Brand Fostering: An Integrated Global Brand Solution
Edwin Bessant is the CEO of Ceuta Group, a global consumer brand services organisation working with some of the most dynamic brands in Health & Personal Care and Food & Drinks. Established for 24 years, Ceuta Group is made up of 12 brand specialist companies and counts over 450 employees with offices in the UK, Ireland, USA, The Netherlands, Thailand, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Ceuta Group offers a unique collective of services, delivering a singular solution to enhance, grow and support the brands they represent across 100+ national and international markets. Edwin has been the architect in shaping and building out Ceuta Group. His successful career commenced with Cadbury through to Wilkinson Sword followed by a European ‘Fast Track’ programme at Pfizer Consumer before founding Ceuta Healthcare in 1994 with his joint founding and inspiring partner Annette D’Abreo. Edwin’s dynamic vision led Ceuta Healthcare to blossom into Ceuta Group with the development of additional business divisions and nine acquisitions in the past four years.
Ceuta Group is currently backed by Juggernaut Capital Investors (Washington DC).
Why did you want to start the business? What sets your business apart from its competitors?
It all began in October 1994 in a small office in Bournemouth. We started a business with no clients, leaving a director role and an aspiring career at Pfizer Consumer behind. It was really a matter of being in the right place at the right time and having clear goals, realistic objectives and a great partner. We discovered a gap in the market with companies wanting an alternative and more affordable solution to calling on pharmacies. We seized the opportunity and formed Ceuta Healthcare, providing outsourced sales solutions, training and in-store category planning for Health & Personnel Care brands.
Initially, Ceuta Healthcare provided services domestically, predominantly working with over-the-counter healthcare manufacturers needing a sales presence in independent pharmacies. We built a sales team that not only went into independent pharmacies to sell them a range of Health & Personal Care brands from multiple manufacturers (Bayer, P&G, Boehringer, GSK, Sankyo etc.) but also provided medical training to pharmacy counter assistants. This evolved into a one-stop-shop for brand support and growth services including strategy, marketing, customer services and logistics. We then expanded quickly from selling brands into pharmacies, to selling them into multiple grocery and other retail stores. The operation grew to become a sought-after service for brand owners from large multinationals to start-ups.
In 2004, more and more clients needed help to expand their brands into Europe and Ceuta International and the International Alliance were formed. Ceuta International became a unique, cohesive, and high-impact international service for brand owners, giving them support to export and grow their brands across Europe, Asia, North America, Canada and the Middle East. The success we deliver for our clients internationally was recognised this year at The Sunday Times International Track 200 Award ceremony where we reached the 4th place amongst Britain’s private companies with the fastest-growing international sales.
After continued growth, manufacturers recognised that Ceuta had built a highly professional reputation offering bespoke services that included managing a company’s total business within a market or totally managing a specific brand (Brand Fostering).
We noticed that clients were struggling to bring external agencies together to work on specific projects to manage and grow their brands. This became the catalyst for expanding our service offering and forming Ceuta Group. We started acquiring brand specialist companies able to deliver strategic support around Brand Strategy, Creative Design, Brand Activation, Category & Shopper Insight, Field & Experiential Marketing, Data Analytics, Logistics and go-to-market Sales & Marketing. These combined disciplines support the journey of a brand from concept to execution; delivering everything a brand owner would ever want or need from ONE outsourced partner.
Ceuta Group now offers a complete outsourced “Brand Fostering” solution or a tailored combination of specialist brand services on a global footprint; delivering bespoke solutions that perfectly match the needs of our clients and their brands. This model is appealing to both manufacturers and private equity companies who acquire brands but don’t want bricks & mortar or headcount, but need the IP.
Today Ceuta Group is comprised of 12 brand specialist companies – (Ceuta Healthcare, Bridgethorne, 1HQ, BrandShapers (Ireland), Creative Leap, Orchid, Collidascope, Ceuta International, Go2Grocery, Atomic, Impact and VBM Associates); together they deliver a unique consumer brand offering to their clients globally. From optimising a brand portfolio to breaking into new markets or bespoke trade channels, from reviving a stagnant brand to turning a great product idea into a successful commercial launch, everything we do is focused on creatively nurturing our clients’ brands for optimal growth and reward. We offer all the resources a brand owner will ever need under one roof, providing a consistent, comprehensive and professional service. Our efficiency means we spend all our time growing our clients’ brands, making it easy for them to work with us by simplifying complex brand processes. We offer a straightforward, helpful and intelligent interface for all the services you need, bringing new speed, agility and cost efficiency to the growth of brands, through our unique 5-step process.
Our Brand Fostering model is an industry unique tool supported by our internal ‘Integrated Platform of Services’. Other leading global businesses cannot offer the same depth, end-to-end brand support and extensive global reach as Ceuta. We are seeing a market where companies are looking for global solutions, but they want to work with a partner who can provide stability, continuity and the same standard of performance across the globe whilst also being financially sound, having outstanding values and supporting a strong CSR agenda. That’s exactly what we offer and, more importantly, what we deliver.
