Jazz Shaper: Henrietta Morrison

Posted on 17 April 2021

Henrietta is the Founder and former CEO and Executive Chair of Lily’s Kitchen, "proper food for pets". 

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers, it’s where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues.  Today we have a special Jazz Shapers Encore for you, returning to the show is Henrietta Morrison who last joined me way back, what feels like a hundred years ago in the last century, was in fact in 2012 so, almost ten years ago.  Henrietta is the Founder and was the CEO and Executive Chair of Lily’s Kitchen, proper food for pets.  They were on a mission to change the way that pets eat.  Independent from an early age, Henrietta is a serial Founder, as she says, “To be able to do your own thing is so magical.  People buying something you have created, you always get a kick from that.”  After creating a business where she made teddy bears day and night for Cambridge tourists, then founding magazine publishers AP Publishing with which she created many magazines including a publication forging opportunities for people with disabilities, Henrietta then founded the community portal, Queercompany, partly from a desire for people to have a different view of what it is to be gay but her most recent creation came about when her Border Terrier, Lily, became poorly, refusing to eat.  Henrietta found when she made fresh, homecooked meals of, for instance, minced lamb, vegetables, rice and grated apple – sounds delicious – Lily lapped it up and after ten days made a full recovery.  Unable to find this type of healthy, high quality dog food in shops, Henrietta launched her own brand, Lily’s Kitchen, from, you guessed it, her kitchen, re-mortgaging to cover the finances.  Lily’s Kitchen is now available across 6,000 stores in over 30 countries and is the first petfood company to receive the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation. 

This is a Jazz Shapers Encore Special.  Henrietta Morrison, as I said earlier, back from 2012, is here in 2021.  Back then, four years into the business she was the CEO and then became Executive Chair of Lily’s Kitchen.  Today, she is newly departed from the fair shores of Lily’s Kitchen because of a sale last year, I think in April 2020.  Hello, it’s nice to see you in these unusual surroundings.  Welcome back, it only feels like about a hundred years ago.  I’m going to ask you, if it’s possible, to cast your mind back to then and I was speaking to someone yesterday about something else and they said, “I can’t remember what happened 45 minutes ago, let alone what happened last year because this is extremely intense.”  But in 2012 when I met you and you were four years into that business, did you think you would be where you are now?

Henrietta Morrison

Mmm, what a great question.  I would say yes to be completely honest.  You know, four years in, I knew that we had something incredibly special.  I think the first four years of any business, if you make it to the four year point, you have got something amazing.  Those first four years are incredibly tough.  I look back and I just think I just don’t know how I did it because in a business such as Lily’s Kitchen where you are really changing the conversation, you are changing an industry, you are trying to persuade people to do something that they have never done before, you know, you put so much energy into that and it’s incredibly exhausting and I think by the time I got to four years I was like, okay, I’ve found people to make the food for me, I’ve found people to agree to make the recipes that I wanted made, I’ve actually found people to make the food with fresh meat which had never been done before and we had such a groundswell of wonderful consumers and an incredible team of people working at Lily’s Kitchen that those four years, that set up, that sort of real brick by brick, retail stores that accepted us and displayed our food in their windows, you know, all of that groundwork had already been done and so it was just a question of letting the business fly. 

Elliot Moss

I think also, what I recall is, and I’ve read in a few places that this was really at the beginning before the four years were chalked up and as you said then instinct and hard work leads to more structure and you can see that the foundations are real and solid and you can build, as you’ve just described but to get to day one, it was based on a hunch, I mean it simply, ‘what, there’s no really proper food here for pets, how can that be’? 

Henrietta Morrison

Yes.

Elliot Moss

I mean that’s an extraordinary truth but it’s also reassuring for anyone thinking about doing their own thing which is trust your judgement.  You obviously did and have you always?  And if so, why?

