I am a… craft distiller
Tom Warner spent more than 10 years climbing the corporate ladder but eventually decided it was time for a new adventure.
So he started up his own farm-based craft distillery, Warner Edwards Distillery, with long-term friend and fellow Harper Adams graduate Sion Edwards. The pair launched the business in December 2012 and are now realising a vision and ambition more than a decade in the making.
Tom, who graduated in 2001 with a BSc (Hons) degree in Agri-food Business and Marketing*, said: “We first met at Harper Adams back in 1997, and as many of you know, the friends you make on the first few days of university often become your friends for life. We had been talking about starting a business since we left Harper Adams, and in 2010 we started to discuss ideas in earnest.”
The distillery is based in Harrington, Northamptonshire, and its Harrington Dry Gin is already the talk of the industry.
Tom was Harper Adams’ Students’ Union President for a year after graduating before going on to work for Fresca, one of the UK’s top produce companies, for 10 years in various commercial roles culminating in a role as Commercial Manager for the prepared fruit business in Southampton.
“Harper Adams’ reputation precedes it,” says the 35-year-old. “Employers almost know what ‘type’ of person they will get as a result of the experience Harper Adams gives. It’s hard to quantify what the university gives you aside from academic qualifications but it definitely helps to give you an X-factor.
“Harper Adams helped me get a job that honed my commercial skills to a point I felt confident to launch my own brand into a market I had no experience of. I would advise graduates looking to set up their own business to plan, research and repeat for as long as it takes to come up with a bullet-proof business plan. Give the plan to people you respect and let them ask questions, then when you are sure it’s a sound idea, go for it.”
*This course is now called Agri-food Marketing with Business Studies
Why did you choose to study at Harper Adams?
It was always a place I wanted to go from the age of 16, I was inspired by older friends and a visit to the campus.
Did the course make you more employable?
Yes, it gave me a very specific set of skills.
Where did you spend your placement?
With Dorman Tanzania Ltd, coffee buyers and traders in east Africa. I was the manager of a coffee buying region, managing a team of field agents and the collection operation.
Do you think placement enhanced your career prospects?
Placement was a huge enhancement to my employability as it put credible experience and pedigree on my CV.
How has your qualification/ experiences at Harper Adams helped your career?
The university’s reputation precedes it; employers almost know what ‘type’ of person they will get as a result of the experience Harper Adams gives. Harper Adams definitely helps to give you an indefinable x-factor. It helped me get a job that honed my commercial skills to a point I felt confident to launch my own brand into a market I had no experience of.
What advice do you have for a student interested in doing a similar job?
Learn about the industry you are going into and who are the major companies and producers. The produce world is relatively small and there are lots of Harper Adams people involved.
What is the best thing about running your own business?
You can’t beat the satisfaction - you make the rules and if it goes well you can reap the rewards.
Describe a typical day.
Light the fire in office, answer emails, start selling, re-forecast cash-flow, talk to press, engage with consumers, distill, bottle, label, visit customers.
What advice can you offer to graduates wishing to set up a business?
Plan, research and repeat for as long as it takes to come up with a bullet-proof business plan. Give the plan to people you respect and let them ask questions. Then when you are sure it’s a sound idea go for it.
Why would you recommend studying at Harper Adams?
You will have the time of your life, make great friends and get a valuable qualification.