Shaper: Geoff Read

Show aired on 9th April 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The beautiful and lyrical sound of Nina Simone with I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, for those of you that may want to know that. Good morning, it is me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM’s Jazz Shapers. Thank you very much for joining me. This is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a huge person shaping the world of business as we know it and indeed as we have known it. My Business Shaper today is and has done exactly those things, his name is Geoff Read; he is the founder and CEO of Nosh Beverages. You may know him for being the founder of one of the most famous branded water drinks, Ballygowan Spring Water back in the 80’s and he’s done many things in between including the small matter of being the chair of the London Irish Rugby Club amongst other extraordinary things. Lots coming up from my Business Shaper, Geoff very shortly. In addition to hearing from Geoff, you will be hearing from our programme partners as well, some words of advice from Mishcon de Reya, for your business and as well as all of that there is the music and there is some great music today from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, Dave Brubeck is one, Ella Fitzgerald is another and this is from Ian Shaw.

The great sound there of Ian Shaw with Small Day Tomorrow, it’s off his latest album, Theory of Joy. Geoff Read is my Business Shaper today as I said earlier; he is the founder and CEO of Nosh Beverages. I must admit I have just been sipping one, it’s the Nosh Super Brekkie – shake to wake me it says here. It is made up of yoghurt, banana, quinoa and oats and it’s a breakfast drink. We are going to be hearing a lot about that but Geoff has also been the founder of Ballygowan Springwater, the island based bottled water company, he has also been involved with the Irish Rugby Club, London Irish rather. It is based in London and so many other things and I am just going to stop and say hello.

Geoff Read
Hello.

Elliot Moss
Thank you for joining me.

Geoff Read
Thank you very much Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Now tell me about how the man who studied telecoms and electronics ended up deciding to become a serial entrepreneur. When did that little thing happen? Because you have done loads.

Geoff Read
I think it is really because I found there was no jobs available in electronics when I qualified so I came to London, got a job selling footwear initially and it was while I was doing that I was suffering a bit from over indulgence and I was in one of the shops and a lady came in and she had a bottle of water with her and I thought ‘oh that’s the cure for my dehydration’ and so I went across to the local Underwood’s Chemist as it was at the time and I saw there was a selection of waters on the shelf, some from Hungary or Bulgaria and I thought ‘wow that’s a perfect product for Ireland’ so I moved back to Ireland, researched the market and launched bottled water.

Elliot Moss
You make it sound very matter of fact. I mean this is a business that sold out for many millions over a decade later. That moment, that little epiphany is one thing because many of us have those, we look around the world and we see the gap. The actual conversion of that thought into action, getting back on the plane, doing the research, launching the business. Why you? Why did that happen? How come you had the right mentality for that?

Geoff Read
I think I had pretty much become unemployable at the time because I was so committed to developing this business so it became a challenge and a lot of people had thought about Irish water in the past and I think I was just lucky I hit the right moment at the right time in the right location. The market had been the fastest growing sector – the food and drink market worldwide for 25 years – I came across a source, I had the ability to market it. At the time bottled water was attracting both table water duty and VAT and I managed to persuade the Minister for Finance to zero rate bottled water for VAT which enabled the market to grown and we just took advantage of it.

Elliot Moss
The things you just described are quite a few things from persuading the Minister of Finance to do that, to finding the source, to negotiating with the source, to work out your bottling plant I imagine, distribution and marketing. In the early days, was it all you or did you quickly find people that could help you deliver this. This is often the thing that stops great businesses becoming that.

Geoff Read
Well the business started actually, I found a source and I used to go and pick up bottles in a van, take them down to the source, myself and my girlfriend would bottle by hand. We’d take it back and label at the kitchen table and I had my mother and my sister involved, it was a real cottage industry and it grew from that. I used to deliver the products out to supermarkets in a van. I was very lucky to meet very supportive people in the supermarket business; Feargal Quinn in Ireland and people who ran Quinnsworth and other major multiple stores supported me because there were very few Irish indigenous products available and it was a bad time in Ireland, there wasn’t much real entrepreneurial things happening so it was fortunate. I got a lot of support and I hit the ground running and I was very fortunate as well because we did a little bit of advertising which is about all I could afford, small little ads placed in the Irish Times which were the parody of the eating out restaurant critique and they attracted attention and I was very lucky to win £100,000 of free advertising in the national newspapers which allowed us to kick off into a much bigger scale.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my incredibly humble Business Shaper, Geoff Read, who described himself as fortunate but seems to have made quite a lot of his own luck along the way. Time for some music, this is Lisa Bassenge with Riders on the Storm.

