THE MT INTERVIEW: Miles Templeman

THE MT INTERVIEW: Miles Templeman - He's rebranded products from Ribena to Boddinton's and Stella, rescued Levi Strauss and restructured Thresher. Yet he was passed over for the top job at Whitbread and had his ambitions for Bulmers cut short by a takeover. Why is a man of his rare talent playing golf?

by Chris Blackhurst
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

He's rebranded products from Ribena to Boddinton's and Stella, rescued Levi Strauss and restructured Thresher. Yet he was passed over for the top job at Whitbread and had his ambitions for Bulmers cut short by a takeover. Why is a man of his rare talent playing golf?

A few years ago, I went back north to watch the British Open golf.

We stayed in Blackpool and popped into a bar for a drink. My companion, a dyed-in-the-wool southerner, pronounced the brew the 'best pint of Boddie's I've ever tasted'.

Miles Templeman can appreciate my friend's reverence. After all, if anyone is responsible for creating an aura around a pint of beer from Manchester and for duping a former Surrey boy into commenting on a brand that until not so long ago was unheard of in his neck of the woods, it's Templeman.

In 1989, Boddington's was a local northern ale, and a declining one at that. Then along came Templeman from Whitbread and a little marketing magic; Boddington's is the 'cream of Manchester' with a countrywide following and a threefold increase in sales.

One success does not a genius make. It's true: the impingeing of Boddington's on the national consciousness coincided with the elevation of Manchester from city of dark, beaten mills to the cultural magnet of 'Madchester'.

So, lucky Miles - he was in the right place at the right time, but no more than that. Not quite. Templeman has a record for this sort of thing.

He did it even more spectacularly with Stella Artois, transforming an obscure Belgian beer into Britain's top-selling premium lager and the fourth-largest grocery brand of all. In 13 years, Stella sales shot up 500% and are still growing at the rate of 20% a year.

Once, twice, three times. Templeman also scored a hit with Thresher off-licences in his three years in charge from 1985, increasing the number of branches from 650 to 800, driving turnover from pounds 300 million to pounds 450 million, and profits from pounds 8 million to pounds 12 million. Delve deeper into his impressive CV and there's the turnaround of Levi Strauss, making jeans fashionable again after the end of the '70s denim boom, and before that, helping shift Beecham from maker of unexciting medical products to owner of big-time consumer names like Ribena and Lucozade.

But, at present at least, this glittering career has hit the buffers.

At 55, the man who could lay claim to be Britain's most successful brand marketeer is unemployed. We meet for a pint, and when we adjourn, it's not to the top of a corporate tower, in a palatial suite filled with campaign trophies, but to the office of a friend of his. Not that he's signing on the dole, of course.

In January, he took charge at Bulmers. His brief? To work the Stella-Boddington's magic on the Herefordshire firm's Strongbow and other cider labels. No sooner had Templeman settled in, on his salary of pounds 275,000 (he stood to make more than pounds 2.5 million from share options if he succeeded), with his wife Janet looking at houses, than the business was sold by the Bulmer family to Scottish & Newcastle. Templeman left - his departure sweetened with a cheque for pounds 550,000 after just four months' work.

Relations with S&N, he stresses, are good. But you can't help wondering.

This isn't the first occasion that Templeman seemed destined to run the show and make some serious money, only to have the prize taken away. When Peter Jarvis retired from the top job at Whitbread, many in the firm and the industry - and, you suspect, Templeman himself - thought he was a shoe-in for the post. But it went to the other serious internal candidate, David Thomas.

So although there's a confidence and jauntiness about him, there's a sense of frustration, and possibly incomprehension, too. Maybe it's something to do with the British psyche: in America, he'd be a business hero, forever in demand; here, the brains behind several of our biggest household names is unemployed.

'I don't need to work, but I'd like to,' he says. 'I'd like to have another task similar to Bulmers, like aligning an organisation behind a proposition. I'd like a blend of front-end and organisational-end.' He shrugs, resignedly. 'I'd like to be involved in something - whether that's part-time or full-time remains to be seen.'

In a way, it's a pity he seems so set on running a business, because to spend time with Templeman is an education. His knowledge of brands and what makes them fly off the shelves is second to none. He would make a first-rate business lecturer, one who could bring real, front-line knowledge to bear.

