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Rising to the Top: CB Group

The CB Group has made light working of rising to the top of the Caribbean bakery industry. Endeavour Magazine spoke to the family members that still run this impressive operation to find out what it takes to enjoy such huge success.

Despite the stratospheric rise to fame that the CB Group has enjoyed over the past few decades, it hasn’t always been plain sailing, as Karl Hendrickson, company figurehead, once divulged that despite knowing how to bake, he had no idea how to run a company. Perhaps this is the ultimate example of passion overcoming shortcomings and learning ‘on the job’. With his desire to break down processes into their individual components in order to make them more efficient, however, Karl already had the recipe for success in his grasp.

From family business to a national industry leader

Starting as a family-run company in Jamaica, the CB Group blossomed into the largest and undisputedly most all-encompassing bakery in the region thanks to their wide variety of breads, biscuits and buns. Sensing a dire need in the community for reliable food basics deliveries, they diversified into poultry processing and even a far-reaching agri-operation. This natural integration of other industries means that when a Jamaican family sits down to enjoy a family meal, there is more than a good chance that something on the table has been provided by the CB Group.

Having been founded in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the company really picked up the pace. With a firm determination, the family-run company decided there was scope to further diversify their interests in the food industry, which lead to the creation of animal protein production subsidiaries, animal feed manufacturing and a much-lauded distribution network. It was this brave move that has shaped the CB Group as it stands today and has seen them propelled into the industry as the supplier of premier commercial livestock feed throughout Jamaica, but the organisation didn’t stop there. In fact, they were just getting started.

Employing local and staying true to its roots

Making significant investment into the tourism industry, in the form of hotel acquisitions, the CB Group is now in an enviable position, giving back to the region by way of creating numerous employment opportunities and stimulating the local economy. That’s what’s so admirable about this operation; nothing is done purely with commercial gain in mind, there is a genuine and insatiable desire to give back to the region that helped it to become such a success. You’ll never hear that the CB Group has forgotten its roots, a rare, but valuable, commodity in a modern business world.

With roots in mind, it is worth noting that since Karl’s retirement, the company hasn’t fallen into the hands of outside investors, as his daughter, Lori-Ann adeptly stepped up to the plate to succeed her father as managing director, supported by a team of experienced senior managers, including her husband and son. This is still a family enterprise and one that keeps in excess of 4,000 Jamaican nationals in permanent employment.

Recognising that nothing good comes from bad intention, above board and exemplar farming standards have always been adhered to, thanks to a committed and trusted network of farmers. Dr. Donald Keith Amiel, manager of corporate affairs, was pleased to elaborate. “We produce 25-30 types of animal feed for farmers in Jamaica and nine other countries across the Caribbean. It is an integrated broiler operation that produces about 30 million kilograms of chicken meat per year from a hatchery that turns out around 600,000 baby chicks a week. In addition to the broiler operation, we are on our way to becoming the biggest pork producer in the country with a complete food chain operation, from a research facility right through to processing. We also have a commercial egg operation that produces regular eggs and Omega 3 enriched eggs, which are for the hotel and supermarket trade.”

Building from the ashes of an industry downturn

Following a devastating turn in the dairy market, Amiel is passionate about rebuilding the sector, so that it can once again enjoy natural and organic growth, “We are working on redeveloping the cattle industry because in the past, the colonies have suffered from gifts of kindness and Haiti is an excellent example of this. Europe and North America gave us surplus milk powder and butter, which could have destroyed the local dairy industry. So now there is no surplus; we have to rebuild again, without international aid.” While this might sound like an uphill battle, the company is confident it has the resources and strength to manage exactly this and thanks to fortuitous geographical positioning, Amiel reassures us that there is no stopping progress. “Until now, Jamaica has been sustained by countries that have growing seasons of just seven months because of the cold weather and snow, but by virtue of Jamaica’s idyllic climate, we can produce things 365 days a year. So the company is now growing grain in an effort to compensate price fluctuations in the market. For example, we have an advantage over North America as they only have one crop per year, whereas we can have two. We want to use our resources and broaden out what we do, therefore becoming less dependent on international markets for raw materials.”

Plans for international expansion and a bright future

While international support is most definitely something the company would like to move away from, in a bid to help Jamaica to really stand on its own two feet and become an independent business giant, branching out in a commercial sense into foreign markets is on the cards. Already, American, Canadian and British interests have been explored, with Amiel believing that tourists will appreciate the opportunity to taste food that invokes memories of treasured holidays. “Tourists that visit here should be able to take home some of the flavours they were exposed to, so expanding into herbs and spices as well as canned products should enable us to be in a strong position and broaden our exposure.”

An upstanding, longstanding family enterprise, the CB Group shows no signs of slowing down for anybody and we know we’ll be hearing amazing things about them for years to come. It’s almost funny to think that this is a huge corporation that was started by a man who claimed to know nothing about business, when clearly, his approach is something many more set-ups should strive to emulate if they want to enjoy even a small slither of the success of his dream.

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