Thirty-four may seem a very young age to be nominated for a Most Admired Business Leader award, yet what David Ball has achieved in a very short space of time is nothing short of amazing.
He joined his parent’s Bridge Farm Group business shortly after leaving university, making it clear that his natural route would be to manage his own business. So, with the support of his family, Neame Lea Nursery was purchased. David spent a couple of years working at the coalface before taking on the role of managing director and, more importantly, control and direction of the business.
David’s background in horticulture, coupled with his economics degree, informed his vision. Growth plans were driven from an economics perspective. British horticulture has lacked investment and fallen behind many of its EU competitors. David’s ambition was to develop an industry-leading business — well-invested, efficient and profitable.
From the original Neame Lea site, a small nursery, David started to grow the business, initially by altering the sales strategy and developing relationships with principal retail customers. He provided cost benefits for the customer while enabling Neame Lea to increase volume by using rented production sites.
In 2015, with David at the helm, the business invested £10m in a new site. Initially established as a packing facility, it quickly grew in scope into one of the most advanced ornamental production sites in the UK. The 8ha facility, complete with offices, cold stores and 4ha of sophisticated production space, would become the springboard for a further expansion of the Neame Lea business.
David led a management buyout in 2017 and secured a £30m investment from North Edge Investments. This enabled Neame Lea to purchase a 40ha greenfield site and a phased development of a 30ha glasshouse site and ancillary facilities. Phase one began operating in spring 2019. Phase two will result in the second largest covered structure in the UK.
From an initial workforce of seven full-time staff, Neame Lea now employs 165 plus additional temporary employees when required. The company’s hard-working culture comes from the top. David has an ability to inspire those around him, both management and staff.
David has taken a traditional -horticultural business and made it relevant and important in today’s fast-moving sales environment. As a business leader, he is inspirational — young, ambitious, headstrong and admired by many who recognise his ability to achieve what may have been considered impossible.
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