Genial and warm, he doesn't talk in the hideous management patois of many senior executives. There's a humility and matter-of-factness about him that is both endearing and diverting. Former colleagues speak warmly of him. He's full of energy and is intensely driven. It was this that made his wife encourage him to take the Bulmers job. He had plenty of non-executive directorships and was comfortably off, but they weren't enough.

Once he has made a decision, though, he can refuse to budge, and doesn't like admitting he's wrong. And he can take those decisions frighteningly quickly: one brand manager recalled how he received the go-ahead to spend pounds 2 million on a sponsorship proposal after just 15 minutes of presentation and questions.

His career is characterised by risk-taking, either in the jobs he's taken in moving from one company to another, or, within those posts, by driving a brand in a particular direction, usually against the rest of the market.

So, for example, other brewers were seeking high-volume, low-price sales, and along comes Templeman to force Stella upmarket. Touch wood, so far he has not come unstuck. What he disarmingly likes to call 'a combo of opportunism and inspiration' has served him brilliantly.

He's a big man, tall, with a glorious, full head of swept-back hair.

His face is tanned from the summer we've had and time on the golf course - a new passion. He dresses well: expensive but not too formal, with a hint of flamboyance.

He's talking away and, mid-flow, his mobile rings and it's one of his grown-up sons. He can't speak now, he says, in a friendly manner. He's a real family man. Before taking Bulmers, he consulted his children - his sons were excited, his daughter couldn't care less. Later, unprompted, he says what his children are doing. One son is involved in running a smart pub in Clapham, south London; the other is a management consultant.

His daughter spent time working in The Mariner's, a pub in Rock, Cornwall, close to their holiday home.

He grew up in north London; his father was a businessman. After school at Haberdashers and university at Cambridge, where he read economics, Templeman had little idea what he wanted to do. Business didn't appeal to him. 'I had no great interest in it. A friend of mine said he thought advertising looked glamorous, so I went into advertising.' He became a trainee at Young & Rubicam, working on the Procter & Gamble account, developing campaigns for Daz and Flash. 'Y&R was like an extension of the company - the relationship was that close - so I learned the P&G approach to marketing, which is still one of the best there is.'

In particular, he started to realise the importance of branding and of lining up all the organisation behind it. 'Brilliant advertising can create value, but you've got to have a good product first.' It was a good grounding.

'The external world sees a brand and thinks that's it. But what goes into a successful brand is more than an ad campaign. It's about how the organisation sells it, how the organisation packages it, how all the systems fit together.'

After a while, the agency lost its appeal and he quit for Beecham. There's a trend here: despite being identified with some of the best campaigns in recent times, Templeman isn't a great ad agency man. He's got lots of friends who work in them - some, like Nigel Bogle and Frank Lowe, among the biggest names in the business - but it's never been his thing. 'In an agency, you're too much at the receiving end. I want to be more in control. I suppose I'm more pragmatic than creative. I like the creative process and I like getting the best out of creative people, but if you're in an agency you've got to love the ads for themselves - I like to love everything else to do with the brand as well.'

At Beecham, in his twenties, he says, 'I began to find what I could do.' Life at the medical and consumer group was more hands-on, more practical, less theoretical than being an adviser at Y&R. As product manager, he helped develop Ribena and Lucozade and a new product, Baby Ribena. He realised the importance of packaging, and how a market could be segmented while sticking to the same generic design. He also learned how to galvanise, how to get teams from different disciplines moving in the same, focused direction. 'I became aware that marketing was my big thing, that I was good at working with people and at motivating them.'

In 1978, he left Beecham for the trendier and more adult world of jeans at Levi, becoming the US firm's marketing and sales director for northern Europe. He persuaded the bosses in America to let Europe take a different tack. Levi advertising worldwide was handled by McCann. Templeman was approached by Bogle and his partner, John Hegarty, to see if their new agency could carve out some work. Bogle and Hegarty had a new, radical idea for promoting jeans. 'The presentation was in a rented room - they didn't have their own premises,' recalls Templeman.

Jerry Judge, then of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says it was a huge risk. 'Levi was nearly bankrupt and Miles was brave to choose us.'

