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Jon Griffin: Mondelez International takeover turns into a bitter pill for Cadbury

Cadbury Bournville workers have told to 'change behaviour and attitude' or leave the business

Cadbury in Bournville
Cadbury in Bournville

The best stories, even after all these years, are still often the anonymous tip-offs from disgruntled workers.

Or as media magnate Lord Northcliffe once said: “News is something someone wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising.”

Far be it from me to advise a vast organisation such as Mondelez International on its public relations.

But they might have been better off suppressing “HIGH PERFORMING BOURNVILLE is this for me?” (their capitals) entirely, or at least attempt to produce it in The Queen’s English.

This is an extraordinary document which is part David Brent, part Kim Jong-Un’s public addresses in North Korea, part the Sir Alex Ferguson Nostalgia Show on the MUTV propaganda channel and part the performing Sea Lion troupe at Billy Smart’s Circus.

But, at heart, it is not remotely funny. It is a crass, appallingly written Orwellian exercise in clumsy management psychobabble which owes more to Winston Smith and the Newspeak of 1984 than any serious attempt to persuade workers to shape up or ship out.

But don’t just rely on highly debatable journalistic analysis. Because HIGH PERFORMING BOURNVILLE is a masterpiece of sorts, and deserves as wide an audience as possible to illustrate how a takeover which nobody, apart from the bosses at Kraft and a few institutional shareholders, wanted can be steamrolled through in an age of profit, profit and yet more profit.

For anybody unfamiliar with the Bournville story in recent years, Kraft, a global behemoth with a reputation for ruthless cost-cutting, swallowed up Cadbury in a hostile £11 billion plus takeover in February 2010, largely on the approval of 60 fund managing institutional shareholders.

Sir Dominic Cadbury, former chief executive and chairman of the confectionery group, said at the time: “One day you had the Cadbury company, the next day you didn’t. Gone. One hundred and eighty years of history down the tube, and I would argue 180 years of being a beacon of good practice. Something very precious got lost that day.”

Nearly five years down the line, a two-year moratorium on manufacturing job losses has long since expired, and the knives are being sharpened.

In January this year, Mondelez International, the grandiose new name for the Bournville parent group, announced a £75 million programme of investment in the factory to replace ageing equipment with new production lines.

Back in April, Neil Chapman, manufacturing director Chocolate UK for Mondelez International, told the Post: “Our costs on the ground down here are twice as much as others in our sister factories in Europe. That is manufacturing costs, compared to other sister plants in Europe, such as Germany.

“There are two sides to manufacturing costs. One, spend less, and two, drive more volumes through your plant. If we can reduce our costs, we will attract more volumes here and improve our efficiency.”

The £75 million investment is dependent on successful negotiations currently under way with the unions over the changes required. Hence the document that is “HIGH PERFORMING BOURNVILLE is this for me?”.

The 12-page Mondelez diktat, accompanied by cutesy-pie illustrations bearing 2Quest to be the Best2, Dairy Milk logos etc, contains such linguistic horrors as “We have been clear there will be fewer colleagues here at the end of our journey (sounds like something out of the Bob Hope film that never made it, the Road to Bournville?)

“We will achieve this as much as possible through MVR (managed voluntary redundancy) for those who want to be part of HIGH PERFORMING (their capitals, not mine) Bournville.

“This may require remaining colleagues to move across lines or varied shift patterns – but this will be DIALOGUED (my capitals, not theirs) as part of consultation and with individuals as required.”

Somewhat more chillingly, “We will support colleagues who haven’t got all the skills for the future e.g. numeracy or PC skills. However, we will not accept anyone not having the right behaviours....” (sounds a little like Joe Maplin’s exhortations to the Redcoat-style staff in Hi de Hi).

In an accompanying letter to ‘colleagues,’ Simpson Ovans, a gentleman who carries the title “Mondelez international head of manufacturing – deliver the contract” (I am not making this up), says: “It is vital that every single one of our colleagues understands that to become HIGH PERFORMING Bournville, every one of us will need to change and will be touched by our journey at some point over the next two and a half years.”

Images of the Moonies or the Scientologists come to mind.

Regardless of the primary school diction and the Maplinesque wordplay, none of this is entirely surprising, given the history of the takeover.

No company spends more than £11 billion, as the Americans did with Cadbury, to maintain the status quo. But, even if you can forgive the corporatespeak of HIGH PERFORMING BOURNVILLE, and accept Bournville needs to change its ways, there is still more to any workplace than job security.

Pre-takeover, Cadbury was already part-American, with up to 45 per cent of shares owned by US institutions.

But the management style appeared to attempt to reflect the paternalistic approach which had owed so much to the Cadbury family and the Quaker heritage.

That culture, in the hands of Mondelez International, has proved as disposable as a packet of Roses on Christmas afternoon.

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