MICK HOWARD has worked around the globe transforming multi-million pound drinks companies before using this knowledge now to realise the potential of Sunderland-based Clearly Drinks.

The business, a North East England Chamber of Commerce member, has grown out of a famous Wearside company, Villa pop, that used to be sold around the region’s housing estates from branded vans as well as shops.

Mick Howard’s track record started with a career in the armed forces where he was an apprentice with the Royal Signals. He spent six years as a radio telegraphist, initially based in Blandford, then working out of a range of countries including Cyprus, Namibia, Norway, the Ascension Islands and Germany.

On leaving the military life he worked for GlaxoSmithKline and Synpac in Northumberland, followed by time at S & N Breweries managing the packaging department.

He said: “There were some tremendous periods of growth in the drinks industry around this time so after S & N I was asked to manage a £26m project at John Smith’s Brewery. My remit was to introduce a new style of leadership where teams learnt to manage themselves, rather than the old-fashioned top-heavy approach.

“This was so successful it led to me working for the Tetley Brewery, part of Carlsberg on a new bottling and canning plants where again I introduced innovative leadership and new technologies. The advantages were huge for these very traditional businesses where employees were able to raise their capabilities and be empowered, by having additional responsibilities. The factory had been open in 1822 but it quickly achieved modern world class standards.

“The secret of success was down to getting the culture right, a focus on behaviour and then getting a structured plan in place. I always do a gap analysis when I start a new role. What is the best performance in this sector and where do we stand in relation to that? If we are not there, the team and I sit down and work out how we achieve those standards.

“I was really proud to be voted Carlsberg’s most inspirational leader by the workforce during my time there.”

Roles at Britvic, Coca Cola and SAB Miller followed, with the latter position being technical director for a £79bn South African brewery business with bases in eight countries and 14 breweries. He had to develop the workforces in diverse cultures from Botswana to Lesotho. On leaving, Mr Howard’s work was again recognised when he was appointed an Honorary Chief in Botswana in recognition of his work.

This role was followed by a post in Brussels with responsibility for an ever more challenging ingredients business with operations in 25 countries and saw him regularly flying up to 200 times a year.

This punishing schedule made him keen to be based at home more. He said: “I was immediately attracted to this Clearly Drinks role after such a time in the major corporate world. I love this region so it is great to be based back here and having the chance to build up a heritage business with so much potential.”

The business was started by the Fenwick family in Sunderland back in 1885. It had been through tough times but following a management buy-out in 2017 it has turned a corner. The workforce has increased up to 113 from 76 and there has been substantial investment in the plant.

Mr Howard said: “There is a really proud workforce here with some people who have worked for the business for a number of years. We have a fantastic spring water well under our factory which comes from the Cheviot hills so all of our soft drinks are excellent right from their source.

“We are currently developing three commercial channels, a contract division for independent organisations, own label products for major retailers and our own brand products such as Perfectly Clear and Upstream, which is a flavoured soft drink.”

The business also has a firm focus on reducing its reliance on plastic bottles with a 60 tonne reduction in the first five months of 2019 already.

He added: “We have great potential here and the perfect chance to achieve substantial success within the growing soft, flavoured drinks market. I can apply everything I learnt in my earlier career to this role. A goal is just a dream without a plan and we have ambitious plans for this business.”