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Gordon Baxter

Entrepreneur;

Born February 8, 1918; Died February 22, 2013.

Gordon Baxter, who has died aged 95, had a simple mantra: be different and better, embrace change and watch the cash flow.

Simple it may have been but it succeeded, albeit aided by a generous helping of hard work from his family on Speyside.

When he joined the family grocery business in 1946 it had a modest annual turnover of £40,000 and only 11 staff. It took 16 years to make its first million in sales. Today the Fochabers-based business is a global brand with operations in Canada, Australia and Poland and sales of more than £125 million.

But like so many men of his generation, his path to success may have been utterly different had the Second World War not intervened.

Born in Fochabers, the third generation of a family whose business began in a Speyside grocer's shop, the young Gordon had been fascinated by the emerging science of biochemistry. Educated at Ashville College, Harrogate, he went up to Aberdeen University where, after his first two years, he seriously considered devoting his life to helping to find a cure for cancer.

But the war intervened and he became a research chemist with ICI Explosives, working on weapons development. "It taught me how not to run a business," he later recalled. "It was an us-and-them type of place where the management ordered you what to do."

Instead, he returned to the family firm, established in 1868 with a £100 loan, brimming with aspirations and determined to help his parents build the business, alongside his brother Ian. No small role was later played by his wife Ena who joined the family company in 1952 and became a television hit in their advertising campaigns.

Inducted into the Entrepreneurial Exchange's Hall of Fame in 2004, Mr Baxter revealed that what really changed their lives was going to America in 1959.

"You saw this wonderful consumer market with vast emporia laden with merchandise we'd never seen in Britain. Poor old Britain, we weren't long out of coupons and rationing."

But despite experience of almost a century of trading and several Royal Warrants from the Queen, the Queen Mother and the King of Sweden, Baxters was nothing amidst this huge array of consumer choice. And when he met a Chicago supermarket chief, he realised why. He told him the products were good, but they had to find out what the American customer wanted. If they could make it and supply it, the supermarket boss would sell it and give them oodles of shelf space.

The key, said Mr Baxter, was to make the Baxter products renowned and available, which meant marketing and advertising. Inspired, he returned to Scotland with a new mindset, determined to innovate instead of make what his grandmother had produced.

Ena and Gordon had already created a new range of soups and in the 1960s began supplying to stores all over the world. They developed a "Best of Scotland" concept, supplying speciality foods, gift packs and table-top accessories for top stores from Europe to America, Japan and Australia. In the 1970s Ena made various television appearances at home and abroad. By 1975 sales had reached £4million.

Meanwhile Mr Baxter, who was managing director from 1947-71,was also a member of the British Export Council Committee for Exports to the USA. He became company chairman in 1971 and was a member of the Department of Trade and Industry's North American Advisory Group from 1979-89.

At Baxters quality came first, second and third. Ena got rid of monosodium glutamate and banned artificial colourings and preservatives. Aware of the need to continue to innovate, the couple began experimenting with more exotic flavours.

In 1992 he handed over the role of managing director to his daughter Audrey, who along with her brother Andrew, continued to develop new products. By 2000 they'd reached sales of £50 million and Mr Baxter finally stepped back, becoming life president.

There have been almost 200 take-over approaches, from big hitters like Heinz, Crosse & Blackwell and Campbells, but he resisted each one.

Looking back, he described the company's early years as the Age of Innocence, followed by the Age of Slavery and then the Age of Enlightenment as sales steadily rose. What remained constant was sticking to its principles – quality, quality and quality.

In retirement he enjoyed salmon fishing on the Spey and watching cricket around the world. He and his wife set up the Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation, funding various projects including a helping to establish a cricket development centre at Gordonstoun School in Morayshire. He was awarded the Freedom of Moray in 2008 and made a CBE two years later for his services to business and charity in the North-east.

He is survived by his wife, three children and seven grandchildren. A private family funeral will be held this week followed by a memorial service in Fochabers later this year.

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