An employee? No, we're all part of one big family

LEGENDARY local business Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate has triumphed again, maintaining its position as one of the premier companies in the UK to work for.

Five years ago, the Sunday Times launched its "Best 100 Companies to Work For" league table and Bettys was recognised as being in the top 50 in the country.

This year, nearly 50,000 employees were rigorously surveyed and again Bettys maintained its position in the top 50, coming in at number 43 – and top in the county.

As Alistair McCall of the Sunday Times said: "While it is hard to get to the top of our list, it is even harder to stay there."

So what is Bettys' secret? Business Advertiser spoke to staff to try and shed some light on one of Harrogate's best-known names.

On arriving at the bakery site, off Hookstone Chase, the first thing you notice is the landscaping, with beautiful plants and culinary-inspired wooden sculptures. The greenery is largely down to Kevin the gardener, who works full-time on the site which incorporates two Swiss chalet-style buildings, comprising Bettys Bakery, Bettys Cookery School and Taylors Tea production facility.

Bettys has an unusual mix of Yorkshire and Swiss culture that permeates the whole company.

Its founder, Swiss confectioner Fredrick Belmont, came to Harrogate by accident. The town reminded him so much of his home country that he stayed and opened the first Bettys in 1919.

Retired chairman Victor Wild, is the nephew of Mr Belmont and the father of current chairman Jonathan Wild.

Still a family-run business, Bettys employs over 900 people and has a turnover of 50.3million a year. But it is the people that make the place tick.

Jane Pike, Bettys' human resource director, explains: "Issues such as quality are very important to us but family values are really what we are about. People who join us can quickly become part of this culture if they wish."

Chairman Jonathan Wild and managing director Sally Holme meet every single member of staff in a special group induction day soon after they start. This is not lip service, as staff will atest.

Graham Dominy-Ive has been at Bettys for 19 years and is now in charge of 18 people in the warehouse. He said: "It always changes as we grow here but you are involved in the process and consulted."

Shelley Everritt works in the pastry department managing the team and has been at Bettys for 16 years. Her step-daughter and cousin work at Bettys, as did her mother until recently.

She said: "I was really impressed that on my first day the managing director came up to me in a welcoming manner and knew my name. "

Robin, who works in the chocolate department, has been at Bettys for 33 years. He said: "It never stays the same and you always get opportunities. My idea of management is to never ask someone to do something you aren’t prepared to do yourself.”

Caroline Grant, who is in charge of about 150 people in the bakery, has been at Bettys for eight years. Her sister has been there for 20 years. Joanne Baron, who now works part time and is a trainer, has been at Bettys for 18 years.

It’s not that Bettys consciously makes an effort to be like an extended part of their employees family, but that is precisely what they are.

Employee birthdays are never missed with cards sent and signed, long service is highly thought of and rewarded with extra holiday, craftsman-related awards are celebrated, the employment structure is flat and made up of small teams so people aren’t isolated and are always consulted, prizes are given for excellent customer service and for new business ideas.

Chris Powell, who started packing tea at Bettys 15 years ago, showed an infectious enthusiasm for liaising with the various community groups and charity organisations that Bettys have contributed to and was appointed their community champion, organising a huge number of events. He has eight hours paid work a week that Bettys allow him for this work.

And about 250 local school children pass through the Cookery School in a year.

The list of long-serving, happy employees is endless making a compelling argument for a traditional company that embraces modern techniques – and employee development but not at the expense of traditional craftsmanship.

As Jane Pike said: “We are often asked to shout about our achievements but it is not our style. We would rather spend our time and resources developing our employees strengths.”