Shaper: Paul Lindley

Show aired on 20th September 2014

Transcript of the show

Elliot Moss
That was Donald Byrd and (Falling Like) Dominoes here on Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss on Jazz FM. Thank you very much for joining me for another edition of Jazz Shapers, the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business. My business shaper today is Paul Lindley, he is the founder of Ella’s Kitchen, which if you have had or do have very young children, you will know all about because they do some yummy and very healthy food. Lots coming up from him and his story. In addition to hearing from Paul, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and as well as all of that I promise you some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including Snarky Puppy’s Bill Laurence, Sam Cooke and this from Etta James on Jazz FM.

That was I Would Rather Go Blind from Etta James. Thank you very much for joining me on Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM. My business shaper today here on Jazz Shapers is Paul Lindley. He is the founder of Ella’s Kitchen which as I said, if you are a young parent or rather an old parent or even a somewhere in the middle parent with young children, you will know all about Ella’s Kitchen. Paul thank you very much for joining me.

Paul Lindley
Pleasure. Morning Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Now tell me, you set up this business in 2004. Prior to that you were doing normal things. You were working for a big company, you worked for Nickelodeon and in fact I even believe you have a pretty serious title, you were an accountant by trade, the chief financial officer. What made that person decide to make the leap and become his own boss?

Paul Lindley
Yeah well I guess I had this little person in my head that always wanted to do something a little bit different but I was never brave enough in my twenties or really have the idea that I knew it was the one. So in my mid-thirties I had an idea that actually food for young children could be healthy, handy and fun and I thought I could set up a brand and I had the confidence to give it a go because I thought if I don’t do this now, I will regret it for the rest of my life and I have not looked back in terms of enjoyment of what I do, the impact we have made and in a business that we have created.

Elliot Moss
Now people often say that financial people are not necessarily the most creative which I don’t think is true but you hear that on the streets as it were. You said you had the idea and many people have ideas but how did you know even at that early stage that it would be potentially a commercially good one?

Paul Lindley
Because of my experience really. So I was an accountant and that is a tremendous experience and skill set to have when you are starting in business because a business has to make money and you have to understand the difference between cash and profit and an investment strategy. However, for the last five or six years at Nickelodeon I was really running the brand there so I was a marketer by sort of practice and an accountant by sort of training and those two things I think, the ability to be creative and design a brand and really think about your consumer from that perspective and to be able to control the costs and be realistic about your revenues were two skills that my experience brought and gave me the confidence I guess to get going on my own with you know, just a mobile phone and a load of ideas in my head.

Elliot Moss
And that experience that you talk about is one thing but actually starting the business with no income. Had you saved money? I often ask this question. I mean how did you manage to actually put food on the table for those first couple of years before you started selling products?

Paul Lindley
Well I got to the stage mid-thirties as I say where I had been in Nickelodeon for nine or ten years and I wanted a change in my life, I loved the experience I had got there and this idea came into my head so I really wanted to go for it. But I had saved enough money to sort of think ‘look I’ll give myself two years to try and get going’ and it is like an MBA, I think I will learn enough in those two years even if the business fails, as though I had done an MBA. So that was my mind set and it was 2004 was when I gave up my job and I started thinking through what does the Ella’s Kitchen brand; this future brand, what will it stand for? And I didn’t really need to spend a lot of money actually in getting that together. Some tens of thousands of pounds I guess and then I will never forget sort of eighteen months in the phone call I got back from the supermarket that we launched with that said ‘we’ll take a flyer, we’ll take a flyer were her words and we’ll go with your idea’’ and thinking yes I had done it but in the same breath thinking ‘oh my god I have got to do it’ because that was when I really had to put my hand in my pocket to make stock, to have a marketing campaign and all of those things. So my wife and I spoke about how we would raise that money and we decided we would re-mortgage our house. So we raised £200,000 and that is how we got the business started.