Lisa Bassenge with The Doors original, Riders on the Storm. Geoffrey is my Business Shaper and we have been talking about his first venture, a rather big one it turned out to be which was the Ballygowan Spring Water Business which I think you sold in 1993, about 12 years later for a significant amount. You then went on to found another business, Grape Expectations. I knew I would get it wrong because it is just one of those phrases. I believe at the same time you became the chairman, or similar time frame, you became chairman of the London Irish Rugby Club and we are going to come on to these new businesses but you have obviously got an appetite for being busy and an appetite for challenging yourself. Where do you think that appetite comes from before we talk about that next business?

Geoff Read
I think with Ballygowan I had taken it as far as my talents would bring it. We had 80% of the Irish market, we were the number one brand in the UK, we were the largest producer of bottled water in Britain or Ireland we had sales in lots of markets and when that stopped I was 38 so I had a lot of years ahead of me so I decided I couldn’t sit back and do nothing so I created this concept with a colleague of selling wine in small bottles, quarter bottles and there had been a few quarter bottles of wine on airlines but it was sort of tokenistic and what we did was we brought that concept to the market and initially sold these quarter bottles in composite offers in pubs in Ireland and it became the main way of selling wine by the glass in busy pubs in Ireland and over 80% of the Irish wine by the glass market was in quarter bottles and then we brought the concept to the UK and at one stage we had over sixty wines ranging from you know, Van der Pay up to almost Grand Cru wines in quarter bottles that we did offer to the market as a composite range.

Elliot Moss
Now it’s another very intelligent innovation. Again I imagine at that point when you set this business up it wasn’t financially driven, you were pretty comfortable but you said that thing around ‘well I was 38 and had this life ahead of me’. When the money isn’t the driver, what becomes the driver?

Geoff Read
I think if business is logical there is a real consumer requirement or need for a product and it isn’t being made available. I think it is a challenge to create something that fits that gap and quarter bottles of wine was an obvious thing for me, it’s… people want a fresh glass of wine in a pub or at home actually and it gives people the chance to try different styles or varieties without opening a large bottle and seeing half of it go to waste or getting corked or whatever. So there was a logic to it and it was a challenge and the audience was receptive in Ireland. There was less receptive in the UK because they had more of a wine box mentality but the quality we offered was much, much greater.

Elliot Moss
And that challenge, you mentioned that challenge that led to you getting involved in London Irish Rugby, that led to you getting involved if I understand correctly, the original Premier Rugby Board as well. Where does that fit for you in your… the things that you have achieved in your life?

Geoff Read
Yes I was invited to a lunch in a bank and when I got there I found there were some other I suppose ex-pat Irish sitting round the table and we were given a presentation by the management of London Irish Rugby Club at the time and it was clear to all of us that this was the beginning of the professional rugby era and again there was a logic to the development of this sport as a professional sport, it’s a global sport, it’s attractive, it’s got a big audience and it’s supported by television but at that time the television income was about £30,000 per club per year so it wasn’t viable from a financial point of view but what we did was we made the decision to invest in a club which was 99 years old and bring it into the professional era which was quite a challenge.

Elliot Moss
We are going to pick up on that challenge very shortly. Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper, Geoff Read. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that, some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning I have the privilege of talking to someone who is shaping the world of business. If you have missed any of the two hundred or so, go back into iTunes, put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ and you will find them there. If you would like to Tweet then Tweet us now on @jazzfm and you will get a response, I promise you that. Geoff Read is my Business Shaper today; he’s the, right now, recently the founder of Nosh Beverages. I have been sipping on a Super Brekkie bottle right in front of me. He is also the founder of Ballygowan, he was also the person that was the Chair of the London Irish Rugby Club and so on and so forth. Many, many, many things. Let’s go forward right now Geoff, your latest venture. How did you… obviously you have been in the kind of the food and drink work before. This is a Super Brekkie drinkable food thing. How did you come upon this idea?

