Butterfield & Vallis: a century in business

  • Milestone moment: Jim and Spencer Butterfield are the third and fourth generation of the family to head Butterfield & Company, which trades as Butterfield & Vallis. The business is celebrating its 100th anniversary (Photograph by Scott Neil)

    Milestone moment: Jim and Spencer Butterfield are the third and fourth generation of the family to head Butterfield & Company, which trades as Butterfield & Vallis. The business is celebrating its 100th anniversary (Photograph by Scott Neil)

The company behind Butterfield & Vallis is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and it is looking ahead to maintaining and furthering its success and longevity.

Jim Butterfield is the third generation of the family to run Butterfield & Company Ltd, and he has been doing that since 1982 when, together with his brother George, he rejuvenated the company after its former premises on East Broadway were destroyed by fire.

That disaster could have spelt the end for the company, but instead it represented a fresh start that has propelled the business to becoming the island’s largest food wholesale company.

Mr Butterfield’s son Spencer Butterfield is on course to be the fourth generation of the family to head the business. He joined ten years ago and is now chief operating officer.

The father-and-son team has proven to be a winning combination, and as the business celebrates its first century they have reflected on what has given it the edge in such a competitive sector. Both agree that above all it is the quality and loyalty of the employees that stands out.

Spencer calls them “spectacular people,” and he is upbeat about the next generation who will lead the company into its second century.

“We are doing a lot with the team that’s coming up. We’ve got retirements more and more frequently, which is saddening, but we have got a young, bright strong team and we are developing and growing them. I’m excited about them and providing opportunities for them to really shine,” he said.

“Our theory is that everyone in the company from top to bottom is being developed. I’m encouraged that they are engaged and love to come to work and enjoy what they do.”

The business began in 1918 when George Butterfield, who was a bank teller with Bank of Bermuda, branched out with a side business after securing an agency agreement with a biscuit manufacturer in Britain. Five years later the small warehouse operation on Front Street was doing so well that he left his bank job to focus on it full-time.

The company grew and its landmark moments included an initiative in the mid-1940s that brought produce and goods from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand to the island for the first time.

When George’s son, Dudley, took over the running of the business, he quickly decided it needed larger premises, and so began a relocation to a site on East Broadway, a move that was seen as risky at a time when competitors were all centrally based in Hamilton. However, the company thrived and grew.

Then, in 1982, the premises were razed by a fire. All appeared lost, but Dudley’s sons, Jim and George, stepped in to rebuild the business and took another risk by relocating the company even farther from Hamilton, this time at a three-acre site on Orange Valley Road, Devonshire.

A decade later the company bought competitor J.S. Vallis & Company to become the island’s largest food wholesale business. The J.S. Vallis site on Woodland Road, Pembroke, now serves as B&V’s food service hub, catering for the needs of hotels, restaurants and others, while the Orange Valley site services supermarkets and other retail traders.

Beyond the contribution and dedication of its staff, the company’s success has been built on embracing technology and innovation, and having input from a strong board of directors.

Regarding the latter, Jim said: “A lot of family business, they run it and do what they want. In some cases, it is too tight or it breaks apart. We have had a board of directors, some local and some foreign, that have made us reach an international standard.”

The innovation side is very much the realm of Spencer. New technologies being used by the company include a purchasing system that uses sophisticated algorithms based on historical data to forecast what inventory items should be ordered to meet expected demand. There is also an online system that allows chefs at the end of the day to place replenishment orders that are fulfilled by the following morning.

Spencer said: “At every corner, we do whatever we can to keep a customer mindset and ensure that we are making life easy for them. It has been a matter of remaining relevant.”

Commenting on the father-and-son management dynamic, Spencer said: “We make a fairly good team. I love the combo. I do not look forward to the day he tells me he is not coming in. We work well together and have different roles to play, and they complement one another.”

Jim said: “I’m less focused on the day-to-day stuff and I find when people are looking for Mr Butterfield they are often not looking for me. It has worked well. Spencer is now doing most of the steering.”

When asked if he ever thought that, after joining the business some 40 years ago, he would see it reach the 100-year milestone, he said: “It’s come over the horizon, like wow!”

He said having his head down and working it was not something he had focused on, but added: “It does make me respect businesses that get past third and fourth generations. It is a real achievement.”

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Published Jan 30, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 29, 2018 at 9:34 pm)

Butterfield & Vallis: a century in business

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