In those days jeans were sold by displaying pictures of bottoms, usually belonging to slim girls. For Levi's black denims, BBH proposed showing a black sheep among a flock of white sheep. Recalls Judge: 'Miles said: 'Where's the bum shot?' We said that's old hat. He thought hard for a few minutes and without any further questions, said: 'Okay, let's do it.''

Templeman says: 'I persuaded Levi's to go against their better judgment. They agreed, and what followed was great fun.'

One result of the partnership was the campaign for Levi 501s in 1985.

Those who were teenagers at the time will never forget Nick Kamen stripping to his boxers in a launderette, to the accompaniment of Marvin Gaye's Heard it through the Grapevine. It was an iconic ad that revived Levi's fortunes and set the tone for clothes marketing for the rest of the decade.

What also flowed from that period was a rapport between Templeman and the BBH agency. 'Bogle and Hegarty were an excellent bunch, they're good people and I stayed with them,' he says.

Later, it was BBH that came up with the Boddington's 'Cream of Manchester' ads. 'We were thinking how to turn a second-rate north-west brand into something more stylish, to make it more appealing again. BBH thought of focusing on the creamy aspect, of selling a beer like a face cream.'

Templeman's spell at Levi was marked by more than the innovative ads.

As he puts it, he 'established marketing disciplines in a rag trade environment'.

He grew products other than jeans from 5% to 30% of sales, created 'shops in shops' and improved supply lines. While other manufacturers suffered after the end of the '70s denim boom, Levi bucked the trend.

He left in 1985, as the 501 ads were kicking in. 'I felt it was the right time to go.' He'd been offered what he'd always wanted: the opportunity to run his own business as managing director of Thresher. The off-licence group had recently merged two similar-sized businesses but they were being run separately with no clear direction or strategy. The new boss had to weld them together.

'Cost control was good, though systems were primitive,' he says. He set to work, integrating the two organisations and, at the same time, hammering home a more micro approach: the range of wines, beers and spirits was changed from store to store to reflect local tastes; the decor of the shops was improved, especially those in more affluent areas.

The chain was his first introduction to the competitive take-home drinks market. He grew Thresher's wine business, and its market share climbed.

But although it was a good operation with a high turnover, it was small compared to other groups. Profits, even after he'd increased them to pounds 12 million, were tiny - and certainly not large enough for someone of Templeman's ambition. 'I learned a lot at Thresher's. It was all about getting the processes right, getting the systems right, getting the front-end people relating to the business and to customers.'

A bigger employer beckoned, and in 1988 he joined the main board at Whitbread as group marketing director. He was just 41. In those days, the company was at a crossroads: beer sales were falling and recession was biting.

At the same time, the Monopolies Commission was taking a hard look at pubs, wanting brewers to separate production from retailing. Whitbread decided to uncouple beer and to reflect the growing demand for other types of leisure, like health clubs and eating out.

In 1990, the group created the Whitbread Beer Company, responsible for the brewing and marketing of its beer brands sold in pubs, off-licences and supermarkets. Templeman was put in charge. Turnover was pounds 700 million, yielding profits of just pounds 15 million; market share was 12% in a falling market; and, he says, there was no strategy for future growth. The business relied heavily on Heineken (40% of sales and 60% of profit), whereas Stella accounted for just a third of Heineken's sales. Brewing was spread over 10 sites.

In effect, Templeman was given carte blanche. He rebuilt the business around two or three key brands, paring down the brewing to just three sites, increasing output per brewery worker by 40%, cutting distribution centres from 16 to three, and slashing overheads. But it was the way brands seemed to rise up from nowhere that won him plaudits. 'I focused on Stella and Boddington's and one or two other good brands and then tried get all the individuals in the company to see what they could contribute towards them. If you do it that way, you end up with an organisation that feels as though the people in it are enjoying themselves.'

It wasn't without pain, though. Redundancies were heavy. Nor was it without disappointment. Templeman claims that his biggest regret wasn't in failing to get Jarvis's job, but in not persuading the board to back him to buy Courage. You scan his face for a flicker of emotion. Is he serious? Not even a twitch. But whatever he says, it's hard to imagine he was more upset at not landing Courage than he was at not becoming group chief executive.

