Lessons from the C-suite: Charlie Bigham

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After two decades we’re still true to our principles

I started out…

I began my career working as a management consultant but quickly realised there was more to life than spreadsheets.

So in 1995 l took a sabbatical and travelled to India in a camper van with my then-girlfriend (now wife). During this trip I had the idea of starting my own business – making delicious food with the same care and attention you would have if you were making it for yourself. The following year I launched Charlie Bigham’s from a small kitchen in Park Royal, London with just me and one chef cooking all the food.

I knew this was the right career path for me when…

Our customers started to get in touch. We typically get around 100 letters and emails a week now from people telling us how much they enjoy our food and appreciate the quality ingredients and flavours of our dishes. We’ve changed people’s perceptions of convenience food for the better.

The biggest lesson I have learned along the way…

Stick to what you believe in. We don’t follow trends, we’re not influenced by the competition, and we never cut corners. After more than two decades in the industry these principles still stand true to the brand.

My proudest achievement…

For any start-up it’s always a brilliant moment when you make your first sale. I still remember the first time I saw someone with one of our dishes in their shopping basket. I paused and reflected on everything that we had been through to get the brand off the ground.

My biggest mistake…

There are more than 50 dishes in the current Charlie Bigham’s range, but over the years there’s been a few that we possibly should never have launched. One was a rabbit stew – it was delicious but not commercially viable. In fact we only sold five!

My biggest inspiration…

Julian Metcalfe who founded Pret a Manger and Itsu has fantastic attention to detail. I also really admire the way Richard Reed, Jon Wright and Adam Balon at Innocent did so much to help redefine what a food or drink business can be.

These businesses, like ours, have an absolute belief in recruiting amazing people and giving them a chance to shine.

Keeping me awake at night right now…

I wouldn’t say it’s keeping me awake, but there’s no avoiding Brexit. As a business we’re planning for the UK’s departure from the EU and the impact it may have on our production and our colleagues.

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be…

Sustainability. Every organisation should be reviewing its energy consumption and waste production. In the food sector there’s the additional focus on excessive and non-recyclable packaging. We’re in the process of working towards B Corp status as it’s the right thing for our business, consumers and the environment.

I need my HR director to…

Help me champion our workplace commitment of extraordinary people making extraordinary food. People always come first and I’m very proud of our family culture.

It annoys me when HR…

Gets too distracted by paperwork and compliance. It must be done, but the secret is not to let it get in the way of the real job: recruiting, developing, inspiring and retaining an amazing team.

More HRDs would become CEO if…

They took a punt and thought outside the box. Any good business recognises that its people are its most valuable asset and if the whole team can get just 10% better it will transform the future.

What I’m reading right now…

Educated by Tara Westover – an incredible autobiographical account of a personal journey from being born into an off-grid Mormon family in the US to becoming a Cambridge academic.

My top leadership tip…

Inspire your team. Creating a workplace that continuously sparks innovation and empowers people to fulfil their aspirations is vital. As a business grows it’s important its employees do too.

Charlie Bigham is founder and CEO of Charlie Bigham’s

This piece appeared in the February 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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