Entrepreneur ‘risked it’ for sweet success

Green & Black’s founder urges women to support each other in business

Chocolate may be what some entrepreneurs like to turn to when they are having a bad day but for Josephine Fairley it has proved to be an experience of a lifetime – and one she does not mind sharing.

Chocolate may be what some entrepreneurs like to turn to when they are having a bad day but for Josephine Fairley it has proved to be an experience of a lifetime – and one she does not mind sharing.

Tue, May 28, 2013, 01:00

Josephine Fairley is living the life most female entrepreneurs can only dream about and it is all thanks to chocolate.

Dark, organic, Fair Trade- certified chocolate around which Fairley and her husband, Craig Sams, built an award-winning product since 1991.

Today the Green & Black’s range is adored by chocolate lovers the world over and has grown from an idea born in a London kitchen into a global brand worth an estimated £100 million.

Along the way, Fairley and her husband sold Green & Black’s to Cadbury for an undisclosed sum – rumoured to be about £20 million at the time in 2005 – and it was in turn acquired by Kraft.

Chocolate may be what some entrepreneurs like to turn to when they are having a bad day but for Fairley it has proved to be an experience of a lifetime – and one she does not mind sharing. She firmly believes it is important for business women – successful and aspiring – to support each other and to make time to share their experiences which is why she was in Belfast last week to take part in the annual Women In Business conference.

“I think women are fantastically mutually supportive of each other fundamentally more so than men who are ruthless and competitive which stops them being more supportive,” Fairley says.

Harder for women
“It can be hard for women to get ahead in some business environments. I think there is still an attitude, mainly in the older male generation who are planning to retire to the golf course, that women should not be in the boardroom.” She says this is why it is crucial for women in business to take every chance to listen to how other women are succeeding.

Fairley says she took every opportunity to see what lessons she could learn from others who had been where she was and where she wanted to be.

“It is good to know you are not the lone fish swimming upstream – that, in fact, there is shoal of people with you because sometimes in business you only look down the microscope and not through the telescope at your business,” she warns.

Her success was built on taking a risk and it is something she would urge every woman in business to try to do.

There were no guarantees that she would succeed when she decided in the 1990s to plough £20,000 of her own money, from the sale of a house, into a pioneering chocolate product.

Fairley was an award-winning journalist and author before embarking on her chocolate enterprise. She made the decision to go into business as she felt “not doing it” would have been the bigger risk.

Fairley looks back on eight years in particular when she was helping to build the Green & Black’s brand – of endless work, piles of bills, problems to overcome and solutions to find.

At the time she was responsible for all of the company’s public relations and brand work – from getting the product on to the supermarket shelves to persuading influential consumers to give it a go.

Three elements
She believes the reason it became a household name and a global brand was because Green & Black’s got three important elements right from the start. “You have to have the right product,” she says. “You have to have paramount faith in your product.”

“Brand design and product design must also be a priority – if something looks really good on the shelf; if it looks like a product that tastes good then it will sell.

“Finally you have to deliver on customer service – our motto, long before Twitter or Facebook – was that the customer is always right, even when the customer is wrong,” according to Fairley.

She remains an “ambassador” for Green & Black’s but her day-to-day business interests now including an award-winning organic bakery and a wellbeing centre near her home in Sussex.

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