The Boddington's ads would not have succeeded if the product hadn't also improved. That, he says, was down to a moment of pure inspiration. Guinness had developed the widget in its cans, allowing beer to be poured with a creamy head, same as in pubs. On Templeman's roster was Murphy's, Whitbread's rival to Guinness. After Guinness refused to let Murphy's have its widget, he set his boffins the task of creating something similar but legally different. When they succeeded, someone suggested trying it in a can of Boddington's. In one swoop, the Manchester ale had stolen a march on the rest of the take-home bitter market.

Templeman's tactic for Stella was to survey drinkers. 'It's still the best research I've ever seen. It was so strong: they genuinely saw it as a quality product, different from other beers.' The resulting ads, by Frank Lowe, constantly played up the discerning drinker theme. Not all drinkers knew of its existence, was the message - only those in the know. The packaging was given a makeover. 'Everything was geared to making the brand more appealing without taking the premium out,' says Templeman.

'It wasn't a case of moving Stella upmarket - it was already there. It was more about giving it a broader appeal without losing that upmarket position.'

Too often, he says, companies make the mistake of giving up cachet to chase volume. 'The real skill is how to keep a brand at the premium end, but making it a premium brand the masses want to go for.' The 501 adverts had the same effect: making customers believe they weren't buying an ordinary pair of jeans but something genuinely classic and special.

Within Whitbread - and outside, too - he became heavily associated with beer, but the group was intent on growing its non-beer interests in restaurants and leisure. Even so, Templeman was in pole position to succeed Jarvis. 'I was seen as the favourite, but not by much,' he says. 'But the board felt that Whitbread was destined for a retail future, and I'd been identified with beer.' Jarvis told him he 'wasn't seen as the right leader for a retail business'.

His expression is impassive but you can feel his hurt. He lets slip, for instance, that several people in the City thought the board was wrong, that he could run the whole group. As for his retail experience, what was Thresher when it was at home? And he can't resist adding: 'David (Thomas, the victor) thought he wouldn't get it, he thought I was the more likely candidate.'

He and Thomas, he says, have remained friends. And, to Templeman's immense credit, he accepted defeat with grace. 'I didn't snipe, I decided that would only make me miserable.' Neither too, did he walk out in a huff. 'I had the choice of leaving Whitbread and finding something new or putting all my energies into the beer business. I stayed and they were the best two years I've ever had.'

At Bulmers, he says, it was always on the cards that the cider-maker would be sold. 'The board wanted to rebuild or to sell it. I was in both camps.' He had a plan, which was starting to be implemented, of doing for Strongbow what he did for Stella. In the past, Bulmers had been pursuing the lager market rather than selling cider as a product in its own right.

Ads were drawn up to emphasise the uniqueness of cider or, as he puts it, its 'premiumness'.

He was securing new funding, reducing overheads and reorganising the business when S&N firmed up its interest. He was criticised, especially in the local Hereford press, for making so much money after so little time in charge and after cutting jobs.

'I knew I was going into an unstable position. They wanted someone to bring credibility. If we'd not refinanced and not had a business plan, the company might have been sold at a lower price.' His duty was to the shareholders. 'We might not have got the price we did. Soon after I joined, the shares were 80p; we ended up getting 340p.' He's not so hard, though, as to ignore people's feelings. 'The sad part of the sale is that while the shareholders gained, 250 people will lose their jobs. So how do you view that?'

But he, too, was one of those to lose his job. 'I've a lot of regret about Bulmers. It was the sort of thing I would like to be doing. Marketing and the non-marketing side, running the business - they all fitted well together.'

What about the future? 'I don't know; you learn to be cool about it as you get older.' For now, there's rounds of golf with his wife to occupy him. It's a pity, but his unemployment must surely be only temporary.

< TEMPLEMAN IN A MINUTE 1947: Born 4 October; educated at Haberdashers Askes, Elstree; Jesus College, Cambridge; Columbia University, New York 1970: Trainee account executive, Young & Rubicam 1973: Product manager, Beecham Foods 1978: Marketing and sales director, Northern Europe, Levi Strauss 1985: Managing director, Thresher Off Licences 1988: Group marketing director, Whitbread 1990: Managing director, Whitbread Beer Company, and main board director, Whitbread 2003: Chief executive HP Bulmer, 1 January to 31 July

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