Bakery and Fast Food Entrepreneur
Ian Davis Gregg was born in Brenton Park, Newcastle, in 1939. His father, John Gregg (1909-1964) had established a small bakery business in Gosforth, consisting of ‘one shop and a few vans that delivered to the mining areas, and door to door sales of bread and flour confectionery’ (Harvey, 2012). John was adamant that Ian should not follow him into the bakery business, believing that a good education could lead to better things. Ian attended the independent Ascham House School, now the Newcastle School for Boys, and then Durham School before entering Cambridge to study Classics. He then went into articles and qualified as a Solicitor.
In 1964, Ian’s father John died suddenly. Ian, just 25 at the time, decided to leave the legal profession and take over the family business. After a difficult time learning the ropes, he began to experiment and expand the business. His intention at the time was simply to do things well and offer good products at a competitive price with a high standard of service. He was, by his own admission, a reluctant entrepreneur, but one with a knack of providing what his customers wanted. Freshness became the watchword of the business. More shops were opened, delivering economies of scale. Appointing professional managers with wide industry experience speeded the process. Peter Feather joined the board in 1971 and instilled a more strategic approach leading to growth clusters in major cities like Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. The business went public in 1984, floating on the London Stock Exchange. Mike Darrington, previously of United Biscuits, was appointed as chief executive and Ian became executive chairman. The business went into turbo-drive as Darrington refined the concept of tasty, fresh foods, with the smell of in-store baking, available to all at modest cost, pioneered by Ian Gregg, working on store layout, presentation, product range and service standards. Behind the scenes, operations became more slick and efficient, and Greggs became a household name. Ian chaired the board until 2002 and retired in 2007.
Ian Gregg’s philanthropy took root at an early stage during his career as a baker. He had the simple goal of giving back to the people and communities in which Greggs operated. At first, this simply entailed provisioning local community events, but from this simple, instinctive beginning emerged a bigger concept. As a business, Greggs has embraced the concept of corporate philanthropy. The Greggs Foundation was established in 1987 to help support the communities in which it works. It makes numerous grants each year to frontline charities and individuals in need each, and it liberally supports environmental causes. It is one of the major supporters of the annual BBC Children in Need Appeal. However, its crowning achievement is the bringing into being of 474 breakfast clubs, staffed by volunteers, which offer a free meal for children before the start of the school day. What began as a Mike Darrington brainchild in 1999 has become a national institution. Across the board, the Foundation spends £3 million annually in supporting good causes.
The second main strand to Ian Gregg’s philanthropy, which to him represents a deep personal commitment, is the environment. A childhood passion for fishing led him to join the Tweed River Commission in the early 1980s. A desire to increase fish stocks led him to study water quality, river habitats, river bank protection and conservation of catchment areas. Ian joined the North Atlantic Salmon Trust in 1996, The Rivers Trust in 2004 and The Eden River Trust in 2007. For many years he chaired The Rivers Trust. His endeavours have helped turn the Tyne River from one of the most polluted rivers in England to one of the country’s best for Salmon. Many other environmental projects and organizations have benefited from his support, including the Local Environmental Action Fund at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. In 2011, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the North East, Newcastle University presented Ian Greg with an honorary degree in Civil Law.
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Davis, J. (2013). The Open Lines & Flog It!, BBC Radio Leicester, Available here (Accessed: 20/07/2018).
Dempster, S. (2013). Greggs: More Than Meats The Pie, as heart-warming as a Sausage and Bean Melt, The Guardian, Available here (Accessed: 31/08/2018).
Gregg, I. (2013). Bread – The story of Greggs, London: Transworld.
Greggs PLC. (2017). Investing in Our Future, Available here (Accessed: 19/07/2018).
Greggs (2018), About Greggs, Available here (Accessed: 30/08/2018).
Harvey, C. (2012). Interview with Ian Gregg on 12 January 2012, Newcastle: Newcastle University.