Me And My Partner: 'We work hard to ensure all the staff care, too'

Ex-Masterfoods executives Paul Newberry and Ian Ding set up Stream Foods in 2001 to make fruit-based snacks. The Cambridgeshire-based firm has a turnover of £10m and employs 80 people
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Paul Newberry

I have never been particularly entrepreneurial. I was ambitious to be successful, but that never translated into "I must set up a business". I was happy at Masterfoods for 15 years. I then worked as a consultant for four or five years for another company. And again, I was quite happy doing that.

Then one year I went on holiday to Florida. I was in a supermarket and saw this huge shelf of fruit snacks. And I thought, what a great idea. In the UK we had confectionery at one end of the snack scale and fresh fruit at the other, but nothing in between. I realised there was a great opportunity to fill that gap.

I thought about it for the rest of the holiday and when we got back I rang Ian from the airport. I said, I've got a great business idea for us. He told me to sod off. But being a salesman, I took that as a sales signal.

We'd never even discussed setting up in business together, but he was my first thought. Ian is a fantastic marketing man. He has enormous drive and determination and he has the ability to get things done. Ian is very down-to-earth and practical. He intuitively knows what will work. A lot of people in marketing rely on research to prove their case. Ian doesn't rely on research, he just has a natural understanding of the market.

The plan was to set the business up on the side, outsource all the production, and keep our day jobs. We put a plan together and tried to get finance. We thought it would be quite straight forward. We both had good solid track records in the industry. But it was a nightmare. It was the middle of the dotcom boom. People kept telling us business didn't work that way any more and it wasn't worth it.

We ended up remortgaging our houses; we gave up our jobs and ploughed everything we had into setting up the whole operation ourselves in the UK, including production.

Ian is the managing director. He lives five minutes away from the factory. He manages the operational side, actually making the products and looking after suppliers, clients and the staff.

I live in Surrey and work largely from home. I drive around the country knocking on doors to get the sales. I also look after the marketing and promotion.

We talk to each other several times a day and we probably meet up once a fortnight. Not because we've decided that we've got to have a fortnightly meeting, but just because something usually comes up that needs both of us in the same place. The rest of the time we let each other get on with it.

Ian Ding

I was working as a consultant when Paul rang me up. I'd left Masterfoods about 15 months previously.

I wasn't enjoying consultancy very much, though. I got frustrated because I'd work with clients on fine-tuning their plans, developing market entry strategies and so on, and then they never did anything about it. All they did was sit and talk about it. I found myself thinking, look, if you don't want to do it, I'll bloody do it. And that isn't a great attitude for a consultant to have.

I have always enjoyed and been good at new product development, new concepts, that kind of thing. I think that's why Paul was keen to get me on board. I was good at turning ideas into tangible products. Paul's strength is selling the things that we've made and managing that side of things.

Paul is the brightest guy I've ever met. He's got a phenomenal IQ. He thinks things through incredibly well and solves problems, whereas I tend to be the guy who sits around and gets everybody else to solve the problem.

I am slightly more instinctive and immediate in my responses. Paul is more considered and tempers my instinctive reaction sometimes. Similarly, I temper his more cautious approach. It balances out really.

Our roles evolved naturally. In some ways I think it's helpful that Paul works from home because it keeps a very clear cut position here at the factory. He comes up to the site about every three or four weeks and I'll see him perhaps every six weeks. But we speak three or four times a day.

Paul is a very skilful salesman. He manages to negotiate without it seeming like a negotiation. He's very good at understanding how other people will look at a situation and is rarely caught out. And he can make everybody else see the world the same way he does, but without them realising that he is doing it.

Working at a large company taught us a lot, most of it good. What isn't good is the bureaucracy and politicking you get in big organisations. We try and steer well clear of that. We're a £10m-turnover company with about 80 staff in total, but we have an administrative staff of just four people.

The business could be three times the size and I don't really see our relationship changing too much. We work hard to try and make sure that all the staff care about the business as much as we do. It isn't just the two of us thinking "all this is ours" while the people who are helping us to do it don't care. You've got to make sure that everyone else cares as well, otherwise you'll never get anywhere.

Interviewed by Gareth Chadwick

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