Gavin Darby has many years of executive experience behind him and two successful, high-profile corporate turnarounds as CEO. Now, as the current President of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Darby serves an industry with more than 450,000 employees in the UK in 7,000 businesses – the largest manufacturing sector in the country; and his leadership is at a time when the FDF navigates big issues like childhood obesity, plastics, and Brexit.
Gavin Darby became FDF President in 2017, bringing substantial executive experience in the food and drink industry to the table. First, as Division President of the Coca-Cola Company for more than nine years following a stretch as Marketing Director for Coca-Cola GB in London; and more recently as CEO for a six-year tenure with Premier Foods, one of Britain’s largest food companies. Joining in 2013 at the height of the company’s debt, Darby drove innovation to turn the tide in reinvigorating Premier Foods’ beloved brands while overseeing a bold refinancing program to initiate company turnaround.
The CEO sharpened his instincts through experience – not only in the food and drink industry, but with corporate roles in the UK’s tech sector, holding Regional CEO, COO and Board Director positions for Vodafone, Intertek and Cable & Wireless Worldwide plc.
CWW Turnaround 2012
In November 2011, Cable & Wireless Worldwide plc. announced Gavin Darby as the new CEO for CWW following the departure of their current CEO, John Pluthero. CWW was in market freefall following demergers and splits from parent companies. As Darby took the reins, the company had dropped to its lowest share in history, selling at 13 pence. Darby swiftly executed a critical move to re position Cable & Wireless Worldwide plc eventually leading to a £1.044 billion buyout from Vodafone – well above a £700m offer rumour circulated just a few months prior – finalized in April of 2012. As the deal came to a close, the share price rose to 38 pence and Darby was able to leave his colleagues, pensioners and customers in a secure place under Vodafone ownership.
Premier Foods Turnaround, 2014
Following his short, successful stint with Cable & Wireless Worldwide plc, Gavin Darby moved into another position as the CEO for Premier Foods in February 2013 – a company overburdened with £1 billion in debt following a massive M&A spree started in the mid-2000s.
Premier Foods required an urgent financial rescue , and the new CEO announced a wide ranging plan in the first quarter of 2014: a £1.1 billion financial restructuring and pensions deal Darby stated would “unburden the company and liberate a strong branded grocery business ” Restructuring Premier Foods included a fully underwritten £353 million rights issue, a corporate bond issue around £500 million, a new pension schemes agreement, plans to raise £475 million by issuing new bonds maturing in 2020-21 and £300 million via a new revolving credit facility that would see the number of its lenders fall from 28 to seven – all aimed at reducing the decade-old debt nearing £1 billion, and Premier Foods reported a 2.1% rise in the first half trading profit.
Following restructuring, Gavin announced Premier Food’s plan to double spending on consumer marketing in the second half of 2014. This included a re-launch for Mr Kipling, a major campaign and product redesign for Homepride, and new products under Bisto, Oxo, Batchelors and Sharwood’s. Premier Foods added a new cake production line – the longest in Europe – to its Mr Kipling Barnsley factory the next year.
Darby’s 2019 departure from Premier Foods was announced alongside the 2018 year’s first-half financial results – boasting the fifth consecutive quarter growth for the company with first-half sales and profits ahead of expectations. Mr Kipling – Premier Food’s largest brand – continued growth into double-digits, and Batchelors was up 7% following the alliance with Nissin Foods in 2018 that added new products to the brand’s offerings and opened up production in Nissin’s manufacturing facilities, a move credited with £5 million revenue growth for the famed soup brand. Revenue rose by 1.3% to reach £358 million, trading profit rose 6.2% to reach £51 million and margins improved to 14.2% from 13.7% YoY.
“Darby can take credit for getting overall group sales growing more consistently and roughly halving Premier Foods’ debt pile since he took the reins,” said Fiona Cincotta, senior analyst at London-based City Index. The CEO of six years managed to cut £1 billion in debt in half while leading Premier Foods toward a clear path of debt reduction to below 3X Net debt /EBITDA by 2020. In 2018, Premier Foods Board issued praise for their leader:
On the day of his appointment, the Financial Times stated that Gavin Darby faced “a Herculean Task” … Since then, Gavin Darby has been successfully transforming Premier Foods throughout a challenging industry back-drop by undertaking significant cost and efficiency initiatives, properly integrating the businesses which had previously been acquired, introducing modern sales and marketing processes and establishing positive relationships with customers … and is driving rapid international expansion.
Under Darby’s guidance, Premier Foods was put back on track to reduce debt and expand internationally, with established relationships in Ireland and Australia and opportunities for their biggest brands in various markets including New Zealand, USA, South Africa and Canada.
What does this mean for the Food and Drink Federation?
Over the last few decades, the Food and Drink Federation has seen the landscape of the industry change for the better, devoting significant resources to stay true to their mission in areas of food safety, health and wellbeing, sustainability and dedication to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). For an industry contributing over £31.1 billion to the economy and asking for 140,000 new recruits by 2024, Darby’s support as President will continue to progress their mission, offering a seasoned guide to champion a vital industry .
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