James Munro, joint managing director of Hurworth-based Country Valley Foods, which owns butchers chain Newboulds
James Munro: Taste for business life from bottom to the top
HE might be the boss of 130 people these days, but life’s not always been so high-rolling for James Munro.
James runs family firm Country Valley Foods, based in Hurworth Moor, near Darlington, with his brother, Edward, who is also joint managing director.
They took on the roles after their father, Stewart, stepped down from the day-to-day running of the firm and became chairman.
However, James started from the very bottom of the business.
“My father ran a chain of butchers’ shops called Munro’s before he did this,” he said.
“My working life started when I was 15, cleaning toilets and making burgers for my dad.
“I got no special treatment whatsoever for being the boss’ son – quite the opposite, in fact.”
After qualifying in meat technology at college, James went to work in a master butcher’s shop in Eindhoven, in The Netherlands, for a year, before winning a scholarship from The Worshipful Company of Butchers, in London, to do a year’s placement at a meat processing plant in Toronto, Canada.
“They were complete polar opposite experiences,” said James.
“In Holland, they have very advanced cutting techniques – they are still years ahead in terms of that. It was amazing, both in terms of career and life experience – the nightlife was great.
“In Canada, it was a huge factory employing 1,200 people and processing 10,000 pigs a week, running 24 hours a day.
“They did everything from slaughtering the animals to making sausages.
“It was a very well run, hightechnology plant. I learnt a lot from both experiences.”
James, now 39, then went travelling around Australia for a year, before coming back and settling into working at Munro’s.
Unfortunately, the BSE crisis hit the business hard, and it closed.
Stewart had a 50 per cent share in Country Valley Foods, and his business partner wanted to retire, so the family bought him out.
When the Munros took it over, the company was turning over £10,000 a week. They have increased that figure to between £350,000 and £400,000 in 15 years.
“Our growth came about right at the time where there was an explosion of restaurants and eating out became more popular,” said James, who lives in Maltby, North Yorkshire, with his wife, Leanne, and their children, Elise, five, and Luis, nine.
“Twenty years ago, people maybe ate out once a month.
“Now, it’s more like once a week, if not more,” he said.
“People possibly have more disposable income, or maybe are just more ready to treat themselves rather than saving.”
He said his experiences working abroad and doing menial jobs as a teenager helped him become a good boss.
“Because I have done it, I can often come up with solutions.
I’ve walked the walk, as it were.
“I’ve done everything from being a butcher to cleaning toilets.
“I think I expect plenty from people, but I do think I give it back when the time is right, or when people need me to.
“The best part of my job is dealing with so many highend restaurants, as I quite often get to eat in them.
“I love all food, not just meat.”
He said he hoped the future of the business would see it expand into Leeds.
“Our recent acquisition, Ray Clark of Stockton, which has merged with our existing refrigeration department, CV Refrigeration, was purely opportunistic.
“That’s how we grow.
There’s no master plan – opportunities present themselves and we take them “I’m a bit of a gambler and so far it’s always paid off.”
Five minutes with... James Munro
Favourite North-East building and why?
Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough – I am a Boro fan.
What was your first job and how much did you get paid?
Making burgers for my father for nothing.
What is the worst job you’ve had?
Fruit picking in Australia – which was the equivalent to community service.
What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?
Grand reserve ribeye steak, bernaise sauce, chips and salad.
What would your superpower be?
Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party.
Noel Gallagher, Keith Richards, George Best and Kate Moss.
Most expensive thing you’ve bought – other than car or house – and how much?
Breitling watch – and it was too much.
Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?
Don’t follow Twitter – social media is not my bag.
Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab.
When did you last cry?
Watching Free Willie with the kids.
What is your greatest achievement?
What’s the best piece of advice in business you’ve ever been given?
If you get knocked down, get back up again – don’t let it drag you down.
Favourite animal and why.
Tigers. I am fascinated by them and their size and beauty.
Most famous person on your mobile phone?
Boro legend Gary Gill.
What was the last band you saw live?
The Stone Roses.
Describe your perfect night in.
Wife, friends, red wine and music.
In another life I would be...
A lead guitarist.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
What irritates you?
Slow drivers in the outside lane.
What’s your secret talent?
Bareback horse riding.