As he admired the cake and enjoyed the good wishes of his colleagues as he celebrated more than 30 years with the same company, Simon Bianchi’s first day in the job must have seemed a lifetime ago.
Simon was sent by an agency to do a shift at SH Pratt Group, the UK’s largest importer of bananas, and he admits that he wore Wellingtons on his first day because he thought he was going to be working on a farm. Instead, they gave him a brush and asked him to sweep the floors, but the idea of working for the family-run fruit business obviously appealed to Simon, as from there he set about working his way up the ladder to his current position as Operations Director.
Last month, his colleagues, including CEO Robert Wells, presented Simon with a colourful cake to mark his long service.
Simon said: “When I first arrived I thought I’d get my head down, get some overtime in while I looked for something better – but how wrong I was! I immediately loved being here and within weeks I was helping the pack house manager.
“Back in those days the bananas didn’t arrive on pallets and all the packing was done by hand and you’d be shifting 18 kilo trays around. I was younger and fitter then, I’m not sure I could do that now.
“But I was privileged to work with Bob, father of our current CEO Robert, and he taught me a lot about the company, and I knew that I wanted to be part of it as it moved forward. It’s a family company and there’s very much a family feel to it. I try to remember now what it is like for those coming in on their first day, not really knowing what to do and I try to put myself in their shoes and help them settle in.”
Now based in Luton, SH Pratt Group sees in the region of 30 million bananas arrive each week to be carefully ripened in temperature and humidity controlled ripening rooms. Constant growth has seen the operation expand three times over the past 20 years or so to accommodate growing demand, and it now operates across 130,000 square feet of warehouse space in Laporte Way.
“It’s been fantastic seeing the company grow,” said Simon. “And I’ve learned a lot along the way and working here has become more like a hobby than a job. It’s served me well at times, too. I remember the day when I bet a chap in my local pub that you could get a red banana and he said you couldn’t. Of course, I knew we imported a type of softer, sweeter, rare red bananas and so the next Sunday I took one in and won the bet. So, he had to buy me drinks for the whole session. Luckily for him, it was back in the days when Sunday lunchtime opening was only two hours!”
Find out more about SH Pratt Group at www.shpratt.com