7th April 1878 to 27th September 1954

Related Items


Biographical Text

Cadbury was the second son of George Cadbury and younger brother of Edward Cadbury. He served as managing director of Cadbury Brothers and supported Edward Cadbury’s expansion and reforms. He was also a social reformer with a strong interest in town planning. 

Cadbury was born in Birmingham on 7 April 1878, the son of George Cadbury, the senior partner in Cadbury Brothers. He was educated at Harborne preparatory school and Leighton Park School in Reading, and from 1896-7 attended University College London for a year, studying sciences and especially chemistry. In 1897 he joined Cadbury Brothers and spent six months working in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, learning the methods used by continental confectioners, in particular the manufacture of milk chocolate. 

In 1899, aged twenty-one, Cadbury became managing director of Cadbury Brothers, succeeding his uncle Richard Cadbury who died that year. At the same time the firm changed its legal status, from a partnership to a public limited company. George Cadbury senior remained as chairman , and Edward Cadbury was a director. While Edward concentrated on his now famous work on organisation, George Cadbury the younger focused on production and the development of new products. He introduced the company’s first milk chocolate brand, Dairy Milk, in 1905; and within a decade this had become the company’s best-selling brand. Another highly successful brand, Bournville cocoa, was launched in 1906. In 1902 Cadbury married Edith Woodall, a former governess to some of the younger Cadbury children. 

Cadbury continued as managing director through the firm’s years of high growth, which saw it become the world’s leading confectionery maker in the interwar years, and the UK’s 24th largest manufacturer by turnover. He retired in 1943, and died in Birmingham on 27 September 1954. 

Cadbury joined the Liberal Party at an early age and served as a Birmingham city councillor for the Selly Oak ward from 1911-27, chairing the city council’s town planning and housing committees. In 1922 Cadbury switched his allegiance to the Labour Party, and remained a Labour supporter for the rest of his life. 

A committed Quaker, Cadbury supported many causes connected with social reform. Before the First World War, he was much interested in adult education. Like his father, he taught adult education classes in Birmingham for much of his life. He founded two adult education colleges for working men, the first in Bournville and the second at Offenham, Worcestershire. He was also a strong supporter of land reform. Later, during his time on Birmingham council, he focused much of his attention on issues connected with planning and social housing, and also transport. He believed the under-used canal system in Britain could be turned into a cheap transport system that would greatly benefit British industry. 

The subject of Cadbury’s lecture is the need for training foremen. Cadbury assigns to the foreman – and he uses the term to denote both male and female supervisors, pointing out several times that ‘forewomen’ are of equal importance – a highly important role 

First, the foreman is the link in the vertical hierarchy between senior management and the shop floor workers. ‘Instructions from above are thus concentrated on the foreman, and through him they are dispersed to the workers in the department.’ At the same time, says Cadbury, ‘the foreman is the transmitter upwards – from the workers to the management.’ If workers have a concern or a grievance, the foreman has a duty to report this to management and to represent the workers’ views fairly, to act as their advocate to management. This, Cadbury thinks, is more effective than relying on trades unions to solve grievances. ‘It simply amounts to this – he [the foreman] is the nodal point between the management and the workers – the nodal point at which they touch each other.’ 

There is also a horizontal function. ‘The foreman stands at the cross-roads, almost like a policeman guiding traffic.’ Each foreman in each department has to work with other departments. Foremen need to ensure that their own departments receive a steady supply of materials coming in, and equally, ensure that their workers supply other departments further along the production process, in order to avoid creating bottlenecks and wasting time and resources. Foremen cannot simply stay in their own departments; they need to work together as a team. 

In order to do their work effectively, foremen need to know their own departments and how they work, but they also must have a thorough understanding of the whole firm, of the composition of the materials they are using, and of costs. All of these things can be imparted through training. Cadbury notes that it is the prevailing practice to promote foremen from the ranks of under-foremen or from the shop floor, but this is not always necessary; Cadbury Brothers, he says, have brought in some very successful foremen who did not have shop floor experience. 

Cadbury’s ‘foremen’, of course, are in essence junior managers. In the smaller, flatter organisations of the day, there was less separation between senior management and the shop floor, and often the foreman would have fulfilled the functions of both junior and middle management. It is interesting, given modern-day views on the separation of leadership and management, to see that Cadbury insists on leadership as one of the qualities that makes a good foreman: ‘I am quite sure of one thing, namely, that the successful foreman is the man who encourages initiative in the workmen under him. He must be regarded as a leader rather than as a driver, if he is to get the best out of his department…’ Elsewhere he describes good foremen as ‘born leaders of men’.  

In the last analysis, Cadbury says, the foreman provides the necessary human element in the organisation that prevents workers from being dominated by machines:  

In all the intricacies of the semi-mechanical industrial organisation which we are extending day by day, the foreman, more perhaps than any other individual, represents the personal element, the human touch, since the actual operations of machinery and plant, and the individual elements of human beings are, in the last resort, under his supervision. 

Major works 

(with Tom Bryan) The Land and the Landless, 1908. 

Town Planning: With Special Reference to the Birmingham Schemes, 1915. 

Canals and Inland Waterways, 1929. 


Crosfield, J.F., A History of the Cadbury Family, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. 

Jeremy, D.J., Capitalists and Christians: Business Leaders and the Churches in Britain, 1900-1960, Oxford: Clarendon, 1990. 

Marks, W.R., George Cadbury Junior, 1878-1954, s.n., 1982. 

Kimberley, J., ‘Cadbury, Edward’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Williams, I.A., The Firm of Cadbury, London: Constable, 1931. 

Original Source

The need for training foremen’, 19 April 1929, Balliol College 


“CADBURY, George,” The Rowntree Business Lectures and the Interwar British Management Movement, accessed July 16, 2020,