Running and owning a pounds 150m turnover business which is centred on a
great brand name has got to be top of many marketers’ wish lists. The
only problem is finding one for sale and the money to pay for it.
Clive Sharpe, who now runs Golden Wonder, did just that at the end of
October when he led the pounds 54.6m management buyout of Golden Wonder
For Sharpe the acquisition, financed with a little help from Legal &
General Ventures, was indeed a dream come true. In fact, Sharpe who is
38, can barely suppress the widest of smiles when asked if he’s enjoying
himself at the helm of the UK’s second largest crisps brand.
‘It’s wonderful,’ he says with boyish enthusiasm.‘I’m doing what I
always wanted to do.’
Sharpe was fortunate in that he was in the right place at the right
time. As chief executive of Dalgety’s Homepride operation until its
recent sale to the Campbell Soup Co, he was well positioned to have an
insight into the conglomerate’s gameplan.
He was also very familiar with the Golden Wonder business having worked
there for six years, latterly as head of marketing.
It was this knowledge that helped him outbid the likes of PepsiCo for
the Golden Wonder business. And also prepare him for the challenge ahead
of turning the company in to a more profitable business. Informed
sources suggest that the pounds 9.1m pre-tax profit figure released at
the time of Golden Wonder’s sale was substantially inflated.
Sharpe acknowledges that there is a lot of ‘unglamorous’ work to be done
to improve the fortunes of the business: in the 70s Golden Wonder had
40% of the crisps market; it now has 10%.
The slide in Golden Wonder’s performance stems from a number of problems
from the mid-80s onwards, when the company went through a turbulent
period of industrial relations. This was followed by the acquisition of
Golden Wonder’s parent, the Imperial Group, by Hanson, and then Hanson’s
decision to resell Golden Wonder to Dalgety.
Although Dalgety got to grips with the business quickly, Golden Wonder
was hit by a fire at its Corby factory which wiped out its crisps
Then, just as the business was starting to run smoothly, Dalgety decided
earlier this year to sell its consumer food interests.
‘There has not been any consistency in terms of strategy or
implementation of it for sometime,’ says Sharpe. ‘And that goes across
the whole business - from marketing to sales to supply chain.’
‘What we have got to do is tighten up on some of the basics and make
sure that our people are working as a team and not as individual
‘If you create the right foundation, set a clear direction and
communicate it effectively, the rest will usually follow,’ he adds.
Sharpe has come along way from his working-class roots to control a
company with 2000 employees.
His first job was with the Co-operative Wholesale Society. He then moved
to Quaker where he stayed for five years, marketing pet food and Sugar
Puffs, before joining Golden Wonder as marketing manager.
His first taste of general management was when he was put in charge of
Golden Wonder’s pot noodle business in 1991. This was followed by
promotion to chief executive of Homepride.
The transition from marketing to general management seems to have been a
natural one for Sharpe who obviously enjoys being in charge, and admits
that the creative side was not his forte.
He is, however, keen to stress that apart from all the ‘unglamorous’
tasks he has set himself one of his main aims is to make the company’s
culture reflect the new ‘more fun and adventurous’ advertising that has
just been used to relaunch Golden Wonder Crisps and the Nik Naks snack.
When does Sharpe plan to sell out and make his millions? He’s not
saying. Neither will he be drawn on the exact stake his management has
in Golden Wonder: ‘If I only went in to this to make a lot of money, I
wouldn’t succeed,’ he says.
1979-1980 Marketing executive, Co-operative Wholesale Society
1980-1985 Product manager, petfoods, rising to group product manager,
cereals, Quaker Oats
1985-1990 Marketing manager, rising to head of marketing, Golden Wonder
1991-1993 Divisional director, hot snacks, Golden Wonder
1994-1995 Chief executive, Homepride Foods
1995-present Chief executive, Golden Wonder