Elliot Moss
Wow, everyone needs a Paul Lindley in their business. Find out much more from my very creative and commercial business shaper. Time for some music, this is Bill Laurence as billed earlier, it is Snarky Puppy’s pianist’s solo album and the name of this track is Never Ending City.

That was Never Ending City from Bill Laurence. Paul Lindley is my business shaper here on Jazz Shapers. He has been talking about how he found £200,000 luckily in the value of his house or not so luckily maybe for the value of the equity left and then very creatively managed to convince a TV network to invest in a way and take a bit of a punt. That kind of creativity that you outlined is I guess the result of nowse and intellect and kind of knowing the ropes. In those first eighteen months though before you had that call, they said they would take a flyer and before you kind of knew you had to launch, were there moments when you went ‘I’ve made a mistake here, I’m not going to do this’. Or did you ever wake up thinking that or ever go to bed thinking that?

Paul Lindley
I am a big believer in sleeping on things so waking up in the morning I’ve got a much more clear view of and balanced view of what is right and wrong than going to bed. So I suppose there were highs and lows but I never lost that unbreakable faith that what I had was a good idea, that I wasn’t being arrogant but I was being ambitious and that I could really create a brand and that brand could really change the way children relate to food and their diets and create a business and a brand that would make.

Elliot Moss
And I want to focus on that for a moment because as you said, there was a call from consumers. We are going back ten years now. There were very few healthy groups of food for young children. With your marketing hat on and your commercial hat on, is that the gap you spotted at the same time as going ‘I just have a vision and a passion and a purpose to feed children well’ or was there a confluence of the two in other words?

Paul Lindley
Unusually what I subsequently found was that I had this very clear idea of what my brand would be, what Ella’s Kitchen would be before I had a clue what products would go in there. I think most people start a business and they have got a few products and then suddenly they have got a brand and they try and corral it together. I had this very clear vision of what the values of Ella’s Kitchen would be, what it would stand for and why consumers would want it so the reasons why I thought it would work all those eight, nine, ten years ago are exactly the reasons why it is different today and the world has moved on a long time, there has been some new innovation and things come along but the things that we brought which was a look at the whole business from a child’s point of view. Children, toddlers influence so much of what we do. I know you are an active father yourself Elliot and I know that your children will influence where you live, the car you drive, the holidays you go on, certainly the food that they eat and the clothes that they wear, the toys that they play with, all of those sort of things. Really important in the economy, they control about two billion pounds worth of expenditure in our economy so I just didn’t get why people don’t listen to them enough. My background at Nickelodeon was all about empowering children so that was one thing and we are unique still in doing that and I think it is a great testimony to the team that has helped created what Ella’s Kitchen has become. Secondly, I knew to break into a market that had multi-national sort of competitors and all my customers were multi-national big supermarkets, we had to be innovative and different and we brought a brand new kiind packaging, we brought recipes that other people thought were just weird but worked and you know, we brought a sense of fun and vibrancy and colour and an idea that food is about connecting with all of your senses that children really enjoy and then the third thing. I saw the baby food industry especially as very functional yet we are at the most emotional when we have babies so I tried to use the real life story of Ella, my daughter and Ella’s Kitchen as just a normal family that are trying to go through the ups and downs and stresses and strains of weaning and try and do it in a fun way. Those three things are still different today and I think that is why our business has worked.

Elliot Moss
Wow and a pretty good exposition of the strategy and I imagine that has evolved and you probably realised what you were doing after you had done it as is usually the way. Latest travel coming up in a couple of minutes but before that, some words of wisdom from our programme partners for your business from Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am till 10.00 here on Jazz FM. You can also catch us on iTunes, British Airways if you are flying from time to time, Cityam.com and FT.com as well. Plenty of places indeed. Paul Lindley is my business shaper and he is the founder of Ella’s Kitchen and you have been hearing lots about how this very clever man has gone about creating a fantastic business. In those early days once you had launched and the supermarket that had taken a flyer was Sainsbury? Right. Three hundred and fifty stores I believe, I mean not bad. It’s a pretty good flyer. We would all like flyers like that. Things start to grow, the vision of the vibrant packaging, the really great lovely big graphics that you have, the Ella’s Kitchen is right there, the facings look good. You are innovating on products. All the things are looking pretty healthy. Did you ever imagine that it would grow quite as fast as it did?

