Entrepreneur Michael Thiele’s tips for making yourself redundant (AKA: how to achieve stratospheric business growth!)
From running more than 100 pubs in the UK including the famous 'Walkabout' chain, to building a successful pub chain in Australia, to establishing his current venture - Hardimans Hotel in Kensington - Michael Thiele knows a thing or two about growing successful businesses. The keys to that success, he says, are making himself redundant, and putting the customer before the shareholder.
"Shareholders aren't the most important people in your life, and nor should they be,” Theile says. “The customer comes first and you build the business backwards from there.
"The shareholders will get a good result out of the customer's getting a good result. You can pay dividends to the shareholders, but that's not going to put another dollar in the till or another truck on the road if you're in logistics. It's all about the customers. More customers, spending more, being happy and telling each other about it, especially in these days of social media. The more five-star reviews you can get, the better. If you do that right, then the shareholders will be happy."
Thiele bases his approach to service around consistency, and meeting his customers’ expectations unfailingly, inspired by his childhood experience of New Zealand’s first McDonalds in Porirua, where the fast-food giant promised service within three minutes or ‘a free lunch’.
"When you get to a bar, the worst that can happen to you is you get ignored and wait five or 10 minutes to be served,” says Thiele. “My model is a confidence trick. Anyone's capable of pulling a pint and looking someone else in the eye. If a customer has been acknowledged, you've got their attention and they've got yours. You know, they’re next and they know they're next. They already feel like they’ve been served.”
Theile is a firm believer in the old adage: ‘the customer is king’ and was guided by that maxim when turning around the financial fortunes of the Jongleurs chain of comedy clubs in the UK nearly two decades ago.
"There was a continual battle going between keeping the comedians happy and keeping the customers happy. The operators wanted everyone to pre-order their drinks and food, then sit down and laugh when they were told to and not heckle too much.
"Not everyone is that organised when they decide to go to comedy last minute. How are they going to pre-order all that, and what if they change their mind and decide they want dessert now, or a different main, or they want to go on to bottles of wine?
"The comedians don't pay the rent, the customers do, so I completely changed that culture, because it wouldn’t have been a business if that had continued.”
In the hospitality trade, much of the responsibility for keeping customers happy falls to the staff. Thiele’s quest to “make myself redundant” has nothing to do with the ‘unemployable’ self-description on his Linkedin profile, and everything to do with empowering his people to deliver memorable customer experiences.
At the Walkabout chain, Thiele’s approach to professional development is to set out clear brand and operational manuals, which he develops in conjunction with his best front-line staff, and to train his people not to need him.
"From when I first started as a manager, I worked towards my own redundancy. The worst managers are the ones that hold things tight and say: ‘only I can make a call on that’. It's about what happens with the business if you get thrown under a bus tomorrow? It's not about what happens when you're there. It's what happens when you're not there that really counts. You're only as good as your worst employee.
"You have to make things easy for people and give them confidence in what they're doing. The only way is to train them and empower them to make decisions on their own, their decisions are then based on knowledge that they have accumulated through experience. They actually teach themselves.
"That’s how you get buy-in. Culture comes from your employees feeling confident in themselves and also having the basic knowledge – core competencies and company cultural background - upon which to make a decision without referring it to anyone else.”
Having been promoted from operations manager for the Walkabout chain, to heading up the entire publicly-listed hospitality business, including Jongleurs, and a number of unbranded pubs and gastro pubs, Thiele’s redundancy plan came into action. He says it was the only way he could survive as the head of a business spread across multiple venues around the country.
"I couldn't have the day to day interaction I would have liked with just the Walkabout chain – I was redundant – so it became about how it went when I wasn't there, and unfortunately, I got shown up because it went very well.
“Nobody ever does any of this on their own and anyone who says they do is a liar. You need help along the way, whether it's from a bank, whether it's your employees who have really bought into the culture, there are a lot of moving parts in a business.
And, while it’s only natural for a business leader to feel protective of what they’ve created, and that only they truly know what’s right for their growing venture, Theile says a fresh perspective can be the secret sauce that pushes a business to even greater heights.
It's a hard thing for someone who's entrepreneurial to do, but sometimes it's best to step back, have a look at your own business and then get someone else to have a look at it too,” says Theile. “Sometimes, when someone else looks at the forest, they see different trees, and different opportunities.”
Michael Thiele was speaking at Matthews Steer’s October Success Stories Breakfast, presented in conjunction with Westpac. If you are interested in attending future Matthews Steer events, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.