Celebrating 100 yearsPosted: 11 July 2012
Celebrating 100 years of Real Dairy
When it was started by Thomas Sloan back in 1910, it literally was a backyard operation. But, equipped with an entrepreneurial mind and a capacity for hard work, the young father and businessman turned his Moonee Ponds backyard into a creamery.
In those early days, Mr Sloan burnt wood to create heat to pasteurise the cream, used horse and cart to move it and draped wet bags over the cream cans during transport to keep them cool.
A century later, his descendants still make and sell cream - as well as ice cream, yogurt and other dairy products. But unlike 100 years ago, when a backyard was the mainstay of the operation, the business relies today on factories in Colac and Mulgrave and a large new headquarters and distribution centre in Derrimut.
Thomas Sloan's hard slog years ago laid the foundation for Bulla Dairy Foods, a manufacturing company that continues to grow, now exports to 20 countries, and has annual retail sales of more than $300 million. This month Bulla celebrates its 100th birthday.
It has survived two world wars, droughts, the evolution of low fat products and stiff competition from large multinational food companies. It also survived a failed High Court challenge against the Federal Government over cream rationing rules in the years after WWII.
But it has survived something else that causes many other businesses to crumble. Bulla Dairy Foods remains family owned; the family ties were cemented when Thomas decided to expand.
In 1914 he reached out to his sister's husband, Hugh Anderson, who became his partner in the Bulla Cream Company. Four years later, Hugh's brother Jack Anderson joined in a three-way partnership.
As the business celebrates its century milestone, descendants of the three men still run Bulla, which derives its name from the region from which cream and milk were first sourced. The managing director has always been a descendant of the three original families and now is Russell Sloan, grandson of Thomas Sloan.
For 100 years business success has been inextricably tied to the ability of the families to work together.
''I think that culturally we've tried to keep personal family matters out of the business. That's just something that my predecessors had worked on and I continue to try and make sure that's the case,'' Russell Sloan says.
He also acknowledges that being successful has helped. ''I think the key to it, and we've been fortunate to be able to do this, is to be successful,'' he says.
''If things started to fall apart for whatever reason, that's when I think there could be trouble, but thankfully we've been able to show a consistent performance, with consistent growth over the 100 years.''
Mr Sloan says the company acknowledges that senior positions in the business must at times be filled by people who are not descendants of the first three men behind Bulla. Such hirings started in the late 1990s.
All six board members are descendants of the three original men, and a convention adopted in the 1990s dictates that the six-member board comprises two descendants from each of the three families.
Melbourne historian Laura Donati has recorded the evolution of Bulla, and with it much of the history of the three families that established it, in her book Bulla, Celebrating 100 years of real dairy goodness.
The book sheds light on how three families could combine so well for so long, to make the business work. Donati writes: ''The three [founding] men worked out a viable and informal arrangement with each taking on certain responsibilities, responsibilities that would remain largely with each family down the succession lines for generations to come.
''Hugh Anderson was in charge of production and Thomas Sloan and Jack Anderson marketed and distributed the products.''
The evolution and family involvement continues. Recently, Daisy Downey became a full-time factory hand in Bulla's ice cream factory. She is the great-great-great granddaughter of Hugh Anderson, who came aboard 96 years ago.
The book Bulla, Celebrating 100 years of real dairy goodness, is available at Avenue Bookstore, Albert Park.