'We are a family business and we always will be' - Bettys boss Lesley Wild on her retirement

Bettys & Taylors boss Lesley Wild has announced she is to retire as chair of the business, bringing down the curtain on a 41 year career with the iconic Yorkshire business.

Monday, 6th January 2020, 4:45 pm

Mrs Wild joined the Bettys team in 1979 and during her tenure the firm has become an international business, employing more than 1,500 people and producing products mentioned in smash hit television shows like Homeland.

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“We are still a family business and we always will be,” she said.

Lesley Wild on the day of her retirement announcement.

“We will absolutely not be selling. It will still be Bettys and Taylors. That is really important.”

In a memo to staff, Mrs Wild said that leading the business had been “my life’s work and joy”.

“I’ve taken true delight in watching the business grow, not just in terms of prosperity, but also in terms of reputation, winning a place in so many customers’ hearts across the world.”

Mrs Wild got involved in the business in the 1970s through her husband Jonathan Wild - the son of Victor Wild and great nephew of Frederick.

Lesley Wild outside the Harrogate tea room.

A lawyer by training, Mrs Wild had also attended art school and had a lifelong love of cooking and baking, giving her a set of skills ideally suited to the business. It would not be long before the family began pushing her to contribute.

She initially began by designing window frontages and overseeing the production of fruit cakes for export.

By 1985 she was a director of the firm and in the ensuing years she would oversee the redesign of the Bettys menus, the opening of the cookery school which exists to this day and making the business one of the world’s dominant players in the black tea market.

Mrs Wild was made chair in 2009 and during this time the firm celebrated its centenary and grew its turnover from £88m to £227m.However she told The Yorkshire Post: “The numbers are amazing but it is about doing the right thing. Of course we have budgets. But the numbers are not driving what we do. It is about treating people in the right way that allows us to do what we do. That is the philosophy which has driven everything.”

Lesley in 2001 at the Cooking School

Mrs Wild cited many highlights from her time at Bettys but the bestowal of a third Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development had particular resonance for her.

She and a colleague were at the reception in Buckingham Palace when they noticed a footman marching towards them.

“It was someone we had trained in Northallerton called George who was personally bringing us some champagne,” she said.

“He told us ‘the only reason I got this job was because of the Bettys training’. I think that is the power of the business. It can do amazing things.”

Lesley Wild in the firm's boardroom.

While Mrs Wild said she “hadn’t dared” to think how she intended to spend her retirement, she said she wanted to concentrate on more artistic endeavours.

She will officially step down in March following the company’s AGM and be replaced by Clare Morrow, who has worked at the firm for more than five years.

The move will mark the first time that a non-family member will be at the helm of the business but the outgoing chair said that Ms Morrow had outshone a number of high profile candidates recommended by headhunters.

And her daughter Chloe is chair of the family council, keeping the family link alive. “I don’t know if any of the next generation will work higher up the business, Mrs Wild said.

“But the signs are promising.”

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Mrs Wild joined the firm in 1979