Paul Lindley
Again not to try and sound arrogant.

Elliot Moss
Yes I did Elliot. Funnily enough I did.

Paul Lindley
I do think that if people set big hairy goals, it’s a better thing than to set too low goals and to over achieve them and I think a lot of people worry if you set a goal too high and you miss it you are all going to feel down because you’ve missed something and you’ve failed. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. I think if you set a high goal you’ve got a chance of achieving it and you get to change the world, you get to change the world of business, you get to change the world of food and social impact if you can aim really high. So that’s what I did. I did want to be the world’s first premium baby food brand and that is a business that ten years later we are there.

Elliot Moss
Now you talk about these other big beer moths of companies and we know who those people are and indeed we grew up with them as middle aged adults now. They have probably taken their eye off the ball over the years and they have probably just ended up being big companies that deliver things that their factories are set up to do and to deliver and somewhere along the line innovation got lost. How are you going to ensure that your business doesn’t go the same way? And I know the scale is slightly different but it is not going to be different in five years or ten years. It could indeed be you know, it could indeed be bigger than some of these big companies in terms of the division. What is going to be stopping you becoming them?

Paul Lindley
I think probably three things. The first is the most important thing about our business and that is that it is founded on a set of values and that values at the very beginning was not about let’s make X amount of turnover or let’s turn so much value. It is about giving kids a better life through improving their relationship with food. And every decision we make, whether it is a new product, a marketing campaign, a team member that we want to employ is based on the five values that we’ve got. We run it through recruitment, through promotion, through bonuses. All of that sort of stuff. So because those values I guess came out of a single person, my sort of vision for the company at the beginning but now are sort of embedded throughout our company, I am really really confident that as a new generation of managers and leaders and team comes through our company, those values are just embedded there and it will continue to innovate and develop the next generation of baby foods to service a healthier generation coming forward. So that is really important.

Elliot Moss
We are going to come back to Paul very shortly but it is time for some music in the meantime, this is America Latina from Sonzeira produced by inimitable Giles Peterson.

That was America Latina from Sonzeira. Paul Lindley is my business shaper today, founder of Ella’s Kitchen. Now you sold your business, you were talking about values before and all those things. You sold the business last May, May 2013. Obviously you thought it was the right time to sell. Why was it the right time to sell for you and what has it enabled you to do in the business since that period of time?

Paul Lindley
It was the right time to sell because we had a very fast growing business in America yet we had very fast growing competitors in America that were more private equity backed and you know, we had half our eyes I guess in America and half in the UK and the rest of the world. They had their eyes totally on America and I just felt we needed a partner of some description in America to help our business grow there because we knew we had the consumer sort of buying. So looked round, not exclusively at selling the business or selling all the business but looked at all sorts of different models and found a partner in Hain Celestial who acquired us, that had the same values as us, that were prepared to pay a value that we could agree to and that could crucially add added value to our business especially in America. So that is the reason why I sold but it was also you know, the right time in the competitive set and the right time to bring some of the efficiencies and economies of scale that we could get from the scale that we’ve got yet having the clarity and the promise that our business would remain independent within the group and we should just continue the entrepreneurial spirit and the purpose led brand within a public company and that is what has turned out eighteen months later.

Elliot Moss
Now those things can be difficult. Some people kind of fall of the edge of a cliff, some people want to retire, some people want to run for the hills. You strike me as someone who is not running anywhere, someone who is trying to run their business and grow it and as you said, deliver on a purpose as much as anything else. It has given you a platform and you are very happy no longer being the final arbitrary of your own destiny. Is that a fair way of putting it?

