What do you do?
Day to day, my job is very varied. I work long hours and six-day weeks but it’s flexible. On Monday, I meet my team to discuss what’s happened the previous week. The rest of the week, I go out and visit some restaurants. Sometimes I go unannounced because, if they know I’m coming, they’re going to put the best people on the floor. There have been times when I’ve put a woolly hat on and gone through the drive-thru at two o’clock in the morning to see first-hand what the experience is like. We serve about 15 million people a year.
What do you like about your job?
The best thing is interacting with my people. They work so hard for me and if they want to talk to me, I should be available. We employ about 2000 people. About four years ago, one of my employees called me and said he wanted to see me. He told me his father had passed away a few weeks before and added: “Every time I see you, I treat you like a father figure, so I just want to sit here and talk to you.” We sat there for about half an hour, saying very few words to each other. For me, that was the best moment that I could have with my employee.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
When I started, the biggest challenge was collecting money from my customers and paying suppliers. Juggling the balls is very, very difficult. If you physically don’t have the money to pay your suppliers because your customer hasn’t paid you, then the million-dollar question is: do you go and sue your customers and lose them forever or give them more time to pay?
After a few years of working in London and climbing the corporate ladder in the management of West End hotels, I’d saved enough to set up my own small business. It was a bed and breakfast that my wife would help run, but that plan didn’t go down too well with my hotel bosses — they obviously thought I was going to compete with them. They made me choose between my salary and my new business so I left and chose the business.
Being selected to be a franchisee of McDonald’s. Before that, it was my first job, working in a cash and carry in Southall. I went there to look for a job and this guy looked at me up and down and started to laugh. He said: “This job isn’t for somebody like you, it’s for somebody who is well-built.” He showed me a lorry with sacks of potatoes and onions on it, and all that had to be offloaded. I told him: “I’ll work for seven days free of charge. If you like my work, you can give me a job afterwards. Otherwise, you have nothing to lose and you have free labour.” After four days, he said: “I underestimated you. I’m going to pay you not from next week but from day one.” Now I’ve got a restaurant two doors away from that cash and carry, and we still have a coffee and a chat.
How do you juggle the work/life balance?
My wife has a big role to play. Early on, we entered a pact about a division of labour: I’ll look after the outside work and you look after the more demanding home side — taking the children to swimming or piano lessons. She did all that. I can’t remember the last time I went to a supermarket or called a plumber. I’ve never done it. I am very fortunate — both my children have never given us any headache but that could be because my wife looked after them. We are very close as a family and that helps a great deal. I just don’t think about work when I’m at home, and I don’t think about home when I’m at work.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
I say this to my children: work hard with honesty and integrity, but at the same time you should enjoy what you do. If you don’t enjoy it, there’s no point doing it and forcing yourself to work. In business you’ve got to make difficult decisions at times. But you earn that honesty and integrity. Everything you do has to be with them.
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