The Cadbury Family: The Sweet Smell of Success - Review

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Written by Peri Muldofsky

Reviewed by Donald W. McCormick

This fabulous television show is about a famous Quaker family, the Cadburys, who built the Cadbury Company – famous for its chocolate. It was produced in 2001 as an hour-long television program for the Biography channel of A&E Network and was later distributed in DVD format, available at many local libraries.

In the 1700s, Quakers were excluded from the professions and from any office that fell directly under the Crown. As a result, many Quakers went into business – hard-working exemplars of the Protestant work ethic, who wanted to imbue their businesses with Christian values. One of these was John Cadbury, a Quaker who went into the chocolate business in England. His Quaker values influenced much of his approach to business. For example, he believed that chocolate promoted health, and he made sure that his business’ products were of high quality, not the eighteenth-century equivalent of junk food. His Quaker values also led him to help the poor. He was particularly concerned with the plight of boys who worked as chimney sweeps, and he worked hard to end this abhorrent child labor practice.

His sons, Richard and George, continued the firm after John’s death. To set Cadbury chocolate apart from its competitors, they borrowed a chocolate manufacturing process from Holland. In those days, chocolate was thick and bitter, but this new Dutch process made it smooth and mild. Another aspect of Cadbury chocolate that distinguished it in the marketplace was its high quality, much better than its competitors, some of whom used brick dust as filler in their chocolate.

The Cadburys also produced an innovative new chocolate drink that was a big success. They followed that success by developing milk chocolate bars, made with fresh milk. These chocolate bars tasted much better than the competition. (You can sample the modern day descendent of these in Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars.) These two innovative products sold like hotcakes.

Quaker values influenced the second generation of Cadbury chocolatiers just as they had their father’s generation. Quaker thrift made the Cadburys cautious investors of their profits. The Quaker concern for the poor and belief in the value of learning led George Cadbury to teach reading and writing to the poor on weekends – using his Bible.

Quaker values also led the Cadburys to build a factory and town that were intended to uplift the lives of their workers. Factory workers in the 1800s generally led miserable lives and had to put up with sweatshop working conditions. But the Cadburys had a vision for something different – a factory with decent working conditions and a town where the workers owned their own houses, each with a garden in the back. They built this factory and town four miles outside the sooty industrial town of Birmingham. They called the town Bourneville, and it was a Quaker utopia for workers. It had health clinics and a swimming pool. The Cadburys encouraged workers to go to night school, forbade drinking, and sponsored sports teams. The Cadburys’ efforts to provide workers with a better opportunity for a good life resulted in a fiercely loyal workforce. In the 1900s, the Cadburys continued these Quaker-inspired socially responsible business practices. During World War II, the Cadburys refused to use their factory to make armaments.

The unique quality of the Cadbury changed when it became a publicly owned company in 1962. Soon after that, it merged with the Schweppes Corporation. Once Cadbury was owned by pretty much anybody who wanted to buy its stock, the Cadbury family lost control of the company, and most of its Quaker character disappeared.

This documentary about the Cadbury Company makes it clear that something important, something at one time unique to Quakerism, has been lost. Up until the middle of the twentieth century, one of the most prominent features of Quakerism was the Quaker businessperson. Quakers stood apart from other businesspeople because of their simplicity, concern for workers, idealism, disdain for ostentation, and modesty. Quakers were leaders in what would eventually be called socially responsible business; they were scrupulously honest, refused to haggle over the price of goods, opposed oppressive business practices (such as slavery), and refused to work in the arms industry. These Quakers had a huge impact on the way business was conducted throughout the world.

Nowadays, most Quaker businesspeople are practically indistinguishable from any other businesspeople. The Quaker approach to business and the way we integrate our Quakerism into our work lives are topics that are rarely discussed in meeting.

In my humble opinion, every Quaker meeting should obtain a copy of The Cadbury Family: The Sweet Smell of Success, watch it together, and discuss it. Perhaps that will inspire some of us to discuss how we integrate our work lives with our Quakerism and inspire those of us in business to reclaim some of Quakerism’s lost leadership in the world of socially responsible business. (Videocassettes and DVD’s of this program are sometimes available online at amazon.com, ranging in price from about $10 to $20.)

On the MSQMRS (Moments of Silence Quaker Movie Rating Scale), with four moments of silence being terrific and one being poor, I give The Cadbury Family a four.

Donald W. McCormick is a member of Santa Monica Friends Meeting (PYM). He works as an organizational mindfulness consultant and holds a doctorate in organizational behavior. His clients have included The White House, Mercedes Benz, and AIDS Project Los Angeles. While a professor, he was a pioneer in the fields of spirituality in the workplace and of mindfulness education for management students.