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Quentin Colborn

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Colborn’s Corner – Do you like your chocolate sweet or bitter?

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Is Kraft and Cadbury simply another iconic British brand being sold overseas like Jaguar and Bentley? More importantly, what about the internal culture of the business and the impact on the employees? This month’s Colborn’s Corner addresses the issues that flow from the takeover and considers the implications both inside and outside the organisation.
 

The business pages this week have been giving plenty of coverage to the takeover of Cadburys by Kraft. So is this simply the case of another iconic British brand being sold overseas like Jaguar and Bentley? But leaving aside the brand issues, what about the internal culture of the business and the impact on the employees?

The UK has an interesting tradition of paternalism and involvement in work. Within some organisations participation is seen to be the key to success such as in John Lewis, other forms of involvement include the Co-Operative movement where customers are included. However for the purposes of this column I’m interested in looking at the paternalism of some businesses and question if it has now had its day.

Within the UK there were a string of confectionary entrepreneurs who were motivated, in part at least, by their religious backgrounds and beliefs in the interest of their employees. Frys, Rowntrees and Cadburys all had differing degrees of paternalism which we may balk at today, but in their time they were radical approaches. The concept of considering employee welfare was alien to many entrepreneurs – as evidenced by the practice of sending children up chimneys and many other practices we would find abhorrent today. However some employers stood out from the crowd but I suggest their impact has dwindled recently – and will reduce further with this move.

News reports yesterday suggested that Peter Mandleson had been unsuccessful in getting key decisions about Cadbury to remain within the UK. While I expect his focus will have related to jobs, there will also be a knock-on effect so far as the culture of the business goes. I suspect there is precious little paternalism left in Cadbury (happy to be corrected by those with hands-on experience), but even if there is some, should we worry if it goes?

My view is that we all benefit if we can take a step away from the homogenised style of employment that is prevalent in many larger organisations. Just as many are concerned about the High Street and how one High Street is just the same as the next, could the same not be true for employers? Do we not need different styles of management and philosophy to challenge employers as to what styles they should be adopting. Not for all to be the same, but to help us give real consideration to what we can do.

So are things likely to change at Cadbury? I suspect so; given that Kraft have been pushed close to the limit in terms of the price paid for the business they will have little option but to maximise their returns. In many acquisitions the best way the acquiring party sees to increase profitability is to impose their own systems and procedures – perhaps there is an arrogance here, but they will point to the fact that the acquiring business is a successful one.

As consumers we probably don’t care who makes our chocolate, as long as it tastes the same. In any event who really knows who owns which brands these days? As HR professionals though we may see things differently. But could we do anything about it? I doubt it, but in many ways it would be good to retain some organisations that are a little different to the norm.

Do you rue the passing of independent UK businesses?  How much do takeovers really change things internally? If you work for an employer who has acquired by a business with a radically different philosophy and culture tell us all about it – anonymously if you prefer.

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via his website at www.qcpeoplemanagement.co.uk

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