Sinclair Beecham on his people philosophy

I am a huge fan of Pret a Manger, the UK-based sandwich chain. Its a combination of the enthusiasm and friendliness of their people with the quality of the product and systems focused on delivering a great service. (Few remember it now but, when I set up in London in 1990, getting a lunchtime sandwich often took 15 minutes – you waited in the queue for them to be hand-made. Pret spotted this key annoyance and responded with both ready-made sandwiches and wall-to-wall tills.)

I know that Pret have a real focus on their people. They have a tough recruitment, which I’m told only hires 1 in 7 of those that apply, and each new potential recruit has to work a day in a branch. They only get the job if the staff in that branch vote at the end of the day that they are good enough to join the team – so they are tested on their ability to do the job, not on how well they talk about it.

At the ClearlySo Social Business conference today I got the chance to ask Sinclair Beecham (co-founder of Pret a Manager and founder of The Hoxton Hotel) for his philosophy on the people in his businesses.

Sinclair Beecham on people

“When I started out I realised the pyramid was the wrong way round. The managers were at the top but it is your front-line staff who deal with your people. I realised you had to give your staff  the power to make decisions. They are the people that matter.

“It is that split second of inter-action when your person makes eye contact with the customer. Its either a good time or a bad time. Its either somebody who cares about you or somebody who doesn’t. Everything we do is building to that moment in time, to make sure it’s a great moment for your customer.

“In the hotel business there are two key points of contact, when you arrive and when you leave. Most hotels rip you off. You discover at that second moment, when you leave, that they have found lots of extra charges to add on. Don’t treat your customers like that. Don’t treat your staff like that.”

We often think entrepreneurs have to invent something amazing to succeed. As his fellow panel member Lara Morgan (founder of Pacific Direct) said “I make soap and Sinclair makes sandwiches for a living. Neither are radical products. Its about how you provide a better service.”