Henrietta Morrison

It was a hunch but just having a hunch by itself was not enough I would say, everyone of the businesses that I have set up, I really standing on a soapbox about and you know, even the teddy bear business, it sounds crazy, you know how can you be passionate about teddy bears but I was just very frustrated at the time that there were no great products for tourists to buy when they were visiting Cambridge and, you know right through to, I could not believe that there was no good food for pets and I loved Lily so much and I just wanted to be able to pull something out of the cupboard that I totally trusted that I could feed her and that she would really thrive on and so I was very much driven by wanting to make a difference and I think that that coupled with the hunch, that’s really what causes the velocity and really brings, you know, into action because there are so many, dare I say, dark days when you are setting up a business and very long nights and you know, you’ve got to have that just inextricable drive to make a difference, that pulls you through and I just felt I wanted something that other people could also have for their pets and I just was very clear that I was going to make a difference here and I just wouldn’t take the status quo as what was acceptable, and so I just thought, right I’m going to do something about this, I’ve got no idea how to do it, I really know nothing about this industry, I know nothing about pet food but I, what I did was I spoke to a lot of people who were experts and I spoke to really everybody I visited, every single manufacturer of pet food and then sat down and thought, okay, right, what does a perfect recipe look like, how would I create this from a wish list and when I then went back round to get people to make this for me, they just shook their heads and said “Forget it, that’s just way too difficult, we’ve never used real meat in pet food, there’s no way we can do that, you know our kitchens can’t even, we don’t know how to bring in real meat, you know, we only use oil and dried bone meal and dried goods, we’ve got nowhere to store wet goods”, so you know, there was just so much change in such a small period that, you know, I just had to really be very focussed and the hunch turned into a bit of a mission to say the least. 

Elliot Moss

You talked about the first four years, you talked about moving from hunch to building brick by brick, this business.  In the intervening periods, there have obviously been other phases leading up to last year’s sale.  You talk a lot about family in different ways and obviously you must have built up quite a family of people working in this business.  Has it been hard in the last year coming, almost a year, coming to terms with the fact that you are not part of the family in the way that you were when you were at the helm?  Or has that been an easy transition for you after all those years of hard work?

Henrietta Morrison

No, it was incredibly difficult, I mean when, you know, when you are in that whirlwind of running the business and a business that is growing so fast and basically doubling every couple of years, you are really in the middle of a typhoon and you are working with incredibly talented people, creative people, passionate people, and you know having really lost my parents at a young age and not having that family base, my work was my family and it’s an intense relationship.  On April the 2nd, so the day after I sold the business, it was an incredibly weird day because I did feel absolutely bereft and it was, you know, much, much harder than I was expecting.  I have to say, I had made it slightly easier because of course I had stepped down as CEO eighteen months beforehand and I really had planned this very carefully because I knew I could not go from being CEO to not being CEO in, you know, in a 24-hour period, that would have been way too difficult, so I brought somebody in to take over my role and David Milner took over and he was a non-exec who I had worked with for three years because he was on our Board so I knew him very well which was great but when he started in October, so the October 2019, I was so exhausted that I pretty much had a nervous breakdown, I just didn’t leave the house for three months, I had not realised how completely shattered I was.  Running the business for eleven years, it just took up everything that I had and so when we did sell the business to Nestle in April 2020, it was tough and, exactly as you said in terms of that feeling of losing a family but it would have been way tougher if I hadn’t brought in David Milner at that time, I think it would have been impossible.

Elliot Moss

I’m going to come back to that in a bit, your feelings about changing from CEO but also your honesty just then about where your mental state was, I think it’s really important and we’re going to pick up on a whole bunch of things that have changed in the ether as it were, in the narrative, in 2020 or 2021 versus 2012.  Right now though, it’s time to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions podcast which can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Emma Walcott talks about what you can do if private information is shared online in the context of a divorce or a separation. 

You can hear all our former Jazz Shapers and hear this very programme again on the Jazz Shapers podcast or if you have got a smart speaker you can ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will find many of our recent shows.  Back to today’s guest and back to the fact it’s a Jazz Shapers Encore Special, it’s Henrietta Morrison, Founder and was CEO and Executive Chair of Lily’s Kitchen and they make healthy, nourishing food for pets and many of you probably feed your delicious and lovely pets with that very food.  You talked before about your mental state, as it were, in October ’19 and just before you brought in a new CEO to start taking over the reins.  You talked a little bit about the emotions when you finally let the business go.  When you did let the business go, did it, and the sense of loss and grief, did that bring up other things for you, you mentioned your parents and some people may know you lost your parents at a very young age.  Did it trigger anything related to that or was it a different and more containable set of emotions?