Geoff Read
Well I’ve got three sons in their 20’s, Alex, Chris and Matt and they generally are in such a rush out the door to work that they skip breakfast and when I looked into this I found that about 80% of young urban professionals on their way to work just skip breakfast entirely and it struck me that there was an opening for a nutritious, healthy breakfast on the go, so food in a drinkable format, and so that’s where Nosh was created and it’s basically Greek yoghurt, quinoa, whole oats, real fruit pieces and fruit juice. So it’s very nutritious and healthy.

Elliot Moss
And incredibly tasty because I’ve just been greedily destroying this one in front of me. You are still innovating and it’s been over thirty years since your first business and you talk about logic in a really unsurprisingly logical way which strikes me as relatively unusual because many of the people I interview are, well they are driven by… it’s creativity in a positive way and then not saying that you are not creative as obviously you are but there is something almost ruthless in your logic. If it works for you logically you are going to do it. Is that a fair comment?

Geoff Read
I think so it’s, I hope it’s not intellectual arrogance because it’s not meant to be. I actually think there is a market need for innovation. I think products need recycling and re-invention the whole time. I think consumers have a low threshold of boredom. They are constantly looking for new sources of nutrition and there is very little actually that’s healthy out there in the market. If you go into a coffee shop you can get great coffee but nothing but cakes. Actually what people want in the morning is a good start, good healthy start, something that is going to fill them up and keep them going so you know, it’s the idea that there was a need that needs to be serviced is what attracts me.

Elliot Moss
And these needs that need to be serviced. You have again got a pretty good track record of delivering against them. Creating teams, raising money or spending money astutely. Where has that skill set come from do you think? Because it sounds like you got it right pretty much first time unless obviously we are not going into the dark and difficult times when it didn’t go so well. Where’s all that popped up from?

Geoff Read
I think I am driven by the challenge to such a point that it’s kind of I am prepared to gamble and I think that’s what entrepreneurs are. They are sort of gamblers and they do need people around them who actually reign in their excesses and…

Elliot Moss
But you don’t look like a man of excess if I might say, I mean you look very measured. So are you secretly an excessive kind of guy?

Geoff Read
I think I am. I like to take risks and I think the creation of any new business is a risk, you know, you may succeed, you may fail but actually it’s the trying and the achieving gives great satisfaction.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my gambler, Geoff Read, although he sounds like the most measured gambler I have ever met. Time for some music, this is the wonderful and upbeat Ella Fitzgerald with Manteca.

That was Manteca from Ella Fitzgerald. Geoff this business now is not the only thing you are doing. You are still involved in other Boards and various pursuits. How do you manage the lot? People talk about portfolio but you don’t strike me that you have moved into the portfolio time of your life but there’s a juggling act that goes on?

Geoff Read
There is a little bit of juggling goes on. My primary focus at the moment is Nosh and everything else sort of takes a bit of a back seat to that. It’s at a critical stage where it has the capacity to grow very rapidly but it needs support from the retail market, from the supermarkets and that’s the time we are going to now. You know, building a business isn’t an instant hit and you know most overnight successes have had long gestation periods and I guess Nosh is a long-term business opportunity but with short-term issues that it has got to resolve like getting more distribution, getting in more customers’ hands and so that’s keeping me pretty business.

Elliot Moss
What’s the satisfaction for you? What drives you to feel good when you wake up and go ‘yeah that was…’ or finish the day and go ‘yeah that was a good day’? Because again I go back to the money thing, it’s not… it doesn’t sound like, we’ve hardly talked about the money thing and yet along the way you’ve had events, many of them but I don’t think that affects you does it?

Geoff Read
Not really, I think when I see people with the product, enjoying it, when I see bottles of Ballygowan on the supermarket shelves, bottles of Nosh being consumed. We did a sampling exercise in JP Morgan a couple of days ago and we sampled 2000 people with Nosh and they loved it and it was very energising to see people enjoying a product you’ve created.

Elliot Moss
We’ll have our final chat with my guest, Geoff plus play a piece from Dave Brubeck, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

That was Dave Brubeck with the Unsquare Dance. Geoff Read is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. Your life to date Geoff has not been boring. You constantly challenge yourself. You’ve talked about the logic and seeing those needs and servicing them. We’ve established that the satisfaction is literally from the person with the product in the hand which I get, I understand that. A very visceral reaction to someone enjoying something you have created. What next? I mean Nosh I assume will carry on growing and you want it to become a mega brand. What’s important to you over the next five, ten years?

