Getting to Know You: Jonathan Lill, CEO, BBF

Jonathan Lill

Jonathan Lill, CEO of BBF tells us what advice he would give to someone looking to start someone starting out today.

What do you currently do?

As CEO of BBF I am responsible for oversight of the operations of the business, ensuring that day to day activities deliver the company targets and support the business’s strategic goals. This encompasses everything from managing the functional directors as well as all key stakeholders, including the board and Endless LLP, our investors.

This also entails me being the face of the business with customers, ensuring that we have excellent relationships with both them and our suppliers. I can communicate with them as a senior, trusted voice, providing a broader strategic perspective on their requirements.

Ultimately though, the most important function of my role is aligning activity with the business strategy to ensure that we can take the business where we want to. I often describe this as putting the stepping stones into place for our future success; to me this perfectly describes the role of CEO.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

In short, the inspiration behind BBF is really simple: make great cakes and provide outstanding levels of service to our customers. Whilst we are currently the largest, we aspire to be the UK’s leading manufacturer ofown label, licensed and branded ambient cakes and desserts with a wide range of capabilities, from pastry pies to swiss rolls, mini rolls and celebration cakes.

We pride ourselves on delivering great service and quality food to all our customers, which include all the UK’s leading major supermarkets. With manufacturing facilities in Blackburn, Bradford and Szczecin (Poland), we have doubled in size in the last year with the acquisition of Greencore’s cake and desserts division, headquartered from a large, modern bakery in Hull.

As we continue to grow, however, it is of the upmost importance that our quality of product and service is never compromised.

Who do you admire?

I think the person I admire the most is Ken Morrison, for transforming a small, local, family business into a nationally recognised chain while maintaining his values throughout the organisation.

There is a saying that ‘retail is detail’ and Ken certainly adhered to this; even as the business grew, he knew the supplier, detail and price of every product that his business stocked. As a result of this, he was able to translate exactly how the consumers wanted to shop and deliver them great value for money.

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?

Looking back on my time with BBF I can honestly say I don’t think I would change a thing. When I joined, the business was struggling and we needed to make radical changes in order to turn the business into a success – which I’m happy to say, overall, we achieved, but no-one gets everything right every time.

I think sometimes you have to accept that you are on a journey whereby not everything is in your hands. When I look back, I know that each decision was the best I could have made with the information I had available at that time – and I don’t feel that there is a lot to gain by applying hindsight.

On a personal level I wish I had moved out of finance and into general management much sooner that I did. I was too comfortable sitting in a role that I had trained specifically for and had the safety blanket of very specific qualifications for. As a result, I stayed on that career path longer than I should have done. Since making the switch to general management I have been able to experience far more and I have to admit that, while it has not always been easy, I have loved every minute of it.

What defines your way of doing business?

Keep things simple and be true to yourself. I think that if you don’t over complicate things it becomes far easier to take the business in the right direction.

At a macro level, a business will be successful if you keep costs down and grow sales – it really is that simple. When you begin to over analyse things, you can’t see the wood for the trees. But by keeping it relatively high level you have a good chance of delivering success.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

First and foremost, I would advise that you should always remain focussed on your customer in the external world. The world around you changes so quickly, and it is critical that you are aware of those changes so that you can respond to them.

I would also say ‘be bold’ and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you make mistakes, just make sure that you learn from them and don’t make them again.