Robin Lee, the former managing director of Allied Mills, has visited Belfast and Manchester in recent weeks – and with just Tilbury left on his schedule he has one leg of his “farewell tour” to go.
Not that he thinks of it in those terms.
“I left during Covid, so I didn’t have a proper chance to get out and about and say thank you to everyone in the company who did so much to get us through the challenges of the pandemic,” he says.
“By taking the opportunity to get around the mills now I can show my appreciation for everything they’ve done – because they really have been fantastic.”
Robin’s decision to step down after 35 years in the business is very much the end of an era for him and Allied, the company he joined as a chemistry graduate in 1986.
It’s a career trajectory he admits he did not expect to take – and one which almost ended before it began.
“After leaving university I applied for a number of different jobs, including one at a flour mill where the chap interviewing me said I wasn’t suited to the role. And to be honest, I didn’t know anything much at all about the industry.
“But I was intrigued enough to get some experience at a local mill, where I discovered I quite liked it. There was something about the history of it that appealed to my romantic side.”
Robin’s first job with Allied was as a production manager at the Rankins mill at Rochford. In those days the company had nearly 20 mills across the country, so by moving between them he was able to garner enough experience over the years to rise up the ranks.
In 2007 he moved to Allied Bakeries as head of technical, but in 2013 he returned to the milling division as managing director.
From there he has not only watched but participated in the significant changes which have transformed the industry over recent years. His proudest achievement, he says, was being involved in the building of the Coronet flour mill in Manchester.
“There has been a lot of consolidation of mills, and the introduction of automated processes have made a huge difference. But although we are a very modern industry now, the innate skills of the miller will never be lost – and that’s what makes it so special.
“And it’s still a great place to work in terms of providing opportunities for all manner of disciplines. That’s a message that can’t be repeated enough.”
At 57, Robin is looking forward to many years of happy retirement with his wife Sally and their two dogs, walking in Devon. He continues to play hockey, and he is looking forward to introducing his recently-arrived grandson to the other great passion in his life.
“I’m a huge cricket fan, and I’m very much looking forward to spending more time watching the game,” he says. “I’ve never really had a career break, but now I’ve got the chance to kick back a bit.”
Will he miss the flour milling industry?
“I won’t be watching from the sidelines, but I’ll miss the people, certainly. I still keep in touch with my old team, who I count as my friends as well as my colleagues.”