from different countries and cultures.
What are your favourite books?
I’d have to say Born to Run. It’s about a Mexican tribe of super-athletes, but inspirational because it’s also about pushing yourself.
I’ve enjoyed Ayn Rand’s novels about the triumph of the human spirit over challenging events, and Lance Armstrong the cyclist, who overcame illness to win the Tour de France several times. Plus John Grisham and Dan Brown’s thrillers are a great way to relax.
Who are your heroes?
I’d have to start with family and say my grandfather. He was a dairyman, but was full of passion and entrepreneurship. He saw a gap for non-dairy and Rich Products was born.
My father is my other hero. He translated that into the worldwide company it is today, with acquisitions bringing different capabilities and help from our associates worldwide! My Dad is successful, but kind. He treats everyone the same be it the bus boy or the CEO. With him there are no airs or graces, no layers of hierarchy. This is a belief system that I try to live every day and will be one of the greatest gifts that I can pass down to my children.
I’d choose Margaret Thatcher, principally for her role in the discussions between Russia’s president Gorbachov and the USA’s President Regan. Until that point, there had only been escalating tension. She replaced it with dialogue. I’m not sure how much she was credited with that.
Who would you like to have tea with?
Anyone! Everyone has a great story and I like people. Listening to a single mum keeping all the balls in the air, that’s interesting. And if pressed to select one person specifically, I would love to have tea with Phil Jackson, coach to the LA Lakers basketball team, because his leadership skills have made him really successful and taken the team to a new level.
That word ’leadership’ comes up often
Yes, it’s key. I’m a big believer in finding people with the right skills and mindset and building leadership skills. My philosophy and the company philosophy is: "Our advantage is our people". Find people you can develop further. It must be more than words and mantra. Lots of companies just look at profit and loss; they are very important, but the people bit comes first.
We brought in two leadership consultants from the UK to help us continue to develop our leadership skills over the past two years. They conduct sessions that help people feel stronger in heart and mind. That underpins the growth of your business. That enables you to deliver what your customer wants that, plus listening skills.
To illustrate how important the topic of our people and leadership is, our CEO Bill Gisel worked in association with our associates to develop the vision for leadership, which we call the Great Leader Drivers. Things that emerged as really important were driving engagement and performance with our associates with positive, powerful coaching and direction from our managers. It is also focusing on leaders creating the right environment to support our value system. It comes down to discerning your people’s talents, developing them, and empowering them. Your customers deserve the best. Your people are the best to deliver it.
Rich’s at a glance
l Started in Buffalo, USA, in 1945 by Ted Rich’s grandfather, Robert (died 2003)
l Supplies 2,300 products 50% finished products, 50% toppings and icings
l Operates in 85 countries worldwide
l Employs 7,500 associates [what we call our employees]
l Company motto and ’promise’: "Treating our customers, our associates and our communities the same way: like family"
l Products in the UK: muffins, cookies, cinnamon swirls, scones, shortbreads, cupcakes, whoopie pies, toppings and icings for desserts and cakes.