Henrietta Morrison

Erm, no it was a very, it was very different, I mean sadly that feeling of loss was there but, you know when you are running a business that’s successful, that people adore, that is growing so fast as I mentioned, you know, it becomes very addictive, it’s like you are in, you know, you are having the most passionate relationship of your life and suddenly when that goes, of course I felt really bereft and it's the adrenalin as much as anything else and the excitement and that feeling that you are just making a big difference every day and so that was very much how it was for me in April, that just sort of being able to potter around and just, great that I didn’t have to worry about things but also wondering, how is it getting on?  How are they coping?  What’s happening?  And just since then, I’ve had to really sort of, over the months, just sort of pull myself away step-by-step and focus on other things because it really took time to come out of my system and I guess one of the terrible things was that Lily died in June and I think it was at that point that it really hit me how much I felt at a loss because, you know, she was obviously central to my life and central to my decisions and I was lucky because of Covid I was able to spend every second with her so I, we had some really wonderful times together before she died but the double loss of losing the business and then losing Lily was really hard. 

Elliot Moss

And then on top of that compounded for you and every other individual on the planet, literally, this extraordinary thing called Covid.  In contrast there were these moments where, whether it was Black Lives Matter or whether it was about the environment or all sorts of gender issues have come up and, not because they started in March 2020 or, but because they have been bubbling for a long time and I mentioned that in 2012 when we spoke, these issues may have been there but they weren’t being discussed.  How have you, as a values driven business, do you think you have made a difference in your own way because you became a B Corps company back in 2015 before people had even heard of B Corps, you give a lot of money and your products to charity.  Have you felt good about your own role in this as it were and do you feel like you’ve done as much as you can do in terms of contributing to a better world?

Henrietta Morrison

You know, when I set up Lily’s Kitchen I really wanted to put money where my mouth was and there was no point in talking about a values driven business or a purpose driven business or an environmentally conscious business without actually doing things about it and, you know, we had many, many conversations for example about producing pouches and I really did not want to do that and so we had a lot of heated conversations because you know, you can’t recycle pouches, they got straight into landfill, even though they are the most popular format for pet food and just decisions like that that just meant that we kept the business on the straight and narrow, you know I gave shares to every employee in the business and that was again really important to me that everybody shared in the success of Lily’s Kitchen and it’s wonderful to the ESG conversation really be so much part and parcel of every single business now and, as you say, being a B Corps at the time, so many people just thought it was a very weird thing and I had to persuade our Board that this was the right thing to do and this was a fantastic structure for the business and would keep us really thinking about what difference we’re making not just for the planet but also to our consumers, to our employees, making sure our packaging was compostable was really important, ensuring that we’re not driving around in empty lorries, really important, and all our suppliers then started to look at becoming B Corps so we had that ripple effect.  Could we have done more?  Yes, of course, you know there’s always more and I think that’s actually what’s really exciting about the environmental, social, governance conversation that people are in because it’s very creative.  What more can we do?  And it’s not just about the kind of lightbulbs you use, you know, the whole, at Lily’s Kitchen the entire team were focussed on how can we do better?  What can we improve?  How can we make it better?  How can we make the entire experience from end-to-end better for everybody?  And that is a creative conversation and we all enjoyed being part of it, it wasn’t like a big stick that anybody hitting each other over the head with. 

Elliot Moss

We were just talking there about values and this ripple effect, obviously that comes down to your leadership and listening to you, I’m struck by how calm you are, now it maybe that you are one of those swan types who’s voraciously scrabbling with the legs underneath but I am not sure you are, I think obviously you are someone that has perspective and a view.  Why?  How?  Is this just who you are?  Has this developed do you think as you’ve got deeper and deeper into what now is a super successful business?

Henrietta Morrison

Well, I think having had twelve months off from selling the business has made me a much calmer person, to be completely honest.  I’m not sure my team would have described me as being particularly calm.  I don’t know, I’m incredibly action orientated to the irritation sometimes of my colleagues.  I just think it’s, as you get older, you get wiser hopefully and being calm and trying to look at issues from all sides is a skill that one develops.

Elliot Moss

Is it gender specific, the looking at everything from all sides because there’s a, the antithesis, and I grew up in a family where my mother was the entrepreneur as it were, and my father worked with my mother, that way around, so there was always the narrative which was well, women are just better at multitasking and there’s a whole, the antithesis that had been the old stale, male, white version of leadership and here we are now having conversations about there aren’t enough female entrepreneurs and here you are talking to me, having just sold out a very successful business, having grafted for over a decade.  Is there something intrinsic to the way that a woman runs a business that a man just won’t have?

Henrietta Morrison

Wow, I could get myself into all kinds of hot water here. 

Elliot Moss

Oh come on, let’s do some hot water.  We’ve been so polite so far. 

