One of our tour’s lectures was carried out in a very interesting format – the interview. There were two participants in the dialogue who were friends and very interesting speakers. The moderator and interviewer was Simon Taylor, CEO of Condé Nast Restaurants, and interviewee was Stuart Gillies, ex-CEO of Gordon Ramsay Group. We talked about modifications in restaurant business, failures and success.
Stuart Gillies worked in the capacity of chef, and later, as a restaurateur during 25 years of his experience. During the six years of his overall expertise, he worked abroad in Switzerland, Italy, France, and New-York. In 2011 he became a CEO of Gordon Ramsay Group.
S.T. How would you define your role in Gordon Ramsay Group?
S.G. I’ll bring the analogy: you are the bus driver and initially you have to choose who would come along with you, and who wouldn’t. We had plenty of loyal co-workers who worked with us during 10-15 years. We communicated with each of them, discussed the prospect vision of the Group, and suggested them to think of continuing working with us. It was crucial to understand who had a desire and energy for change, and who didn’t have it. We had to choose the different paths with the latter group. We understood that most of our loyal co-workers did not possess enough of professional qualities, hence our team has changed drastically. In this course, we stressed professionalism over the loyalty. After we understood who ‘would share a bus ride with us’ and who were the members of our team, we had to divide the professional roles within the new team members.
S.T. How have you persuaded the people you worked 10-15 years with that it was a time for change?
S.G. In our case I openly talked with every member and explained where we were aiming at and how would we work, then I let a person decide if he wanted to stay with us or not. Honesty is very important in this case.
It is no use of telling the idea if nobody listens. Many did not understand that the company had a poor performance. I don’t know if it was grounded in not noticing the obvious or in limited access to the company’s performance information. The most difficulties occurred with the top-management who subordinated to Gordon only and wanted to discuss everything only with him. The majority was not able to listen to anybody else.
S.T. What was your strategy of company management?
S.G. The worst case scenario in the top-company management is to state that you “know-it-all”. No, I did not know everything I had to do, I experimented. I had a vision of the brand’s growth and I led the process and altered it when it was needed. The difference between me and the ex-CEO was in his being a dictator and my openness for dialogue.
Prior to my management, the company had a vertical structure of administration. Everyone subordinated Gordon and there was no room for the youth development. There was no horizontal management either. Also, in order to moving forward we had to craft new clear and specific messages. Several our brands were outdated for moving forth. We had to structurize and ‘clean’ the business, close some restaurants and conceptions, and open the new ones. For instance, the fine dining niche had to move to luxury casual dining niche.
One of our key messages was to do everything ‘a red-carpet welcome’. That meant that we had to pay more attention to details. Thus, we started hiring new people with a certain expertise in new useful segment for our business.
S.T. What of the features of yours do you consider the most explicit and how did it help for the Group transformation?
S.G. My strongest character trait is embarking on difficult tasks, rationalizing them, and helping people to accomplish them. People need to see observable clear tasks and comprehensible KPI stated. I didn’t solve the problems by myself, I helped the others to find the options for the solutions. That was a pathway to success. You’ll stumble and fall but you need to set specific objectives and proceed going forward. I had a working experience both in Michelin restaurant and brasserie. I left the best Michelin experiences and added new approaches.
S.T. What were the concrete actions taken for the transformation of fine dining conception in the restaurant to casual luxury dining?
S.G. I will draw an example from the case of restaurant Maze, where a very famous chef worked. After his dismissal, the restaurant workers tried to keep the business on the same level, but they did that in an incompetent way so that the business began to deteriorate. Overall, we identified two problems: visual and tasteful. Thus, we separately inspired working restaurant staff and back-office team. We invited service workers, cooks and chefs to try new ingredients and tastes, profoundly observed new concepts, carefully looked for new taste combinations. I encouraged cooks to think creatively. Managers and restaurateurs were taken on the tours to the different conceptions and inspired for the change to happen.
In the nutshell, being on the beginning of the development path, it is of the utmost importance to look for opinions and insights from the people of this industry, state questions of the development direction, speak, try, and observe a lot.
S.T. What was the greatest satisfaction and memories during the seven years of management?
S.G. The most inspiring thing is to see how people grow. However, even in that experience there were mistakes that I would have corrected. For example, we wanted to implement the changes in a high pace and not all the people could move on the same speed with us. It was possible to give them some time for the adaptation in order to avoid their leave. Now I feel pity that we have lost some of them. All in all, during my administration we closed 12 businesses and opened 20 new ones. I always told Gordon: “Don’t be afraid to close the restaurants, it is a way to success. It is learning, but not defeat. It is an experience”.