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Tribute to Adrian Cadbury

A tribute to the late Adrian Cadbury from Quakers & Business Group

George Adrian Hayhurst Cadbury, Quaker and businessman, 15 April 1929 – 3 September 2015

As I write this tribute, I’m looking at Adrian’s obituary published online in the Guardian on Sunday 6 September 2015, with a photograph of him taken in 2007. I remember well his smile, the twinkle in his eye and his commitment to his Quaker roots in the different guises of his life. He will be best remembered for his career at the family chocolate firm and for his work on corporate governance.

He was the grandson of George Cadbury, who built the Cadbury factory and the model village of Bourneville. He read economics at Kings College and won a rowing blue. In 1952, the Cambridge boat represented Britain at the Olympics and came fourth. He said this was ‘The greatest thing that ever happened to me.’ He learned the importance of teamwork at an early age, no doubt informed by his rowing and kept this quality for the rest of his life. I remember working with him at Quakers & Business events and watching him bring out the best in everyone, through listening and encouragement. He wore his many gifts lightly.

He became Chairman of Cadbury in 1965 and remained true to his Quaker values. In 1969, Cadbury merged with the soft drinks firm Schweppes to form Cadbury Schweppes, with a view to expansion into the US market. He retired in 1989, having reached the age of 60. His younger brother Dominic took over the chair of what was by then a successful international business. However, the wider Cadbury family had lost control of the company. He and Dominic were unable to stop the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft in 2010. They wrote in a letter to the Daily Telegraph ‘A bidder can buy a business, what they cannot acquire is legitimacy over the character, values, experience and traditions on which that business was founded and flourished.’

Adrian was also well known for his concern over business ethics and his belief that ethics must be at the heart of a successful, sustainable business. Adrian’s life and work has informed and will continue to inform the thinking and work of the Quakers & Business Group. This Group is convinced that integrity at the heart of the workplace benefits organisations, individuals, communities and society.

After a number of corporate scandals over poor governance, accountability and financial reporting, he was a natural choice for the London Stock Exchange and the UK Financial Reporting Council to appoint to chair a committee on the financial aspects of corporate governance. His report, known as the Cadbury Code, was published in 1993 and is a model which has stood the test of time and has been adopted internationally. His Code split the power of the Chair and Chief Executive and gave stronger powers to non-executive (part-time) directors to curb the excesses of the executive (full-time) directors. The Code is based on principles not rules and the key principle is Comply or Explain; either comply with the Code or explain publicly where and why you are not. Some media commentators at the time said that the Code didn’t go far enough and some people in business said that it was too prescriptive and interfering. With the benefit of hindsight, Adrian got it exactly right.

In recent years, I have been working with colleagues at Mazars LLP on an initiative called Business For Good and in particular on the firm’s two Board Charters, one for corporates and one for charities, published in 2014. Like the Cadbury Code, our Charters are based on principles and not rules. The key principle is that a sustainable organisation and one which has ‘a licence to operate’ will be accountable not just to funders and investors, but to other stakeholders, staff, customers, suppliers and supply chain, community and wider society, with a care for the environment. Adrian saw a draft copy of both Charters and was very supportive. He and I had some fascinating conversations on how his Code and our Charters resonate and are consistent with our Quaker testimonies of simplicity, truth, equality, justice and peace. I greatly valued his wisdom, perspective, encouragement and good humour. I’m convinced that his life and work prepared the way for all those of us who follow him.

I’m a great believer that we see the worth of each other in small things as well as big. Two or three years ago, I was clerking (chairing) a Quaker & Business conference on business ethics at the Quaker Study Centre, Woodbrooke in Selly Oak, Birmingham. Woodbrooke was founded by George Cadbury in 1903 and occupies his former family home. Adrian was attending the conference and had told me that he had to leave over tea and would miss the final session. I announced the tea break and thanked Adrian for his contribution during the day. He found the time to come up to me over tea and said ‘Thank you for noticing me’. I was struck yet again by his kindness and humility.

As our mutual Friend (Quaker) Tim Phillips said today, ‘Adrian was a gentle, sincere, clear, compassionate, successful and firmly principled Quaker businessman. A role model for us all.’

We give thanks for the Grace in the life of our Friend, Adrian.

Paul Gibson, member, Quakers and Business Group
6 September 2015