Five minutes with William Kendall
Gina Long talks to the Suffolk based business guru and organic farmer
You’ve had such an interesting career – please tell me about it . . .
That’s a polite way of describing my chaotic career. My problem is that I am very curious and every opportunity looks so interesting. I have been lucky and got away with pursuing variety and change, and I suppose that now means I can offer useful experience to others. I have always been a farmer, but before I was 26 I had been an army officer, barrister and investment banker. I then studied for an MBA in France before embarking on my life as an entrepreneur. Over 15 years I led the teams which built up the wonderful brands New Covent Garden Soup Company and Green & Black’s. In parallel I became a venture capitalist, which has taken me into flower retailing, running hotels, sustainable building products and restaurants to name a few – some more successful than others. My new great interest is family businesses which take a longer term view. I am on the boards of several, including one of the largest, The Grosvenor Estate, where I am a trustee. In Suffolk I am a director of Notcutts and, until very recently, our fantastic brewer Adnams.
What drives you?
I have always liked to solve problems and to try to change things for the better. According to my wife this can make me very irritating. I used to think a career in politics beckoned, but I am probably too impatient and now realise that you can achieve a lot more outside, although probably on a narrower front.
What sort of child were you?
An only but not lonely child. My younger brother died when I was ten. My parents brilliantly left me to my own devices. I grew up on an idyllic family farm. As a result I am very happy with my own company, but equally love crowds of people.
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Your favourite view in Suffolk?
Our views across the marshes take some beating, but since becoming a middle aged man in Lycra I think it is the rolling and wooded country outside the villages in the Framlingham area.
Do you do any voluntary work?
My greatest interest is the environment and conservation. I am involved with a lot of organisations promoting these causes. I campaign for better food and farming and helped set up The Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival. I am a trustee of the fabulous Aldeburgh Music. I spend a lot of time speaking about entrepreneurship and mentoring people who are just getting going with their businesses.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done?
Joining the army – at least it was for me. I was only a soldier for a year before I went to university and I loved it, but I was the least military person in the world when I decided to join.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
Seeing two businesses rise from nearly nothing and become household names. The success was gratifying, but the best bit was being responsible for creating organisations that were so much fun to work in. I sometimes think most people never discover the fun work can be if you’re doing something you really believe in. That’s why I never stop working on new businesses.
And your biggest disappointment?
I have had so many and am so easily disappointed that I have learned to forget them all very quickly.
Do you have a motto?
My first chairman provided me with a daily motto most of which are imprinted in my brain. One I like most is ‘If all else fails try the truth’. I have a reputation for being rather candid and I find it saves a lot of time and trouble.
What can we expect from you next?
I hope one of the businesses we are now incubating will achieve success. I am driven mad by the lack of non alcoholic drinks which are made with decent ingredients and are not sickly sweet. We are developing a wonderful fruit drink brand called Cawston Press, which is already sold in lots of shops and I have high hopes for it.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Wine – all pleasure and no guilt though. I buy more than I drink. I blame Rob Chase at Adnams for part of this. He is very enthusiastic and persuasive . . .