How Debonair’s went from PMB to success

2014-05-13 00:00

DEBONAIRS, the 500-store pizza home delivery chain that grew out of Pietermaritzburg, will have found the key to unlocking a winning team to be as successful as they are.

This is according to Pat Symcox, former cricketer of more than a 100 international Tests, on introducing Craig McKenzie, a founder of Debonairs, who spoke at an event of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business and Golden Horse Casino, on Friday.

McKenzie said while Debonairs was his idea, in actual fact he had a relatively small part to play in the eventual success, which in the end had been primarily driven by a winning team.

He and Andrew Harvey started the company in 1991 in Pietermaritzburg. The growth of the chain was also unheard of in the South African business world, with the opening, at one stage, of up to one store a week.

McKenzie said the idea had come to him in while baby-sitting, on a trip to the U.S., where Domino’s Pizza did a home delivery for them.

“It made a massive impression on me. It was way beyond anything that was available in South Africa … Way back then food home delivery was unheard of here,” said McKenzie.

He said that in the beginning they had benefited from the support of young, energetic and good looking drivers, to the extent some women customers would only order if the pizza was delivered by a specific driver in “bow-tie and jockstrap”.

But passion and discipline brought the company to where it was today.

He said they realised very early that they would need to get the operational aspect right if the business was to succeed. Some of the factors that drove this were:

“You need a team culture,” said McKenzie. This was inculcated to the extent that the words “staff” and “employees” were banned in the company, and there were only “team meetings, team policies and team outings”.

The company must offer a game changing proposition.

“When I hear people say they will sell a product to me in only four to six weeks the hair on the back of my head stands on end. Why four or why six weeks … What takes that long,” he asks?

Roles and responsibilities need to be clearly defined and well understood.

McKenzie said at Debonairs each team member has a score card, not as a policing tool, but for them to know exactly how they are performing.

Communication and inclusive management is also important in creating a winning team, said McKenzie. Even team members at the lowest level of the company need to be involved in the strategy of the company.

He said a strong external focus is also a big feature of a winning company, and this means building strong relationships with suppliers, delighting customers and caring for the community.

Appreciation, recognition and celebration are also important— there is nothing better for team building than to celebrate one’s successes, he said.

Symcox said being a leader was like being in charge of a long canoe with many rowers. The leader has to make sure each rower’s oar hits the water at the same, or the boat will falter or head off in the wrong direction.

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