Former chairman of Cadbury Schweppes Sir Adrian Cadbury (right) rowed in the 1952 Olympics. Here he talks to former Olympic oarsman Richard Phelps about why he still feels so passionate about the sport.
'This,' said Sir Adrian Cadbury rather proudly, 'is a picture of my 1952 Olympic crew, and this one is of the 1953 crew winning the Grand Trophy at Henley Royal Regatta - now that was a naturally quick crew. Even with an Oxford man on board,' he added, smiling like a naughty schoolboy. Sir Adrian's achievements in the rowing world, as well as corporate Britain are impressive to say the least and left me in no doubt who was the 'master' in this Masterclass.
Not only has Sir Adrian won the most coveted Henley medal and finished fourth in an Olympic final, but he also rowed for Cambridge in the 1952 Boat Race. The result of the latter was a victory for Oxford, but only by some 12 feet. The lesson from that is still with Sir Adrian: 'All the time we were side by side I kept thinking, "Now's the time to make a move, now's the time to pounce", but we never did and they won. I would have really loved to have stroked the crew, as I did the Olympic and Henley ones.'
To the uninitiated, the term 'stroking' refers to the rower who determines the rhythm, cadence and, to a large extent, the strategy of the crew in a race. Sir Adrian was a natural stroke, but it wasn't only in the rowing world that he was able to use this skill. 'I remember during the Cadbury merger with Schweppes that there was a certain amount of inertia at Cadbury.
We weren't doing badly, so there was no real motivation to go through the trauma of a merger, but that was too similar to the '52 Boat Race attitude. It reminded me of that sensation of feeling comfortable, but dangerously so. I felt the time was right, just as I did when stroking.'
Sir Adrian took more than the lesson of timing from the world of rowing when he entered corporate life. 'What has always been important to me is the team - rowing taught me that. More importantly, trust.' Rowing is certainly a sport that places more emphasis on team harmony than others - there's less scope for those with individual flare to shine. Sir Adrian's commercial ethos is reflected in The Cadbury Report on Corporate Governance, for which he received much media attention. 'The beauty of racing in a crew is that you learn that any victory is the combined effort of everyone. In the same way company results reflect the performance of the whole firm. That is why I oppose some of these excessive chief executive remuneration packages. They imply that, in some cases, the person at the top is up to 10 times more important than, for example, other fellow directors. It over-emphasises the reliance on the individual. Now in rowing it would be difficult to justify that.'
Sir Adrian is still involved with the sport. As a Steward of Henley Royal Regatta he is one of the 30 or so devotees who voluntarily ensure that such an essential part of the English summer continues. To guarantee 15 undisturbed minutes in order to take a photograph required a 7.30am rendezvous at Henley on a rather indifferent July morning. Sir Adrian was busy for the rest of the day, going up and down the hallowed course on an umpire's launch. But it is an annual chore he looks forward to since his fellow timekeeper on 'Number 1 Launch' is James Crowden, Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and an ex-Cambridge and Olympic crew-mate. 'We've been on the same launch for many years.
It's no surprise to me that my closest friends are from my rowing days.
I think there is something about rowing that bonds you to your crew mates more than anything I've experienced.'
Such a demanding day requires a high level of energy, even for the younger and fitter members of the rowing fraternity. Energy, though, is something Sir Adrian seems to have had in abundance for most of his life. 'My memories of my last term at Cambridge are days down at the Boat Club. One outing in the Olympic crew, then a row with the college boat followed by a session coaching the novices. Then it would be straight back to college to revise for exams.'
With a schedule like that one could forgive Sir Adrian for underperforming academically, but that would spoil the tale. There aren't many economic scholars from King's who can boast a letter from Lord Kaldor congratulating him on his final exam results and wishing him luck in the Olympics. No wonder that letter is kept next to the pictures of Olympic and Boat Race crews and that Sir Adrian is so proud of it.