Giving People a Chance
Longer ago than I care to remember I was fortunate to spend a couple of years working with Charles Manning. Semi retired from from heading a major oil company in Sweden he was looking for a less stressful role. He took the lead of a new air conditioning company that I had recently become involved with in a sales role. Charles felt that this was not the best role for me and swiftly created a head of marketing position and handed it to me along with a not insignificant budget. I had no experience but he had the belief that I had what it took to do it. Within a short space of time I had developed a marketing plan, undertook a complete re branding exercise and organised a series of national sales events.
He employed Carl as sales manager. Carl had no experience of sales. He was in his early 40’s and had spent 25 years “on the tools” as he called it. He needed a break but with no sales or similar experience he was getting nowhere. Charles took a gamble that someone who had spent all his working life with contractors could maybe sell to them in a different way than a sharp tongued, suited salesman so prominent in the industry. The rest could be taught. In return for me showing Carl a new way of working Carl would teach me the technical side of our business. He finished the team with a sales office manager and a marketing assistant. Within 1 year our turnover was over a million with a healthy profit and a national customer base. Essentially he gave us all a chance. I had no experience of marketing other than studying it as part of a business degree. Carl had never sold anything in his life. None of us knew very much about our market at the start. But we learnt because of Charles, his vision, his belief in himself and his team.
Six months ago I met Marina. She had arrived in England following a few years studying in Boston. She had no experience of working with food or drink and had not worked very much having left Greece at 18. I had every reason not to offer an opportunity to Marina given the pressure I was under to find staff and hit the ground running with the cafe due to open within weeks. But yet I felt she had something the others I had spoken to didn’t despite them having more obvious skills and experience. I remembered Charles. I offered her the opportunity. Five months on she is still with us and the only one left from the original bunch. She has a lot to learn about specialty food and coffee and everything else we want to achieve. But in a relatively short space time (I have been around the specialty scene for almost a decade and still have so much to learn) she has taken on board so much. Last week I proudly watched her tweak away at the grinder settings, timers and scales at the ready, trying to perfect some Old Spike Roastery coffee for aeropress. This is a girl that did not drink coffee 5 months ago. In the kitchen, which is her main role, she carefully puts together with love and care a simple but well crafted menu as if she was after her first star. And for me, more importantly, she has bought into the concept of what we are trying to achieve and helps execute it every time. How long she will stay for I don’t know but I do know that this opportunity will help her grow and me and the business I steer are the better for it too.
Recently I have come across several new social enterprises / conscious businesses that are combining either cafes or coffee roasting along with the aim of specifically providing opportunity for employment and training to homeless or other people, often young, that for one reason or another have not had the best start in life or have been lacking opportunity. I am sure there are others but the ones I have come across so far are Old Spike Roastery in Peckham, a coffee roaster and coffee shop employing and training homeless people. Second Shot Coffee opening in East London with the same aim. Well Grounded who provide training to mainly young people with the aim of getting them into the specialty coffee industry and finally We Walk the Line, again a training and entrepreneur organisation for young people aiming to set them up with their own coffee trike business. A great idea.
These ideas really excite me. For several years I have felt the opportunity to combine ethically driven, specialty food and coffee businesses with potentially very gifted, creative and enthusiastic youngsters is worth pursuing. I love this industry niche and whilst there are many challenges ahead not least with pay, sustainability and ethics it is an incredibly exciting industry for the right people and great for enthusing otherwise disenfranchised people. Good luck to them all and may there be many more.
In a separate rant I will talk about the organisation I work for and how they have been doing a similar thing in garden centre retail for over 30 years. More importantly how we hope to combine that with a similar concept at Pritchard + Ure. And maybe sooner than I expected. Watch this space.