Bretts Transport – Gearing up for the next generation

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Bretts Transport Managing Director Simon Brett was just 23 years old when he took the reins of his family’s business.

Celebrating 30 years at the helm this year, he has successfully steered the company first ventured by his great grandfather 140 years ago, achieving revenue growth of 15-fold during his leadership.

Simon Brett with sons (from left) Harry, Spencer and Thomas.

Not one to rest on his laurels Simon still has ambitions to continue building on his success, to ensure he has a solid and thriving business to hand over to his children – the fifth generation in the Bretts business line.The company’s roots stretch back to the 1880s when Brett’s great grandfather James Wilsworth Brett moved from Norwich to Thorney Toll in Cambridgeshire – close to the company’s present Guyhirn site – where he worked for himself as a wheelwright and carpenter.

From here the company evolved. Over the years the diverse offering included transporting stone by horse and cart to build the A47 and distributing fresh produce from local farmers, and eventually distributing packaged foods and canned goods to supermarkets which were just beginning to open their doors for the first time across the country. Joining Bretts at the age of 21, he became the fourth generation to head up the business. The previous generation consisted of four siblings but as an only child, and with his only cousins living in Canada, Brett took on the huge task solely, encapsulating the roles of all four of his immediate predecessors into one single role.

It is a role he has embraced and a challenge he has relished. Over the years he has built a solid network of support through a strong senior team, carefully cherry-picking colleagues with the right skills and experience to add to the Bretts Transport offering, all helping to steer the company in the right direction, ready for his children to pick up the baton. In Brett’s first year as MD Bretts turnover stood at about £1 million and the company operated 35-40,000 sq ft of warehousing space. 

Today turnover stands at £19 million and the company has continued to enjoy phased growth of warehousing space, now operating around 260,000 sq ft of warehousing. Pallet spaces have grown from 3,000 to 30,000, with some 10,000 pallets being delivered every week. Staying true to the company’s area of expertise, food and food packaging distribution remain centric to the Bretts offering. Today the company serves merchants, manufacturers and importers, with Bretts holding the BRC Global Standard accreditation for Storage and Distribution for the last nine years.

Brett already has three young sons at Bretts who collectively have built up 12 years’ experience of the business. The eldest, Harry, joined the business after leaving 6th form at the age of 18. Now aged 24 he has worked in a variety of roles including load planning for 18 months and in the traffic office for nine months, He now works as Deputy Office Manager in stock administration.

Spencer, aged 21, completed a three-year Heavy Vehicle Service and Maintenance Technician Level 3 Apprenticeship and now works in Bretts’ on-site vehicle workshop, while Thomas, aged 18, has completed an Introduction to Supply Chain and Operations Level 2 Certificate from the Institute of Supply Chain Management.

With two daughters who may also one day potentially join Bretts – the elder entered into the transport industry after graduating with a First Class Honours degree in geography, while the younger is still at school – Brett’s ambition is to continue building the business to a level where it is able to serve his children as fruitfully as it has served their ancestors.

“I’ve always told the children there is no pressure on any of them to join the business,” Brett said. “But if they did want to join, they can be what they want to be and go as far as they want to go. They don’t have to aim for Managing Director – they can work in whichever department at the level they feel happiest and most comfortable. “They have all seen that the business has served our family well over many years and many generations. Whether I have three, four or five children in the business, my ambition now is to continue to grow it as much as possible so it’s in great shape when the day comes to hand it over. Then they can take the business in whichever direction they want it to go.”

Having started at the bottom and climbed the ladder himself, Brett was keen for his children to do the same. “It’s always good for them to know how every aspect of the business works – so if at some point, even if it’s in 10 years’ time, there is some sort of emergency or something as simple as a forklift needs moving, they can jump in and move it themselves. 

“The aim is for them not to come to rely on others for jobs they can’t or don’t want to do themselves. By starting them with the basics they’ll have better skills, better knowledge and a deeper understanding of some of the everyday challenges that can arise across the operation.“By encouraging them to start at the bottom and to gain an understanding of every aspect of the business before finding their feet in the role they feel the most comfortable we should stand Bretts Transport in good stead for the next 90 years.”

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