Geoff Read
I think what’s important is to use one’s brain. I find that I need to have intellectual challenges whether it’s on my business or whether it’s helping other businesses develop. I like to ask questions about businesses so I understand how they have evolved but also where they could go to and whether the strategy is correct or… it sounds a bit boring in a business sense but actually I find that keeping ones brain involved in activities, whether they are yours or other peoples, is very important.

Elliot Moss
And that’s kind of timeless isn’t it? You don’t need to be walking, I mean literally walking around, I imagine 20 years if you’ve got another great idea, then you will just carry on going?

Geoff Read
Yes, well as I mentioned I’ve got three sons and there is an idea a minute coming from them so it’s nice to be involved in their thoughts as well.

Elliot Moss
Are they working with you or are they doing their own thing?

Geoff Read
They all help me on the business, they are all working in separate companies but they all help me. They are all very creative, they are very helpful on the marketing and they tell me where I am going wrong.

Elliot Moss
And is there a sense that they will do their own thing as well. I mean are they working for other people or have you kind of imbued in them the belief that being an entrepreneur is a good thing?

Geoff Read
They work for other people but I think they can bring entrepreneurial flare into other people’s businesses. What they do in the future, they may have ideas, they may want to get involved in the business, you know, everything is open for them at the moment.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of environment. You’ve seen three decades now of entrepreneurs coming and going. My own observation over the last five, ten years entrepreneurs has become a bit more accepted, a bit cooler, a bit more aspirational. From your perspective has it got easier to create a new business or is it just the same? Is it still the slog? Is it still against regulation? I mean what’s your read of it now versus when you first started in business?

Geoff Read
I think it is harder actually in the sector that I am in. I think people have sort of closed up shop in a sense of new ideas. I think that in the technical or the electronic IT end, apps and those sort of businesses, I think it’s very fruitful and people are prepared to back them. I think in traditional businesses it is harder to get distribution. It’s harder to create a noise with the supermarkets not doing terribly well, they are not very receptive to new ideas but I hope that will change.

Elliot Moss
And you believe in innovation fundamentally?

Geoff Read
I think innovation is core to any growth in the market and consumers will not stand still.

Elliot Moss
It’s been a real pleasure talking to you today, Geoff. Thank you so much for making the time to join me. Just before I let you go, it’s time to ask you – what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Geoff Read
Well my song choice is John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, it’s a song called A Lotus on Irish Streams. I think it is a beautiful piece of music. I first saw John McLaughlin play over forty years ago at Crystal Palace and I have been a fan ever since and this also reminds me of Ireland.

Elliot Moss
Well here it is especially for you. Thank you very much.

That was A Lotus on Irish Streams from John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the interesting and lovely song choice of my Business Shaper today, Geoff Read; the man who believes in logic and in logic defining the needs of the market and then he in turn, meeting those needs of the market. He said it in such a clear way it was extraordinary. A man who believes in innovation, who has carried on innovating and is driven by innovation and someone right at the core, I took from him, someone who is completely calm through everything that he has done. Fantastic stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am next Saturday for another appointment with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Meantime though, stay with us because coming up next, it’s Mr Nigel Williams.

Geoff is a serial entrepreneur who founded Ballygowan Spring Water Group, the brand-leading bottled water from Ireland, building it into a dominant market-leadership position in Ireland and the UK before selling it in 1993.

Geoff founded and built Grape Expectations (Ireland) Ltd over a 20 year period, creating a new market concept for wines in small bottles – now an established part of the worldwide wine market.

He led the acquisition of London Irish Rugby Club in 1995 and chaired both the company and the holding company – London Irish Holdings Ltd. – until 2001. During this period, Geoff also participated on the Board of Premier Rugby Ltd, helping to shape the future of rugby in England and Europe as a professional sport and business.

As well as mentoring and advising new business start-ups and assisting companies with growth strategies, acquisition and sale of businesses, interim CEO and NED roles, Geoff has developed a new range of innovative beverage products for the fast-growing breakfast drink market under the brand name “Nosh” which are currently gaining distribution in the UK and Ireland.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.