All Together’s first in-person event, ‘The Founder’s Dilemma: Succession’ took place earlier this year with the help of our partners at Investec. A panel of extraordinary founders and CEOs joined us to share their own encounters with succession and offered tips to make the process as smooth and successful as possible – or give their reasons for putting it off.
First up was a founder/CEO duo from the UK’s fastest-growing food-tech business, Mindful Chef. Co-founder and CMO, Giles Humphries, and current CEO, Tim Lee, who succeeded Giles and his co-founders in 2018, made for a particularly interesting succession story told from both sides.
From Giles we were keen to learn what convinced him and his two business partners, Myles Hopper and Robert Grieg-Gran, that they needed a successor in the first place. Why, when their business was growing so quickly and had seen so much success under their guidance, did they decide to introduce a CEO? “The three of us started the business in 2015 and by 2018 we had grown to about £10 million in revenue”, Giles explained, “but we realised the next stage was going to be a challenging one.”
The ambition was to grow the company to the £100m mark, but Giles and his business partners faced several significant obstacles. “First and foremost, the recipe box model is extremely operationally complex”, Giles said, “and on top of that we had this beast growing in the packing department with a team of 60 people, but a head office of only 12. We were also aware that we probably needed to go through several funding rounds too, which, as many founders know, takes your eye off the ball internally unless you’re very careful.”
Furthermore, neither Giles, nor either of his fellow founders, had any experience of running a business of that size. “We were really frank with ourselves”, he recalled. “One of us was good at marketing, another at operations, and the other at the values and health side of the business, but we didn’t have anyone who had run a business like that before.” Although they were comfortable and confident enough in their own abilities, they recognised the benefits some additional support and experience would have during the next stage of Mindful Chef’s growth, and so decided to look for someone who could offer that.
In a somewhat fortuitous turn of events, Giles, Robert, and Myles attended a networking event in 2018 where they happened to meet Tim Lee. Tim’s previous experience in the food industry, with various roles at Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and Tesco’s US subsidiary, Fresh and Easy, presented a well of valuable information and advice the trio could draw from. Shortly after meeting him, the founders offered Tim a consultancy role at Mindful Chef, which he promptly accepted.