Anna Blackburn has been CEO of Beaverbrooks since 2013. She is now in her 20th year with the company, having worked her way up from the shop floor in a Manchester store. It is hard to think of a more impressive CEO in the watch and jewellery business in the UK, or one who is more successful.
It was only after our two hour conversation that a colleague pointed out that she is also the only female CEO of a major UK multiple. I was more engrossed in hearing about the achievements of Beaverbrooks since she took the top job (Click here to read The Big Interview with Ms Blackburn and Beaverbrooks chairman Mark Adlestone).
Beaverbrooks has a reputation as the UK’s largest family-owned jeweller, and is proud of its unbroken ownership by generations of Adlestones and Browns since 1919. It is also rightly recognised as one of the best companies to work for, and has been continuously featured in the Sunday Times role of honour for its commitment to its staff and particularly its corporate and personal approach to philanthropy. This is why we introduce our interview by calling the company Britain’s Gentle Giant.
A key line of enquiry during the interview is whether this touchy-feely approach to business contributes to healthy profits, or whether more aggressive competitors have stolen a march. The financial performance points to the former, and particularly in the years since Ms Blackburn became chief executive.
In the three years before she took over (2011-13), Beaverbrooks operating profits averaged £5 million per year. Since her promotion, the group profits have soared to average £14,1 million per annum.
Even last year, when the company was facing severe headwinds with declining footfall in shopping centres and high streets, weakening demand for branded jewellery and gold, and dwindling sales of fashion watches, Beaverbrooks maintained turnover at £119 million and profit of £12.8 million.
And that is without the help of a single central London shop selling Rolex or Patek Philippe, by far the biggest Swiss watch brands in the UK.
The partnership between Mr Adlestone and Ms Blackburn is crucial, and operates just as chairman and CEO should.
They both have a laser-like focus on the performance of each of their 69 stores and, while Ms Blackburn ensures each store is optimising performance, Mr Adlestone ensures that the values and ethos of the family business are maintained while shrewdly concentrating command and control within a small trusted executive team at the Lytham St Annes headquarters.
The company will be celebrating its centenary in 2019, and it should be an anniversary marked with incredible pride at what family values and modern management can achieve.