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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Retiring Carr’s chief leaving behind 10-fold rise in profits

When Carr’s Milling announces its financial results next month, industry analysts are forecasting a £12.8m profit.

Chris Holmes photo
Chris Holmes

Its sales revenue is expected to be about £390m as the business – employing 850 people – continues to be one of Cumbria’s biggest, most historic and profitable.

The figures highlight massive growth from when Chris Holmes took the company’s helm as chief executive in 1994.

Then, the Carlisle-based agriculture, food and engineering group, had turned out a pre-tax profit of £1.2m. Its total sales in the previous tax year were £75m, a long way short of the latest forecast. Sales then in agriculture were £42m. £280m is this year’s prediction.

Mr Holmes has steered massive international expansion for the business, which has sites in the UK, the United States, Germany and exporting operations to New Zealand.

And, as he announced his retirement as chief executive this week, he remains confident the company can grow further still as it continues to succeed despite the global financial crisis.

The father of four said: “We have a very strong balance sheet. It’s very exciting for the new chief executive to start from such a solid base.

“We have ploughed profits back into the business. We’re always looking for opportunities to grow and expand.

“Given the strength of the balance sheet, we’re in a strong position to continue to grow. There aren’t many people who can say that.”

Mr Holmes’ retirement was announced as part of top-level changes at Carr’s, whose interests include Silloth’s flour mill.

He will become executive chairman on February 28, a position he will hold until next July during a transition period as new chief executive Tim Davies starts work. Mr Holmes will then become chairman, succeeding Lord Inglewood, of Hutton-in-the-Forest, near Penrith, who has been on the board since September 2004 and chairman for the past seven years. He also retires at the end of February.

Finance director Ron Wood is also retiring in April.

He will be succeeded by Neil Austin, who is due to join the business in January.

Mr Holmes, 60, of Scotby, revealed his retirement had long been planned and that the search for his successor had been on-going since February last year.

He joined Carr’s from J Bibby Plc in 1991 as chief executive of the agriculture division, becoming chief executive of the whole firm three years later.

When first given the job, he was tasked with growing all three legs of the Carr’s empire, which dates back to 1837.

He has been relentless in that mission, with recent developments including the creation of a £17m flour mill in Fife, Scotland, and a new feed plant in Lancaster.

He is proud of the successes, particularly the acquisitions that have seen the company grow, even against the backdrop of recession and the BSE and foot and mouth crises that battered farming.

“It’s been a real team effort,” said Mr Holmes, who was president of this year’s Cumberland Show.

“I’ve been very fortunate with the people employed in the company. Not many people leave Carr’s, which is great.

“We’re very focussed with a strategy to grow and develop each leg of the business. In agriculture, we have made acquisitions since 1994, the food side has grown particularly, as has engineering.

“Growth in the USA to get to a market-leading position for a company based in Carlisle is no mean feat.

“The biggest strategy we’ve got is that we believe in technology. We have invested heavily in technology in all sides. We want to be at the cutting edge.

“We want to maximise our customers’ profitability and do that with lots of research throughout the world.”

Incoming chief executive Mr Davies, 50, is currently group managing director of Openfield Group, the UK’s biggest farmer-owned grain marketing business, a position he has held since 2008.

Lord Inglewood, also chairman of CN Group, owners of The Cumberland News, said: “The board believes Chris is uniquely placed to be chairman as a result of his long association with, and knowledge of, the company.

“Chris has made an exceptional contribution to Carr’s since he joined the company, in particular as chief executive throughout varied and demanding conditions.

“He has been intrinsic in the development and success of Carr’s.

“The board believes this expertise should be retained to assist the further development of Carr’s under its new chief executive.”

Mr Holmes too is delighted to continue his connection to the company.

He said: “I am very optimistic about the future. We’re growing and investing in the business. Extra profit from our new mill in Scotland will start coming through in 2014/15 and we have a strong order book in the engineering division.”

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