Like most entrepreneurs, Jerry Brand is not afraid of hard work, but he also knows when to stop and enjoy life. After selling his first business for £1.8m in 1996, he retired to the countryside to help bring up his children for the next eight years.
That first business was Russell & Brand, a catering, cleaning and security services company that grew so quickly it won a PricewaterhouseCoopers/Independent award for being the second-fastest-growing privately-owned business in 1995. Brand is now having another go, and in May 2004, he set up Host Contract Management, a contract catering business operating in industry, schools and care homes.
Brand says it is important that any business leader who wants to recruit and retain a high performing, motivated workforce should remember that their staff have lives too.
“Most people have to earn money to live, but you also have to understand that people need to enjoy their jobs,” he says.
Having learned a lot about how to get the most out of a workforce from running Russell & Brand, he is determined to put those lessons to good use.
“I am using a lot of those experiences and putting them back into Host,” he says. “In particular, continuous development, individual development programmes and the importance of team working.”
Because 95 per cent of the workforce operates on-site at client premises, the company is decentralised and Brand has organised it along regional business management areas. Each area has a regional business manager and a certain degree of autonomy from other area units. Each also has its own share-option and profit-share schemes, as “this leads to financial motivation and loyalty”, says Brand.
Brand is keen for each regional business manager and their unit to feel empowered to drive the business forward as a team.
“The traditional business model is triangular with the boss at the top, then going down through management to employees. It is the other way round for us. The operators (catering staff) are the most important people in the company and are championed by the business. They are at the top.”
For this reason, there is only one office for the marketing, e-business and accounting staff. Everyone else works on-site and Brand has invested in virtual private network technology so that area managers can access the main data centre from wherever they are working.
“It is far better for people to be based on-site, rather than in an office.” He too is keen to spend a lot of time on-site, talking to clients and employees and witnessing first-hand how the business is going.
Once a month, each unit holds an informal continuous improvement meeting, where managers sit down with staff to ask what can be done to improve the business. Brand is a firm believer that teams work better than individuals and that employees should work collaboratively. But, he also thinks that people have become more individualistic than when he set up Russell & Brand in 1988.
“People are looking more at the longer picture now and if you’re not developing them, they see themselves as standing still. Younger people in particular have much higher expectations.”
That is partly why Brand attaches a lot of importance to training programmes. He is trailing an e-learning programme, whereby all employees have access to laptop computers to train at their own pace. The training starts with regulatory modules, such as health and safety and then moves onto areas such as customer service.
Brand says the e-learning is going well, but thinks the key to success is ensuring that staff get the training they want.
“You have to ask: ‘Does this person want to be developed in this way?’ I learned from Russell & Brand that you have to appraise people, talk to them and find out where they want to go next.”
The company runs an apprenticeship scheme aimed at staff who didn’t go to college and it will support people through NVQ accreditation. And when Brand employs people, he is not so much looking at their paper credentials as their attitude and ambitions.
“I tend to employ people who are very hungry to develop themselves,” he says. “They may not have the CV and experience, but do have the potential to develop into particular roles.”
He spends a lot more time now on the interviewing process than he did at Russell & Brand, to recruit people with the right outlook and company fit.
Brand now has 60-70 employees on board and 35 contracts established. He plans to acquire a couple of contracts every month to reach a target of 50 contracts by September 2006. His big target is to float the company in five to 10 years’ time.
Brand wants to get to the stage where he can take on the big four contract catering operators in the UK. He reckons he can do it because of his people management skills and his understanding of the industry. “You have to use people power,” he says. “You have to have a vision and tell people that vision. So many people are not good with people – they are starchy and not prepared to listen.”
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