CONVIVIAL and clearly at one with himself, Hugh Pelham the new Oxford-educated boss of one of Cumbria’s most historic businesses has carved out a global reputation as a leader in his field.

This one-time Oxford boat race bow is a warm-hearted family man who enjoys the comfort of home and hearth in the Scottish Borders but flip the coin and we have a strong personality who has led global giants to success and turned around troubled companies.

The secret to his potential success as new chief executive of the Carr's Group? A strong focus and a steely business mind. Three months into Hugh’s appointment earlier this year, the Carlisle-headquartered agricultural and engineering group reported bumper interim results despite “a “challenging operational environment”. The Group reported a £10.9m adjusted operating profit in the 26 weeks to February 27 – a 5.3 per cent increase over the same period last year. Its engineering order books stand at £44m, an increase of £7m.

Hugh said at the time of the announcement that the Group had delivered, and improved performance, compared to the previous year despite working through the challenges of Covid-19.

Hugh presents a picture of fitness for a man on the wrong side of 50, thanks to a life of sturdy exercise. This has been underpinned by a competitive streak which shone through when he was Oxford bow in the famed boat race against Cambridge in 1987.

He made something of a name for himself when he bowed Oxford in the race which saw Oxford’s crew rebel after four Americans refused to row in a dispute over the make-up of the crew. The tale is outlined in the book True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny in which Pelham gets a mention.

So, Hugh, who is married with two daughters, is used to being at the helm whether that be heading up a business or part of a successful rowing crew. His life on the rugby pitch – his second sport - was somewhat short-lived.

He says: “I played a little at school, but rowing has always been my sport. Even now I do the occasional veteran race.”

Hugh, 54, who holds a BA in Engineering, Economics and Management from Oxford and an MBA from the Cranfield School of Management, says: “I believe very much in achievements. I am a competitive person and see certain parallels with business and rowing. A disciplined clear mental programme is essential together with a focused mind of steel if you want to succeed. This is an attitude I have brought to Carr's.”

Hugh succeeds Yorkshireman Tim Davies who as previous CEO helped steer the company through tough times in the world of grain and agriculture for more than 30 years.

With more than three decades of experience under his belt developing and growing businesses, Hugh came to Carlisle from Australia-based multinational corporation Orica - one of the world's largest providers of commercial explosives and blasting systems to the mining, quarrying, oil, gas and construction markets.

After studying engineering at Oxford Hugh went into the construction industry with John Mowlem and Co which was heavily involved in the building of London City Airport, the NatWest Tower, and a number of motorways across the UK.

Never one to give up on a job, it is ironic Hugh was in charge of such jobs as “painting the Forth Bridge” when he headed up a major painting and scaffolding business. The well-known phrase describes “a never-ending job.” Apt for a man determined to get the job done properly.

After that Hugh worked for American company Johnson Controls which made seat-belts before being approached to become managing director of the Pyeroy Group, a provider of specialist coatings and fabric maintenance services to the oil, gas, chemical, marine and rail industries which was later sold to the Wood Group.

Having personally invested in the business with its founder, Pyeroy Group Limited was sold to Wood Group in 2013 with Hugh remaining as managing director of Wood Group Industrial Services Limited. Over a 15-year period the business grew from sales of £34m to £140m.

After six months off in the south of France, where he has a house, Hugh was again headhunted - this time by global giant, Australia-based Orica. Then towards the end of 2020 the CEO role came available at Carr's Group.

"It sounded really interesting; an opportunity to become CEO of a listed company with a long history and a sound business sense,” says Hugh.

The move was a good one both professionally and domestically; living in the Scottish Borders the family can reap the benefits of rural life.

“My wife Sally is a solicitor by qualification. She is also a governor at Northumbria University and is involved in educational charities such as Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books in Newcastle Upon Tyne, so it is good geographically for her,” he explains.

“One of my daughters, Josie, is commercial manager with the Deliveroo food delivery company while my other daughter, Tessa, is finishing a degree in English at York.

“We have a good life where I can indulge my love of dog walking, rowing and quiet downtime, while facing the challenges of working for a Cumbrian business with a global outlook. It is the best of both worlds; a good work-life balance.

“One of the advantages of leading Carr's Group is getting to relocate to this beautiful region where a third of our employees are also located.”

But despite being an adoptive Scot, there is one tradition which he can’t get to grips with.

He says: “I may live north of the border, but I wouldn’t thank you for a wee dram. I like a pint of real ale or a good wine, but I am not a spirits fan.”

One difference from his former life is that Hugh doesn’t expect to do as much travelling as he did in his globe-trotting days – his office walls are adorned with world maps, in particular South America.

“There was a lot of travel before I came to Carr's particularly with Orica. With Carr's there won’t be as much travel involved but we do have business interests in America and Germany so there will be a certain amount of business travel,” he says.

Hugh is looking forward to moving on through the next phase of his career with Carr's which he says is on a “good trajectory” through its various sectors despite the challenges of lockdown.

“The group has a solid heritage and a good future ahead and I have very much enjoyed what I have seen from visiting its operational sites.”

For man with a strong track record of generating value through the achievement of both long-term profitable growth and successful business, Hugh has his feet firmly on the ground recognising the task he has in hand of caretaking such an historic company with deep roots in the Cumbrian landscape and further afield.

When he began work at the beginning of the year Hugh clearly recognised the job ahead.

He said at the time: “Whilst the pandemic means that my first few months will be somewhat different from what I had envisaged, I will of course be familiarising myself with the business as intensely as possible and meeting, albeit virtually, with all of the teams.

“I will not, however, be forgetting that, at heart, this is a Cumbrian business but with a global outlook.”

Announcing the interim results in April, Hugh acknowledged the challenges facing the business. He said at the time: “Despite a challenging operational environment with significant headwinds experienced in engineering we have delivered an improved performance compared to the same period last year.

"Our Speciality Agriculture and Agricultural Supplies divisions have performed particularly strongly. The outlook for engineering is for an improved performance in the second half of the financial year.

"Carr’s Group owns a portfolio of good businesses with strong market positions and our people have responded brilliantly to the challenge of working in a Covid environment.

"Considerable opportunity exists to optimise the current portfolio. Growth can be achieved through a mixture of geographic expansion, selling all our service lines to our customer base, and acquisition and potential industry consolidation."