Paul Lindley
It is and because we did so much due diligence before selling in terms of are these the guys that we want to work with going forward. You know, do we see the world the same way and it is a public company it needs to deliver quarterly results. We need to deliver those financial returns. We’ve always known that. I am an accountant by background, that’s part of business. But the view that Hain Celestial has which is about all their businesses are about a healthier way of life just fits over with Ella’s Kitchen and over the last eighteen months I guess my role has evolved from being you know, the CEO and running the PNLs in the different territories that we are in to really being a brand advocate, to be an activist for better food for children and for being sort of the brand and culture protector of our business and you know, I am delighted in that role.

Elliot Moss
And I imagine that role means that actually as you look at your day ahead each day it is probably a very different thing to the way it was eighteen months ago. It sounds like you are less operationally, you are still operationally involved but it is less intense in that way?

Paul Lindley
That’s right but you know…

Elliot Moss
But you are still the boss.

Paul Lindley
Well also as I said a few moments ago, you know we have just become the biggest food brand in the UK. That gives us so much credibility and so much leverage to do good from that position so the products that we develop, yes that’s all about business I guess and it is serving a consumer need but the air time and the advocacy that I can give now to stopping hunger in the UK with children and to stopping obesity and finding ways to reduce that and improve children’s health, comes from that credibility of the last ten years and that really excites me because I really believe that businesses can do tremendous social good and an example like Ella’s Kitchen and the work that it has taken on as an independent company and within a public company and the results that we have got, is a real test case to show that businesses can change society and do good.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Paul plus play a track from Sam Cooke, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was You Send Me from Sam Cooke. Just for a few more minutes Paul Lindley is my guest today, the founder of Ella’s Kitchen and a brilliant business it is too. Going forward it sounds like you are going to be doing more and more about child obesity, about healthy eating? We are almost in conference season now, we are just about to hit that. What are you going to be doing with these big parties? What are you going to be telling them?

Paul Lindley
About one and a half years ago we issued a report called ‘Averting a recipe for disaster’ which called on ideas, brought ideas across all of society whether that be from business or Government or communities to change the way we think about food and introduce it to our children. Some of those were Government ideas. One of them was a call to the British Government that we need in this country a coordinated long-term policy for health and nutrition for the under-fives and I think that policy can be collaboration between Government and business and communities and charities and the media. All of us together giving similar messages. So one of the things I am going to Party Political Conferences in the next couple of weeks to talk to the decision makers within the party about why they should have a manifesto pledge for next years’ election around health and nutrition for the under-fives and that policy needs to be, they need to think about it like they think about nuclear energy or they think about pensions. It is a long-term thing. We know we are going to get this right when our children of today are having their children and they are bringing them up with a different relationship with food. So that’s just one of the staged things that we are going through. We’ve got a fantastic project called ‘Start Smart’ which will further develop this year where again we are trying to get a collaboration between different people in our society to come together. So there is lots and lots of ways as well as new nutritious foods that we will develop and bring to the market. One of the ways we have though differently about this is a product that we have got out for this Christmas. So we’ve got a Christmas dinner for a toddler in one of our standard pouches, it is turkey and all the trimmings and everything but it is only going to be on the shelf in the lead up to Christmas and from those sales we are contributing to Christmas dinners for kids that are hungry in London and otherwise wouldn’t have a proper Christmas dinner.

Elliot Moss
Now just before I ask you your song choice and I have to let you go which is a shame because we could talk for ages, it strikes me that you are doing incredibly important and serious stuff and one of your core values is around remaining child-like. How does a guy like you ensure that he is still child-like? He still has fun? He is still happy when he has got such a big weight on his shoulders? Because I can feel it that you want to do great things and life is short. Where do you find the joy still?

Paul Lindley
Work and the whole activism thing is not my entire life. I have got two fantastic kids, I’ve got other ideas about other businesses. I’ve got holidays to take and places to visit and its about balance isn’t it but you know you can be passionate, you can get changed, there is a fantastic quote from Robert Kennedy from the 1960’s where he talks about ripples of hope building into big waves of change and I think little waves that can come from individuals or small companies can effect change. .