Henrietta Morrison

I know, I’ve been so polite.  Well, I mean, I, you know, I think it’s incredibly difficult, well, being a woman Founder and a woman CEO and I felt like I was very well prepared for it, actually, I went to a girls’ school, I went to a women’s college at Cambridge so, you know, I should have had all the skills and it’s difficult because women do approach problems very differently to men and I think it’s, unfortunately it’s down to the old cliché where you know if a women is strong and assertive, she’s described as bossy and if a man is strong and assertive, he’s described as being so strong and assertive, in not a pejorative way and that’s hard because when you are making hundreds of decisions every day and different choices and you are trying to take care of your team, you are taking care of your consumers, you are taking care of your suppliers, you are keeping the show on the road and dealing with this runaway success, you are multitasking and being a multitasker, yes women are supposedly good at that but we don’t complain about it, that’s certainly true and I think one of the reasons why I really collapsed once I handed over the baton was because I was doing everything all of the time and trying to be great at everything which is impossible for a human being whether male or female and I think what’s tough about being a female Founder and CEO is that there are very few other women that you can talk to and I was very surprised, many, many meet… most meetings or conferences that I was at, I was the only woman apart from the woman taking coats, you know and jackets at the reception, and that was surprising and I hate to say it but there is just this sort of underlying, or rather sometimes it’s quite overt, patronising from guys, you know, many times I, every single time I can remember if I was chatting to a guy, somebody I didn’t know, he would say to me, “So, you obviously must make the food in your kitchen?” and I’d just take a deep breath and say, “You know what, I can’t supply 6,000 stores with, you know, over 150,000 touchpoints from my kitchen, my kitchen’s not that big” but just that thought that, you know, here I was with my pinny on, pulling the food out of the oven, they couldn’t, just couldn’t, the minute I started saying well actually we supply Waitrose and Tesco and Ocado and Amazon and we’re the number one supplier in all these stores, they would just look with their eyes wide open and they just couldn’t believe it and it’s back down to, you know, women don’t go around beating their chests, they just sort of get on with it. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper, my last conversation with Henrietta Morrison who has just got on with it and rather successfully too, and we’ll also be giving you a treat from Donald Byrd, that’s in just a moment, please don’t go anywhere.

That was your treat, it was Donald Byrd with Hush, and a treat left for Henrietta Morrison, I hope, here on our Jazz Shapers Encore is that she is still with us and she was the CEO and Exec Chair and will always be the Founder of Lily’s Kitchen.  Your journey, and you touched on it, in terms of running the business day-to-day actually stopped before The Event, as they call it in the trade, the event which happened last year, most people love the glitz and the glamour and I was just reading about another person IPOing and another being bought and so on, and it is that moment where you put your hands up and you stand on the podium and you say, “That was me.  Thank you very much.”  You didn’t do that, you were quite happy to exit stage left earlier.  Why was that?

Henrietta Morrison

Well, I mean I really, I planned exit stage left, I always, you know, I really felt that I did not want to be one of those Founders that is stuck in that no man’s land between a start up and growing a business and then ubiquity because it’s very easy to sort of hold on and as a Founder, once you’ve set up the vision for the company and how the brand’s going to feel and look like and all of those important touch points, and then you are running the business, I just did not want to be the person who was in the way and by that I mean, quite often you can run out of vision and I didn’t want to just overstay my welcome so when I went to talk to the Board about standing aside and finding somebody else to take over the role of CEO, they were very shocked, they were like just ‘no way, you know, we’ll be coming up to a sale, you’re an intrinsic part of the business’ and I said “Look, you know, I want whoever buys the business to not feel that I’m an intrinsic part of the business, I want them to know that this business is in excellent shape and that there are people who can replace me, I’m not irreplaceable”, and so what I was very lucky is, I said that I had a non-executive up my sleeve who offered to step into my shoes which was fantastic but I just, I was just very clear that I didn’t want to overstay my welcome, I didn’t want to be that person standing in the way of the company’s growth and there are decisions that get made that will accelerate the company’s growth that I think, you know, somebody with a fresh vision and fresh eyes could make much better than me and that’s all actually played out exactly as I had hoped so the business has continued to do extremely well, the new acquirers are delighted with it, the new CEO and, you know, I’ve left the business really in integrity rather than sort of holding on and dragging on and I think frankly, it’s quite hard for other people to always work with a Founder, as a Founder you’ve done every single job and it’s pretty annoying for other people when you are always telling them how they could be doing their job better which unfortunately was something of a trap that I quite frequently…

Elliot Moss

I am better than you. 

