Scotland’s ‘Mister Pie’ – one of the most familiar faces on the Levenmouth business scene for almost 40 years and the head of one of its longest-running and most durable family firms – has retired.
Alan Stuart has stepped aside from Stuart’s, family butcher and baker, with the company now in fifth and sixth generation hands.
His association with it has lasted 39 years, the last 24 as managing director.
Alan (64) remains the major shareholder and is company chairman but is confident the firm is in reliable hands, with his two sons now at the helm.
Keith Stuart (33) recently took over as MD, while younger brother Mark (30) has responsiblity for the retail shops, plus IT and marketing operations.
“It’s great to have both our boys in the business,” he said.
“To step back is the only real way to carry out a succession in business.
“I have never seen anybody do it well by hanging on a little bit longer.
“But I am there if they need me.”
Alan said he was looking forward to enjoying the “lack of hassle”, with his wife Jan, currently the sales director, also due to step down later this year.
Stuart’s was founded back in 1857 by Alan’s great-great grandfather James Stuart, who came to Buckhaven from Auchtertool.
But although Alan has had a long spell at the top, there was no question in his younger days of a cosy future in the family business simply being handed to him.
He said his “natural laziness was encouraged” at boarding school in Perthshire, and he struggled with ‘A’ levels before scraping into Aberdeen Universtiyto study law.
But he didn’t last the course – and then had to face his father Robert, of whom he admitted he was frightened, and his uncle Norrie, a past company chairman.
Joining the firm wasn’t an option until 1975 – Alan worked with the Royal Bank for a spell and spent several years in England, shadowing various businesses.
He struggled in his initial role as Stuart’s bakery manager but then moved to the retail side, which he found suited him well. He became managing director in 1990.
“My individual contribution personally was in developing the butcher’s side,” he said.
Today, Stuart’s has 16 bakery shops and four butchery shops in and around Fife, employing around 185 staff.
Alan reckoned it served around a million customers a year, and the return business, built on customer regularity, and a core percentage of loyal shop-floor staff were at the heart of its success.
He counted his triumphs as the creation in 2005 of the custom-built, 22,000 sq ft production unit in Methil, and co-creating the World Scotch Pie Championship, part of his 15-year-involvement with the Scotch Pie Club.
“You can learn so much from others,” he said.
Other proud moments were becoming president of the Scottish Bakers, and centenary chariman in 2005 of the Britsh Confectioners’ Association.
“If I have a regret, it’s that I didn’t come in to the business earlier,” said Alan.
“I’d like to have had more practical baking skills.”
He also admitted he had concerns over the effects of large superstores and online shopping on areas such as Leven High Street.
Alan, a grandfather of one, hopes to work with the Princes Trust, helping to nurture new businesses, while his main hobbies include golf and curling.
He said he hoped his sons would still be around in 43 years’ time, hopefully comfortable and healthy in retirement, to celebrate Stuart’s 200th anniversary.