Berry Bros & Rudd is Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant. It’s owned and run by my family, the Rudds, and the Berry family. I worked in the marketing department of the business for ten years, from my early twenties. I don’t think it was expected – or perhaps even considered – that I might want to lead the business one day. But when I left the role in my early thirties, to focus on raising my children, my father asked for me to join the board of directors, so he must have wanted to keep me involved.
In many ways, I had the best of both worlds because, as a non-executive director, I remained very much engaged with the business, but not on a day-to-day basis. It has been a great privilege to be a director for a long time, and for me to have the opportunity to chair it now. It feels like a big responsibility as well.
The Rudd family has been a part of the business for 100 years this year. I’m very lucky, because I get on well with my family, we don’t argue, and the Berry family are the same. The two families together are a bit like cousins, we’ve worked together for so many years that it feels like we’re one extended family.
That ethos extends beyond the Berrys and the Rudds though, to the people working within the business, to our customers and our producers. For us, it’s all about the relationships and it always has been. We want people to feel a sense of belonging and to feel engaged. It’s the kind of thing that I would want my children to feel.
The bonds we form with our producers are friendships. When I was a child, my family used to go on holiday with our whisky distributor from Mexico. My father was great friends with all sorts of people from all over the world, and they were our business partners in different countries that we formed these really strong bonds with. That approach to business has been ongoing throughout our 300-year history.
I’m very focused on values. I want people to feel that they belong, and that they want to come to work at Berry Bros, because it’s such a special place. I want them to really love what they do and to feel that they are contributing something. Not just to the business, but to the wider society and to the world at large. I’m really keen that we move even more towards that way of operating as a business. That it’s not just about making profit for shareholders, it’s a much broader, community approach.
I think it’s really important that we operate philosophically. As an example, at the moment one of the things that we’re doing is helping some of our smaller producers who are having quite a tough time as a result of the pandemic. We’ve sold their wine ahead of delivery – what is known as En Primeur – so that we can bring money in much more quickly, and then pay them earlier so they can actually survive. It’s a much more caring way of doing business. If we say we want to be a force for good, then we have to make sure that we are.
We’re looking at B Corporation as a potential certification – it gives you a structure of how you need to operate in terms of people, culture, looking after the planet and broader communities as well. Uniformly, across the world, we need to look after our planet, and how we look after people is part of that. The situation that we find ourselves in now is going to exacerbate these issues and bring them even more to the fore. We’re focused on that because we believe it’s the right thing to do, and it is what our customers will expect from us as well.
In a business like ours we’re always thinking about the long term, because we’re thinking about future generations of our families. I ask myself what I want my grandchildren to think about this period of time, when they look back. I want them to be proud of what we were doing, and to be able to see that we were thinking ahead, and about them. What is the planet going to be like in 50 years’ time? My grandchildren are going to hold my generation responsible if we don’t act on it, and quickly. We need to keep thinking ahead and have a view on the horizon, so that we can plan accordingly.
Of course, we have to keep an eye on the present, as well. For the times that we live in now, we are absolutely day to day, so I’m thinking very short term and very long term and trying to find the right balance. But, for me, it’s making sure that we are always following our values, which are integrity, passion and generosity of spirit. Again, it’s all about relationships and building trust.
It’s how we behave, what’s important to us and what we believe in that make us who we are and, actually, what we sell is secondary to that. As a business we started off as a coffee merchant. We went into wine 100 years after that and, in our second century, we were mostly based around spirits. Now we’ve gone back to our foundation being much more about wine. So that’s changed, and it’ll probably change again.
There’s a movement at the moment – especially with the young generations – of people beginning to move away from alcohol a bit. That may develop, and we will need to react to that, but our vision for the foreseeable future is all about building a network of trust. We want to be the best and the most trusted fine wine and spirits merchant in the world, and we’re building our strategy around that.
For me personally, I hugely value strong relationships, working in a team and being really collaborative. We are one big community and we are all in it together.
Lizzy Rudd is the chairman at Berry Bros & Rudd, Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, founded in 1698; bbr.com