Getting to know you: Jeremy Torz

What do you currently do?

I am one of the Co-Founders of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, an artisan coffee producer and roaster based in East London. Alongside my partner Steven, I founded the company in 2001 and I oversee all commercial aspects of the business. At Union, we source coffee through Union Direct Trade, roast it, and sell it to high-end hotels, coffee shops and restaurants, as well as online and in selected supermarkets. We also offer a coffee subscription service, CoffeeClub, which is continuing to grow.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

During a career break in San Francisco in the early 1990s, Steven and I became obsessed with speciality coffee and we made it our mission to bring speciality coffee to the UK. Our first roastery actually merged with the Seattle Coffee Company, which was then acquired by an international coffee company, so we left and struck out on our own once again to found Union. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength.

Who do you admire?

Certainly John Bird (Baron Bird), founder of The Big Issue, for finding a way in which business could actually be an engine for positive change, and pretty much launching the social enterprise culture. He’s one of the few that have actually walked the talk.

I also admire Richard Branson – clichéd maybe but he has consistently expressed a view that of all the opportunities that have come his way, he does not get involved unless he sees something in a market where he can genuinely disrupt the status quo and add value to the customer proposition. He is also a great example of delegation and recognising the importance of building high quality teams.

Things you would have done differently?

Actually I believe the experiences I’ve had along the way have made me who I am today. However, I’ve learned a few important lessons. For example, I learned that if you give your time for free to the business, and don’t account for this, you won’t be able to afford to pay someone else to come in and do the daily tasks. It is crucial to value your time correctly and draw up a proper business plan early on with the help of a professional accountant to ensure success.

What defines your way of business?

Our business model – Union Direct Trade – is what makes us different, allowing us to develop long-term relationships with farmers, paying well over the International Fairtrade minimum price. We place a huge emphasis on developing coffee growing communities through knowledge share, financial support and transparency. Working with farmers in 13 different countries all the world, we see the benefits of this approach each and every day, but nowhere more so than Rwanda. Twenty years ago, Rwanda was simply known for commodity quality coffee, but is now producing coffee in the top 5% quality-wise in the world.

What advice will you give to someone who is just starting out?

Inspiration can strike any time so don’t be afraid to pursue new opportunities and business avenues. Don’t be afraid to say no to opportunities that do not match your values. Be bold, do things your way and follow your true passion – it will give you the drive and ambition to succeed.