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News > School News > Bread boss Jonathan Warburton raises the aspirations of Dame Allan’s Schools pupils

Bread boss Jonathan Warburton raises the aspirations of Dame Allan’s Schools pupils

Bakehouse boss and bread expert Jonathan Warburton proves why he’s the best in the bakery business thanks to a strong set of values and the help of Tinseltown’s greatest stars.
15 Dec 2023
School News
Jonathan Warburton with Sixth Form pupils (Back L, Marcus, R Faris. Front, L Will, R Amelia)
Jonathan Warburton with Sixth Form pupils (Back L, Marcus, R Faris. Front, L Will, R Amelia)

THERE are few who have worked in front of the cameras alongside Hollywood A-Listers Sylvester Stallone, George Clooney, Robert De Niro and Samuel L Jackson.

Jonathan Warburton – ‘just a lad from Bolton with a passion for bread’ – is one of them. 

Standing in front of a 200-strong audience at Dame Allan’s Schools as the latest guest speaker on The Lectures programme, the highly successful businessman behind Britain’s biggest bakery brand was refreshingly down to earth.

As Chairman of one of the UK’s most iconic family firms, Jonathan has helped grow Warburtons into a £780m business that employs around 5,000 staff and bakes two million products, from bread and rolls to crumpets, teacakes and bagels, across its ten bakery sites every single day. 

He was the brains behind the company’s creative, witty and pricey advertising campaign that’s seen him star alongside some of the biggest names in the movie industry in ads that run for an extravagant two minutes. 

The star-studded collaborations have, in Jonathan’s words, taken the business ‘to the next level’ and made the 66-year-old entrepreneur a household name.

“It’s not bad for the boy who was only given the part of ‘a tree’ in the school play,” he quipped to the captivated audience of pupils, parents and staff in the Newsom Hall.

His passion for bread, his unyielding desire to be the best, his focus on innovation, and his competitive nature coupled with an unapologetic dislike of rival brands have been his key drivers in business, he shared. 

Jonathan said he stands by the same set of values as the Special Air Services (SAS) and its founder David Stirling, namely: self-discipline, classlessness, humility, humour, and most importantly in his mind, an unrelenting pursuit of excellence. 

The father of four has adopted the latter principle as his main motto and the words adorn the walls at Warburtons HQ.

“We’ve always focused on being the best and running a great business,” explained Jonathan, who has sat at the helm of the fifth-generation family business alongside his two cousins, Brett and Ross, since the retirement of their fathers in 1991.

“I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone wants to be second best at anything. It may well be that you are second, third, fifth or tenth best - it doesn’t matter - it’s whether you want to be tenth best or if you want to be the best.”

Under Jonathan’s leadership, Warburtons has risen the ranks to sit among the crème de la crème in the industry. Today, more Warburtons goods are sold than any other grocery product in the UK and the Warburtons name sits alongside Kellogg’s, Coca Cola, Nestle, Walkers and Heinz as one of the country’s top grocery brands.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” he said. “All the other names are American-owned, public companies. We are the only privately-owned British company in that bracket.”

Yet Jonathan admitted that the path to success hasn’t been without several failures along the way and he was keen to impress on his young audience the value of learning from one’s own mistakes. 

“If I could give you one piece of advice it would be this: Fail… fail a lot while finding something you can become deeply passionate about,” he said. “The only way you know what you’re truly passionate about is to try a load of stuff and fail.” 

He also encouraged pupils to take risks. 

“It’s easy to run in the pack as most of us do most of the time, but occasionally, step out of your comfort zone and take risks. Do it at age 16, 17 and 18 so that by the time you’re 25 it’ll be the natural way to behave,” he told them. 

“In our environment, we encourage staff to take risks.. we just don’t encourage them to take the same risk twice if it fails the first time! Learning from failure is really important.” 

While the business has its historic roots firmly in Bolton where Thomas and Ellen Warburton (Jonathan’s great-great uncle and aunt) set up the first shop in 1876, Newcastle is home to two major Warburtons sites. 

As pioneers of the industry, Jonathan explained the crucial importance of investment and innovation to the audience. The business has invested more than £450m in technology, product development and infrastructure over the last ten years. 

“Innovation is key,” he explained. “If you don’t move forward and continually improve then you know what will happen. Constant improvement is what makes any business a success… and innovation is hugely important if a business is to thrive.” 

He conceded, during a fascinating Q&A session at the end of the talk, that Artificial Intelligence would play a future role in the business. 

“It is going to be transformative,” he admitted. “Like all innovation in technology, you have to embrace it because it’s going to happen, and to adapt to AI we’ve got to look to bright innovative young people, like yourselves, who have grown up with it.”

Despite the value Jonathan placed on innovation and technology, he was at pains to remind Dame Allan’s pupils of their own worth during The Lectures – a special programme of talks at the Schools designed to empower and inspire the business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

“There is nobody better than you,” he told pupils. “It’s what you make of yourselves that is important.”

Now in its second year, The Lectures features talks by an impressive lineup of guest speakers, with Green & Black’s founder Jo Fairley and historian Lucy Worsley OBE still to grace the Newsom Hall stage in the new year. 

The series, which was shortlisted for an industry award, is facilitated by Allanian Mark Dolder, who was a pupil at Dame Allan’s in the 70s and is now the CEO of Northumberland-based furniture maker, Bazaar Group.

Will Scott, Principal at Dame Allan’s Schools, said: “Jonathan Warburton proved to be yet another inspirational speaker whose experience, both in business and with some of Hollywood’s leading movie stars, captivated the school audience. 

“Thanks to Mark’s generosity, six fascinating speakers have now been welcomed at Dame Allan’s Schools and their wise words, witty anecdotes and powerful messages have undoubtedly made a lasting impression on our pupils.”

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