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“Trust is everything”: Lord Zameer Choudrey, CEO of Bestway Group

“Trust is everything”

Lord Zameer Choudrey
CEO of Bestway Group

“Trust is everything”, says Lord Zameer Choudrey, CEO of Bestway Group, which operates the largest independent food wholesaler and largest independent pharmacy chain in the UK.

Trust has been at the heart of how he has run the organisation since entering the family business in 1984.

“When I first came into the business, we were very small. But I recognised our suppliers gave us a lot of credit. They gave us products on trust. So, in 1985 I started printing our financial accounts and circulating them to all the credit controllers and finance directors at our suppliers to show them, ‘this is our performance, this is the health of our company, so you can sleep easily at night knowing your money is safe’.”

Transparency and trust

Lord Choudrey says that simple insight - that transparency can be the foundation of mutual trust - still shapes his decision-making today. All that has changed is the scale.

“Now we are doing more documenting of things, making them available on the internet, on our website, on social media. Now we’re broadcasting that information to a wider audience, because the people who are interested are a much wider group,” says Lord Choudrey, speaking to PwC for the 25th Annual CEO Survey.

“Customers, future customers, employees and future employees, they all have a right to knowledge and information.”

The outcome is still ultimately the same. “Once you share information you start a dialogue,” he adds.

And trust must work both ways.

“Trust with your customers, your staff and with your suppliers and your bankers is key. Unless they trust you, nothing can happen. And if I don’t trust the management of a particular division I won’t sleep easily at night. I will not have confidence to invest more in it and grow it. And if I don’t have their trust they won’t be working as hard to grow it either.”

A focus on communities

A key element of Lord Choudrey’s ongoing focus on building trust is communicating the work his organisation does in the community.

Lord Choudrey says this is motivated in part by zakat, the requirement upon him as a Muslim to donate 2.5% of wealth to charitable causes. But he adds it is also “the right thing to do”.

“We are based in the communities, we do our business in the communities, we profit from the communities, so we must look after the communities that we live and work in.”

Through its Bestway Foundation, Bestway has donated more than £40m to charitable causes in healthcare and education. In the UK, that has included grants for schools to upgrade IT systems and scholarships at Bradford, Kent, Oxford and Cambridge universities. In Pakistan, where the Bestway Group operates the country’s second largest cement producer and third largest bank, the Foundation provides free medical treatment to over 35,000 individuals annually as well as running schools and a college.

“We believe it helps. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel proud,” says Lord Choudrey.

Agility forged in adversity

Lord Choudrey is also proud of the way his team has rallied during the pandemic.

“At the start of the pandemic, our businesses were declared as essential services and our colleagues were deemed key workers. All our colleagues, both in the UK and globally have done a wonderful job and I would like to thank them all,” he says. “I want to particularly highlight the stellar role the pharmacists played. Doctors were not available to their patients face-to-face, so pharmacists became the only port of call for patients who wanted to have face-to-face contact with a healthcare professional. Pharmacists provided that assistance, free of charge. They did a fantastic job for the public.”

His organisation’s ability to adapt to disruption was also vital in keeping grocery stores stocked through lockdown when suppliers couldn’t keep up with demand.

“Suppliers said to us ‘we’ve got the stock sitting in our warehouse, you’re more than welcome to come and pick it up’ so we did that, wherever we could. Everybody worked incredibly hard and I’m very thankful for that. We were also lucky to have a lot of capacity in our warehouses so we could provide a more reliable supply to our customers.”

Those lessons, and that agility are still proving useful as supply chain issues and disruption persist. A continued investment in technology, and the ability to provide real-time insights into stock levels and availability, use data to optimise logistics and provide customers with round-the-clock app-based support on inventory and ordering has also helped deal with such disruption.

A focus on the long term

Like most CEOs, Lord Choudrey has been dealing with a lot of short-term disruption but is committed to ensuring such issues don’t distract from his long-term strategy.

“The day-to-day firefighting is mostly left with the management teams in our divisions,” he says. “The group, and my role, is still very much focused on oversight, direction and thinking about the future and strategic priorities such as acquisitions. And because we are a family-run business, I don’t need to focus on what I can achieve quarter-on-quarter, or year-on-year. I don’t have to think short term. As a family business, we know we have to live with the impact of our decisions and that gives us the confidence and the ability to focus on creating long-term value.”

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Marco Amitrano

Marco Amitrano

Head of Clients and Markets, PwC United Kingdom

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