The Interview: Walter Scott, Wilkin & Sons

Meet Walter Scott, the man at the helm of homegrown icon Wilkin & Sons

I started here as factory manager in the business’s centenery year, 1985, and am proud to have celebrated that with them. I’ve held a few positions at Wilkin & Sons – factory manager, production directory, joint MD and chairman. Thanks to this I know the business inside out and back to front, plus most of the people and most of the families. For example, I went into the factory recently, saw a face I didn’t recognise and was told she was a Spooner; I remember working her mother years ago. I know the people and their stories, not just the processes and procedures. There are people in the factory whose parents and grandparents I remember working with. I recall pacing the crate room with a colleague, who was saying “the baby’s going to be born today”. That baby is now 30 years old and working in the accounts department! One goes through their whole lives with people, and it is a pleasure to be supporting and encouraging them. In most places people move on so quickly, but here they don’t. When I first joined Wilkin & Sons, it was like joining a family; it was a family business through and through.

A lot of the people who work here live in the surrounding villages. The company has a number of properties for employees, in the same way as Cadbury built Bourneville for its workers. We share a similar philosophy – a non-conformist, paternal, liberal type of thinking – as the Cadburys, Frys and Chivers. Wilkin has protected and grown its business and employees since it began; I remember John Wilkin, who was 70-something when I arrived, telling me that the business had made “steady progress” throughout the years, which I love. I really value his modesty, and the attitude that everything should be done for the long term – a rarity these days. The company now has about 70 properties for its workers, including retirement homes, houses for families and flats for younger workers.

We’re delighted to be turning ourselves into an Employee Benefit Trust, whereby every employee who has been here for over a year owns shares in the business and so plays a big part in it. In order to play the
long game, to ensure Wilkin & Sons is here to stay, we must put great emphasis on our core business – jams and marmalade. Without these items, we wouldn’t have all the other things we produce: the gins, candles and the like. We need to stay true to ourselves and our heritage.

Read the full interview in the latest issue of Speciality Food, free to download here.

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