Elliot Moss
Fantastic and just before I l let you go, what is your song choice for this wonderful leveller called music?

Paul Lindley
My song choice is by Nina Simone and it is Mr Bojangles and it really reminds me of how we should be compassionate because the story is about a guy that has hit hard times and that for the grace of God could be any of us.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant. This is your song choice, its Nina Simone and Mr Bojangles. Paul thank you very much for joining me.

Paul Lindley
Thank you Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Mr Bojangles from Nina Simone the song choice of my business shaper today, Paul Lindley. Someone who uniquely understood that you should look through the perspective of children’s eyes if you are going to create products for children. Someone who puts purpose right at the centre of his business, lots of values that he talked about and making that your focus rather than profit. However the profit definitely has come because a commercial person is always a commercial person. Do join me again, same time, same place for another edition of Jazz Shapers. That is next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM. Stay with us now thought because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Paul Lindley loves to explore, dream and discover. He was born in Sheffield, England and grew up in Zambia where his explorations, dreams and discoveries truly began. Graduating from the University of Bristol, he trained and qualified as a Chartered Accountant at KPMG in London and Los Angeles. He then spent 9 years at Nickelodeon UK where he rose from Financial Controller to Deputy CEO via the roles of Chief Financial Officer, Commercial Director, Communications Director and General Manager. These career and character forming years gave him a passion for children’s issues, a deep understanding of how children think.

He thought he had the coolest job in the world until he thought of the idea for Ella’s Kitchen®, and realised that that seed of an idea had to grow. In 2004 he gave up his job to follow his dream and almost 2 years to the day after leaving Nickelodeon, he – together with his daughter Ella – proudly saw their Ella’s Kitchen products on supermarket shelves for the first time. Ella’s Kitchen grew extremely quickly, catching the zeitgeist of our times and really connecting with parents and most importantly kids. The brand launched in Scandinavia and the US in 2009 and has subsequently launched in 12 other territories. In 2013 families spent over $150million on Ella’s Kitchen foods; every half of a second of every day someone, somewhere around the world eats an Ella’s Kitchen product.

Ella’s Kitchen has been recognised as one of Britain’s fastest growing businesses, one that is led by profit AND purpose. In 8 years the company has gone from being a small business to commanding almost 25% of the UK’s baby food market and a significant market presence in the USA and other countries, whilst also becoming a division of a NASDAQ listed company. The Hain Celestial Group Inc acquired Ella’s Kitchen in May 2013. Paul is now CEO of the Global Infant Toddler and Kids division under which Ella’s Kitchen and the leading US organic kids food brand, Earth’s Best® sit.

In 2011 and 2012 Paul won national Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. In 2013 he published an influential report on improving children’s health in the UK – ‘Averting a Recipe for Disaster’ and in March 2014 led a collaboration of government, businesses and communities in Leicester with the report inspired Start Smart pilot programme. Paul sits on the Santander SME advisory board, is an ambassador for the Family and Childcare Trust, he was a Counsellor at One Young World 2013 and he has an honorary doctorate from the University of Reading for his contribution to improving children’s health and his work as an entrepreneur.

Follow Paul Lindley on Twitter @Paul_Lindley

I have this little person in my head that always wanted to do something a bit different

We look at the whole business from a child’s point of view. Children, toddlers, influence so much of what we do.

We bought recipes that other people thought were just weird

I do think that people set big hairy goals; it’s a better thing than to set too low goals and to over-achieve them.

You get to change the world, you get to change the world of business, you get to change the world of food and social impact if you can aim really high.

It is about giving kids a better life through improving their relationship with food.

Our values are about being business-minded, about wanting to win, about thinking differently, about being childlike and about being good to each other.

I also think that I can make little waves by learning a new language or learning to appreciate art or teaching my kids how to ride their bike or learn how to paint.

You know, if I gave a lecture about what you should do in business, my top thing would be to think like a toddler because I think they are fantastic and we can learn so much from them.