When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
– You’ll never walk alone, Gerry & the Pacemakers
A few years ago, on stage at the Middle East & Africa Duty Free Association (MEADFA) Conference, Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO Colm McLoughlin said memorably of veteran travel retail confectionery supplier Stuart Bull, “I think there must be several Stuart Bulls, so often do we see him here in the region.”
The remark was both a huge compliment to Stuart and a not so subtle dig at other brand companies that Colm felt did not give Middle East travel retail the attention they deserved, especially during times of crises. Back then, Stuart was a consultant to Masterfoods (now Mars International) International Travel Retail and his contribution over many years ensured the confectionery giant had a disproportionate share of voice (and space) in Middle East duty free.
At TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes in October 2010, Stuart bid an emotional farewell to Mars – the company he had represented for 40 years. He reflected on a career that had taken him from the back streets of Liverpool in 1970 all around the world. “I’ve had many adventures,” he said. “But the most important thing, and the thing I’m proud to say to this day, is that I am ‘the man from Mars’.
I wasn’t there in Cannes to witness that corporate farewell as I was just days out of surgery related to my stomach cancer. During my illness though, Stuart was in touch constantly, always asking how I was doing. As I made my comeback to the business, then Stuart reinvented himself as a consultant to other chocolate houses, notably Valrhona and Thorntons.
Then, life, as it does, threw up a twist. As I recovered to full health, Stuart fell ill. To the same damned disease, albeit a different variant. In late 2014 he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, a very tough form of this always brutal illness. Like me, he went through complex surgery and harrowing chemotherapy. To borrow from the anthem of his beloved Liverpool Football Club, Stuart walked through a storm, but he never walked alone, such was the depth and warmth of friendship he enjoyed in our industry.
Thus, three years on, when Stuart told me that he was retiring fully from travel retail and that The Trinity Forum in Bangkok would be his final bow, I decided we should mark the moment in an appropriate fashion. With the considerable assistance of King Power International Senior Executive Vice President Susan Whelan, I arranged for a surprise award to be presented to Stuart at the event’s Gala Dinner. It read ‘In recognition of an outstanding champion of the travel retail industry – Presented to Stuart Bull, The Trinity Forum, Bangkok, November 2017’.
Before he came up on stage to a long standing ovation, I quoted some leading industry colleagues who had worked with Stuart down the years. Their comments (edited here) bear repeating.
From his long-time Mars colleague Martyn Westbury: “Mars International Travel Retail was certainly a poorer place when Stuart stood back from their confectionery business, and now, as he takes his final bow, the duty free industry will likewise be a poorer place.”
From Colm McLoughlin: “Stuart has been serving the duty free industry and, in particular, the Middle East, for many, many years and has been associated with my company Dubai Duty Free for 34 years. His dedication and work has been exemplary.”
And from Susan Whelan: “For over 20 years I have been fortunate enough to have worked with Stuart. Without doubt, he has made a massive contribution to our business and the title of ‘Mr Chocolate’ could only mean one person – Stuart. His knowledge, professionalism, ability to deliver and commitment are second to none. However, this massive man, with a massive personality, has a humanity and kindness that go well beyond business. I am proud to be able to call Stuart a friend. I wish him a wonderful and happy retirement.”
Lovely words about a fine man. A man of great, decidedly dry, humour; and a perennial good sport. At MEADFA one year, I closed an on-stage interview by asking him, “So Stuart, have you ever visited a Chinese duty free store?” He looked at me, surprised, and said, “Of course, Martin. Why do you ask?” I replied, “Ah, so that’s what they mean by a Bull in a China shop.” His delighted groan pleased me immensely.
He is a man who always tells it honestly, even if it does ruffle a few feathers (and sometimes the whole bird). A supporter through fair weather and foul (he was a particular champion of what was then The Moodie Report in its early difficult days, believing in what I was doing and even sponsoring this Blog – a support that has remained in place ever since). The man from Mars and Mr Chocolate, all wrapped up in one. A man who walked through his own personal storm and always, just always, held his head up high.