Saying the grain and seed industry changes with the weather is as close to the truth as you can get for many companies in the agricultural industry, but David Sheppard, 53, has been part of a team that has helped to create a successful national business since becoming Managing Director of Gleadell in 2005. With the help and support of a good team, good strategy and a bit of luck, the company has more than doubled in size over the last 10 years to become one of the UK’s leading grain, oilseed and pulse exporters, a significant supplier to UK millers, feed compounders and other consumers of grain and a large scale supplier of fertiliser and seed to UK farmers.
This feature interview was first published in issue 63 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine, now available to read at www.lincsbusiness.co. Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.
Taking on the responsibility of a company that in 2005 was 125 years in the making, was no small feat. David’s predecessor had already started a change of course by setting up a team in East Anglia in 2001. Now David and his fellow directors had the responsibility of taking up the challenge of the continued expansion. Gleadell now has six offices across the country, organises 90,000 lorry movements and between 250 and 400 ships per year, but the company was first planted in Lincolnshire.
“The Gleadell family owned the company until the mid 1980s, and indeed our head office in Hemswell which the company bought from them in around 1999,” explained David. “A lot of the staff are local to here and it’s a big grain area. Actually the three largest companies in our sector are all based in Lincolnshire.
“It’s a county where the name Gleadell counts for a lot in our world and we’ve been active in Lincolnshire for all of our existence. Similarly the name Dunns, Long Sutton, the seed and pulse processing business Gleadell bought in 2012, is a long standing and well-known name in Lincolnshire and further afield.”
With a £500 million turnover and continued expansion, David puts the success of the company down to several factors but one key aspect is the people in the business.
“Everyone in Gleadell and Dunns has bought in to being successful and supplying a good service. Nobody can do what we do without working as a team. We have excellent farm traders who deal with 6,000 farmers all over the country, we have forwarders who organise all of the transport, all backed up by good systems and back office colleagues – at the end of the day it’s down to the quality of the people.”
With equal shares, Gleadell is owned by American company ADM and French cooperative InVivo. “They’re of great assistance to us in dealing internationally where we perhaps don’t have the local influence or the contacts and both have been shareholders since the early 1990s.”
David and the shareholders of Gleadell aim to maximise company growth and a percentage of profits is reinvested into the company for expansion or development – a process that has been in place since the start. “We’re trying to make 1% net profit. So if we can make somewhere between £5 million and £7 million of pre-tax profit every year, that’s what we’re aiming to do. We operate in a market where large turnover and small margins are the order of the day.
“Since I have been MD we have grown considerably and we have put a lot of resources into training and the development of people. Young people want to see their career moving forward, they want to see progression and I think that’s something that we have come to recognise.
“Career development is just as important as how much they earn sometimes. What you take home at the end of every month isn’t necessarily it, it’s ‘where am I going to be in five years time and what can you offer me in terms of development that’s going to make my career interesting and exciting?'”
Making a smart investment
With a keen interest in building things, David has successfully managed to not only help and watch the company grow, but also played a key part in what have been record breaking shipments. The company has commissioned new equipment to streamline the loading of grain onto ships for export, making it as efficient as possible sending grain across the world to over 140 countries.
“We like building things, it’s not as if I am machine mad or anything, but to envisage a project and then to see something that actually works and operates and does what it’s meant to do is a good feeling.”
In 2010 Gleadell invested £6 million into a new site at Great Yarmouth grain terminal to help with the ever-expanding business and it is something that David is very proud of.
“When we started talking to the port in Great Yarmouth, there was just a harbour and nothing in it at all. About 18 months later we had a grain store, we had our own ship loader and we saw the first vessels to load from that facility.
“I had been involved from the moment we started drawing on a piece of paper what it might look like and how it might work. In the last two years, we’ve done record volumes out of there. If I look back, that’s probably one of my key achievements.”
There has also been significant investment at Immingham with Associated British Ports, where Gleadell helped to develop a unique ship loader next to a specialist grain store.
The full cover interview with David Sheppard is available to read in full here. For the latest dispatch of business news from across Lincolnshire delivered in your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the Lincolnshire Business magazine.