You have acquired a number of other added value businesses within Ceuta Group – what are the businesses that you are interested in acquiring? Can you tell us a bit about Ceuta’s global acquisition strategy?
The rationale for acquiring our companies was to deliver a collective of services under one umbrella; delivering a simpler and singular solution to our clients. We now have an evidenced-based model with a number of high-profile clients trusting us to successfully manage and develop their brands and businesses around the world.
Our acquisition strategy started in the UK and Ireland where we have acquired nine businesses in the last four years. In 2015, we made our first acquisition with Bridgethorne, delivering multi-channel category management, shopper marketing and customer management insight. We then acquired Windsor-based design agency 1HQ. This is an excellent example of a business that was solely operating in the UK prior to our investment and that we have now turned into a globally recognised creative design agency with international offices in New York, Rotterdam, Singapore, Sydney, Auckland and soon Shanghai and Seattle. We have acquired a number of other exciting businesses that have been noted in this article; to find out more about each of our Group companies, please visit our website: www.ceutagroup.com.
What we have created in the UK and Ireland is a local market model using evidence-based data. In the last 18 months, this has been documented very successfully with proven examples across our Group of clients using on average four to five of our services at a time. Now that we have an evidence-based model in the UK and Ireland, we want to migrate that model from a micro level to a macro level.
When we identify a potential acquisition target, I ensure the following requirements are met: the target is a good fit in our organisation, that they have a robust set of financials and strong EBITDA and that they are an ascendant business with strong management. I also make sure they look after their employees and invest in their people’s development by offering training opportunities, that they comply with corporate governance activities and responsibilities, have strong values and that we share the same ambitions and vision.
Two years prior to BREXIT, we were going to acquire three companies in Continental Europe, but this immediately put an 18 – 20% price tag on those companies, putting an end to those intentions. We are now looking, towards the end of the year and in 2019 at re-igniting our program if we see a BREXIT agreement. We also have a five-year investment programme with our initial focus being on Asia, Australasia and Continental Europe. We have already identified the companies we plan to acquire and a number of the discussions are already in place.
As the CEO of Ceuta Group, what is important to you?
As a CEO, it is important to have a very structured, talented and inspired management team. You may be able to lead and direct a business, but you cannot do it alone; you need the support of a great leadership team to innovate, initiate, lead and deliver; they do not need to be micro-managed – this is a strong mantra for me. I have a very open style of management – my door is always open.
My role has changed dramatically since we started the business 24 years ago – from being the Managing Director of a single business to being the CEO of a fast-growing global organisation. I am responsible for the Group’s continued build-out, delivering to our shareholders and for leading and inspiring people from across 12 different companies. That’s why it’s important that the backdrop to our company is great leadership through Management and HR. We pride ourselves on our highly motivated, passionate and talented teams. Their skills, expertise and constant learning are invaluable, and our Talent Management and Development Team is fully invested in the success of our people, allowing them to grow and develop to continuously meet the needs of our clients.
For me, the day is very structured; I usually have a balanced day of meetings to ensure I have time to prepare and follow up on actions. I always keep a close eye on the financials and commercials of the business with the exceptional support of my Group Financial Officer and VP Team. I do spend time travelling internationally and more often to New York as we have offices there and a considerable number of our clients, investors and advisors are based there or within other regions of the USA.
When looking to the future of the business, I have three simple imperatives to keep in mind: First, I always keep an eye on the market and look three years ahead to ensure that we are prepared for it, that we will still be relevant, fit for purpose and delivering to the industry’s need. Second, I need to ensure that we build a business that is as robust as possible to safeguard, enhance and create job prospects and security for our employees. Thirdly, I ensure we deliver to our shareholders.
In addition to keeping an eye on our market place in three years’ time, it is important to me to understand the traits of futurism – understanding all the technology and operational advancements as well as evolving consumer needs, behaviours and priorities, as these changes can indirectly and directly change your business positioning and direction.
From a CEO perspective, it is important that we don’t have a ‘Kodak moment’, where one doesn’t understand the market shape or the direction it’s going in. You want to be able to shape, innovate, initiate and deliver to an industry need by continuously adding value to your clients and delivering against your promises.
There is no point in taking your business forward if you don’t take your people with you. Our people and our values have been the backbone of our business from day one, allowing us to develop a “winning culture” based on our passion for the brands we support and our commitment to achieving nothing less than the best for our clients.
(Edwin has received a large number of Leadership and CEO awards over the years. In 2016, he won a Global Leadership CEO 100 Award for “Building out a Vision” against CEOs from other international companies including Apple, Microsoft, Disney, LVMH, Uber and Facebook. He is also a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, a Fellow of the Institute of Directors and a Fellow of the Prince’s Enterprise Trust.)