Henrietta Morrison

Yes.  And this is how you should…

Elliot Moss

I’ve done this and I’m just going to tell you why you have… Oh thank you Henrietta, you’ve just made me feel great.

Henrietta Morrison

Precisely. 

Elliot Moss

I can imagine.  But joking aside, that’s a very enlightened view to take and now in this post-Event moment when obviously you have… some value has been crystalised, let’s use euphemisms like that.  I’m not going to ask you the what’s next question, I’m going to ask you what you are thinking about at the moment?  What are the things that you are stimulated by?  What kinds of ideas?  What kinds, are you reading a lot of books?  Are you spending time talking to friends?  What is it that Henrietta’s, you know, you talked about the addictive nature of it and you talked about the adrenalin, now that you’ve come off of that, now that you are in a good state mentally because you haven’t got the hassle and the stress and all that, what fills the brain?

Henrietta Morrison

Well, really, I’m in an incredibly lucky position because I have some amazing hobbies that I’ve been able to devote time to, for example, I’m a very keen gardener so that’s been wonderful being able to just spend time outdoors but also I am setting up a Foundation which is also extremely interesting, you know, something I don’t know or at least I didn’t know very much about and it’s been wonderful working on what the Foundation is going to be about and we are looking at focussing on women and education and homelessness as well but topics that involve women and teenage girls as well.  So, that’s been something that has occupied my mind and something that I am incredibly excited about launching later this year. 

Elliot Moss

Well that sounds like quite a lot for someone that’s not really sure what they are going to do next, Henrietta, if I may say.  Classically, yes, there’s a few things I do… there’s charity and a few things to solve, quite big problems.  It’s been really nice talking to you again and it is fantastic that the business has done so well and quite rightly because as you said, you changed the narrative and you kept going, and there are many delighted and new owners of pets, and let’s hope they look after them properly, who are probably now giving their little, adorable puppies, mostly puppies it seems, Lily’s Kitchen food.  Thank you so much.  Just before I let you disappear into the sun, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Henrietta Morrison

Well, you put your finger on the button, it is Nina Simone, Here Comes the Sun and I think it just always brings, my is hair standing on end, it’s such an incredible piece and of course, you know, we’ve all been through so much this past year and it has been a long, cold, lonely winter for all of us.  It’s so very much a warming the heart song which brings me a lot of pleasure.

Elliot Moss

That was Nina Simone with Here Comes the Sun, the song choice of my Jazz Shaper Encore guest today, Henrietta Morrison.  She talked about setting out to change the narrative and boy did she do that.  She talked about, you can’t have values unless you are going to do something about them and this is the moment to think about doing more, there’s always room to do more.  And finally, talk about someone who has developed a sense of calmness despite all the noise and the raciness of life going on around them.  Fantastic stuff.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers.  Have a lovely weekend. 

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive, just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

As serial founder, Lily has created business where she made teddy bears day and night for Cambridge tourists and founded magazine publishers AP Publishing and the community portal, Queercompany.

Her most recent creation came about when her Border Terrier, Lily, became unwell and would refuse to eat. Henrietta found when she made fresh, home cooked meals Lily lapped it up and after ten days made a full recovery. Unable to find this type of healthy, high quality dog food in shops, Henrietta launched her own brand, Lily’s Kitchen. Lily's Kitchen is now available across 6,000 stores in over 30 countries and is the first pet food company to receive the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation.

Highlights

I could not believe that there was no good food for pets.

I wanted something that other people could also have for their pets and I just was very clear that I was going to make a difference.

When you are in that whirlwind of running the business and a business that is growing so fast, you are really in the middle of a typhoon.

You are working with incredibly talented people, creative people, and passionate people.

My work was my family.

Running the business for eleven years, it just took up everything that I had.

When you are running a business that’s successful, that people adore, that is growing so fast, it becomes very addictive.

I really wanted to put money where my mouth was.

I’m incredibly action orientated.

I think it’s incredibly difficult being a woman Founder and a woman CEO.

What’s tough about being a female Founder and CEO is that there are very few other women that you can talk to.

I have some amazing hobbies that I’ve been able to devote time to.

How can we help you?

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

Crisis Hotline

COVID-19 Enquiry

I'm a client

I'm looking for advice

Something else