Karin Adcock and Guillaume Brahimi on why leaders need to be passionate

Guillaume Brahimi, Chef and Restaurateur and Karin Adcock, Founder of House of Brands KJ, on moments that shaped their success.

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This content was produced in commercial partnership with NAB and the Financial Review, and owned by the Financial Review.

When Karin Adcock and Guillaume Brahimi met for a candid discussion about leadership, what united them was a passion for what they do. Both have run successful businesses – Adcock with Pandora, which she grew to a $200 million business over eight years, and Brahimi with his many restaurants, the most famous of which was Guillaume at Bennelong, which won every major accolade in Australian food and international recognition. But another thing they share is a willingness to do things differently the second or third time around.

As part of The Australian Financial Review and NAB Private miniseries on leadership, Adcock and Brahimi sat down to learn about each other’s successes and distresses, and pass on their own career learnings. Adcock’s newest involvement is with American jewellery company Alex and Ani, with whom she started working with last November. “I’m a very passionate person, so I’ve got to be passionate about what I do,” Adcock says.

“When I parted with Pandora, it was like losing a child.

“Alex and Ani is about positivity and they have a legal conscience about everything they do. It’s a brand with a very big heart in giving back to the community. These are all points which are very, very important to me, and which resonates in me. I thought, that is a perfect brand for me to take on.”

Brahimi, who describes how hard he works as “having a love affair with your work”, opened a new Bistro Guillaume in Sydney this month and, despite his prior accomplishments, remains humble. “I’m saying to my staff, ‘how lucky are we? We are creating a business, how many new restaurants are you going to open in your life?’. If you would have said to me 24 years ago that I would open a restaurant in one of the buildings in George Street [Sydney], I don’t know what I would have done. Sigh or pinch myself. It’s stressful yes, but it’s bloody exciting.”

Flexible approach vital

Both say what worked once isn’t necessarily going to work again. You have to be flexible and agile when it comes to business. “One of the challenges I’m having in bringing Alex and Ani to life, is so many retailers know me from Pandora … the first question they ask is, ‘how are you going to market the brand? How much money are you going to spend? We want to see a national campaign, which will have everybody knowing about the brand within a minute’.

“I’m saying hang on, no, that doesn’t work that way. We can’t just go invest $10 million in advertising Alex and Ani when we’re just starting out; it just doesn’t work that way. We have to build a brand, and it’s going to take a couple of years before the brand gets out there. We need to do that little by little.”

And having the right team around you, in whatever sector you work, is key. “The benefit of having a skilled and talented team around you means you are in an honest forum and can discuss challenges and explore solutions without worrying about politics and second agendas,” says Adcock.

Even if that means training the team. “You judge how good you are with the weakest person in the team,” says Brahimi. “It’s easy to judge yourself on the best person but you cross the line with the last one not the first one. It’s a duty to teach and it’s very important – they are going to be the future of the industry and we have a duty of care to teach them as much as we can.”

Key takeaways from Karin Adcock:

  • Being open and honest with my senior management team has always worked the best and in return they gave their best.
  • Brands that have a strong brand identity and a clear “reason for being” with a real point of difference are the brands that will survive in today’s environment.
  • The customer is very discerning. He/she can buy just about anything. Brands with a compelling story, which resonate with customer values, will do well.

Key takeaways from Guillaume Brahimi:

  • Believe in what you do and don’t compromise on quality.
  • You need to be surrounded by good people. The stronger the team the better the brand will be.
  • “Walking away is easy … I don’t have a Monday to Friday job. I work on Saturday, I work on Sunday. It’s a very selfish thing we do with restaurants and as a chef. You can’t do what we do unless you love it.”

This first was originally published by the Financial Review on 21 September 2016.