Ed Perry, Co-founder and Chief Executive of high street frozen food retailer COOK, spoke to a packed audience at Tonbridge School on Tuesday (10 March) about his business success over the past two decades.
COOK is now a business which can boast £70 million in sales, a £6 million annual profit and more than a thousand staff. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the entrepreneur, a former Tonbridge pupil, who set up the business in 1997 with his friend, a talented chef, after several years of learning the trade in his parents’ coffee and home-made frozen cakes business.
“I had an idea to try and replicate my mum’s homemade frozen casseroles, as a business,” Ed explained. “My parents said if I wanted to do it, I should do it myself.”
With £30,000 in loans from two banks and his parents, the business partners set up their first kitchen in a disused pizza shop and opened their first retail outlet in Farnham, Surrey.
Ed described the business as “phenomenally complicated” and “brutal” in the first three years, and admitted he took another big hit in 2008 after borrowing heavily before the financial crisis.
He said that a strong company culture, and paying attention to “how we live and breathe as a business,” are essential to COOK’s competitive advantage. The company is a certified ‘B Corporation’, which means it passes rigorous standards in social and economic performance, accountability and transparency.
The Old Tonbridgian, who was a student at the school between 1984 and 1989 (Manor House), also stressed the importance of forging good relationships, both in business and in life.