NWF Group

Case studies

When Mark Hudson, the Chairman of specialist agricultural and distribution business NWF Group PLC, asked Warren Partners to help search for its next chief executive, it was the start of an exciting period of change for the business.

Established in 1871 to supply farmers’ needs, NWF has grown into a strong, profitable and resilient business, delivering feed, food and fuel across the UK. The AIM listed company had an excellent track record of profitable growth, but the Board knew there was significant potential for further development through a combination of organic growth, capital investment and selective acquisitions.

The challenge was to find a CEO with the strategic skills, commercial expertise and customer focus to help drive the business forward. With a very experienced team of divisional Managing Directors in place, it was also important for the new CEO to be a team player and supportive mentor.

Joëlle Warren and Andrew Tallents at Warren Partners rose to the challenge set by NWF, and Richard Whiting joined the company as CEO in October 2007. He brought a strong track record as a Finance, Business Development and Managing Director in a range of sectors.

“My recruitment was text book, from the initial phone call about the role through extensive briefings with Joëlle and Andrew, rapid feedback after meetings with Board members and a very clear picture of NWF’s expectations.” said Richard.

“I was particularly impressed by the amount of time invested by Warren Partners upfront in getting to know the NWF people and operations, which is unusual in my experience. This meant there were no surprises on either side, and from day one I understood the character and culture of NWF and how to deliver value to the business.”

But that was not the end of the story. Within 18 months, Richard had turned from candidate to client. With the Chairman, he approached Warren Partners about filling the vacant role of Group Finance Director. The brief was to find a pragmatic, commercially focused individual who would form a dynamic partnership with Richard to develop the business. An eclectic mix of financial skills, strategic vision plus experience of mergers and acquisitions was needed. From a shortlist of six, Johnathan Ford was the clear winner and joined NWF in March 2009.

“The process had worked very well for me as a candidate, so I chose Joëlle and Andrew when I became a client. They had also invested a lot of time and effort in getting to know NWF, so we could capitalise on their knowledge and not have to start from scratch.” said Richard.

For Johnathan, too the appointment process ran very smoothly. “The role was positioned very accurately and there was plenty of detailed feedback at each interview stage.” He explained. “Everything went to plan and I wouldn’t have any hesitation at all about working with Warren Partners in the future.”

Added Richard: “Johnathan absolutely matched what we were looking for, and together we have been able to achieve a quiet revolution in the way we operate as a group and as a board. As a traditional business, NWF could have remained the same and delivered steady growth. However, Johnathan and I have worked closely with all our colleagues to achieve change at the right pace. It helped that we had experience of working at larger PLCs, and so could introduce new approaches and processes to NWF.”

The numbers reflect the duo’s strong performance as business leaders. In 2011, NWF’s turnover reached £464m, up from £381m in 2009, with operating profit of £9.3 million (£8.9m in 2009). Their approach to investors has also been recognised as outstanding. At the annual AIM Awards in October 2011, Johnathan accepted the Best Communication award on behalf of the company.

“It's very rewarding to work with an exceptional company like NWF through a period of planning and implementing change,” added Joëlle Warren. “The chemistry and trust between Richard and Johnathan, and with the rest of the leadership team, is excellent, and this is delivering real value to NWF shareholders, staff and customers.”

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