Oystercatchers Club | April 2013 | Julian Metcalfe | Founder | Itsu

Oystercatchers Club | April 2013 | Julian Metcalfe | Founder | Itsu

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Suki Thompson: Julian, when we met recently, you talked about, as an entrepreneur, the way you look at people is whether they have fire in their belly and whether they have an appetite for growth. So, just tell me a little bit about the kind of people, when you start one of your businesses and you have press and now you’ve got Itsu and you are absolutely an entrepreneur at heart, I think, you know, all sorts of other things as well I’m sure. When you hire at the very beiginning, those first few key people are so sort of disproportionately important. How do you make those kind of decisions?

Julian Metcalfe: I don’t think it’s so long ago. Your original question I’ve been thinking about a lot for the last sitting here, was it, how to find talent for how do you keep talent? Both. Clive actually who runs Pret A Manger, he was an Oxford scholar, he’s a classic scholar. He was a very decent and remarkable man and I’m very fond of him. But he has this saying which he used to say to me rather annoyingly, but he says “men marry the women they deserve.” And he actually said that to me at the time I was going through my first divorce, my first and only divorce. But he’s right. It’s kind of painful but it is right and of course women marry the men that they deserved too. So finding talent and keeping talent, for many of us here, is very, very difficult. If you work for Google you attract a lot of talent, it’s just a simple as that. No wonder you went through 24 interviews. Most of us don’t have that luxury, we just don’t. But obviously I try and choose the people that I work with very, very carefully. I’m here now because a month ago or two months ago, I really thought “I really want to spend some money for the first time ever on marketing this new company that I have. Serious money.” And I don’t know anything about marketing, I don’t know anything about who to hire or where to go. I’m dangerously impulsive, I’m impatient, so I thought “what do I do?” And somebody told me about Suki. So I called her up and said “I need to spend” – and this is how it happened. “I need to spend this amount of money, I’m going to hire someone tomorrow, I’m in a rush, and met someone at some drinks party and he seemed great.” And she said “no, no, we’ll come and do it.” So Angus came in and they lasted 10 minutes and they said “you will pay us £10,000 and within a month, we will put in front of you these people.” And that was good. Or maybe £20,000 – actually hundred thousand pounds!

Suki Thompson: it was definitely £100,000 Julian.

Julian Metcalfe: Maybe that was the first draft. Pay £100,000 and we will, providing you give us some more business in the future, we will put in front of you the right people.” So I’ve never written out a cheque so quickly. So it’s about taking seriously and choosing who you work with. It’s incredibly important and it’s also very difficult. But we all know that. I really don’t know what I can possibly add on this, and not going to bore you with all the stuff I do differently. I think I do do a lot differently, I’m not nearly as good as Google. I mean, can you imagine – all you really need to do it photo copy that and you are away. But the truth is, it’s not as easy as that. Because we all work for large companies, it’s a nightmare. Half of us can’t even make a decision without some numbskull coming up behind us. It’s a disaster. So if you really want some advice, the only advice I think I can give you is you’ve just got to fight yourselves as individuals to hire people that are better than you and when the numbskull comes up with some stupid reason why they think they are right, you’ve just got to fight. But it’s exhausting. It’s true.

Suki Thompson: When you walk into an Itsu at the moment and you talk to everyone who was there, which is what you tend to do, how do you feel about the people that work in Itsu, and the kind of service ethic that they have and the way they treat customers? And how do you motivate them to do that?

Julian Metcalfe: Christ, that’s three huge questions. I don’t walk in and just talk to people, I wish I could but I can’t. Usually I walk in and within a minute it’s like the end of the world because something is not right and I feel like I’ve totally let everyone down. And it’s a disaster. So once I get over that hiccup, I don’t remember that there is staff there who have worked so hard and put so much of their love and energy into it. So I somehow manage to spend a second, not nearly enough because I’m probably still frustrated with what went wrong. But I think they know I’m genuine but I don’t do nearly enough of looking after and nurturing them. And how do I motivate them? I don’t motivate them, I have a lot of people who, I take the subject very seriously and I have – I hope – on the whole a lot of people who we have allowed and enabled to motivate young people that work with them. And that is at science – it’s not just common sense. It takes a huge amount of hard work, follow up, a lot of belief, what else does it take… Money, above all, common sense and a passionate belief and trust in the goodwill of people. And in fact the most people come to work and they want to do a good job and they want to be proud and I believe that passionately and therefore you just need to create a culture where you can allow people to thrive and enjoy their job and enjoy each other and do something that they are proud of. It’s very hard obviously, I make it sound easy. And, again, to do this. I put in hundreds of little things. Hundreds. You haven’t got time or you don’t want to hear them all. But a lot of them are pretty well I think. I think they are normal, but in the industry apparently they are not. If I can find one… I could talk to you all day about it. We do, for years… When I had five shops there was quite a well run store, actually, and there was an Algerian manager – Said he’d I think he was called, and he always hired blondes. Okay? And it was quite fun the first few months going to see Said because the shop was, the girls were always cute and it was amazing – say he’d had a huge beaming smile and he introduced me to the girls. “This is Catrine from Sweden, this and this.” And I would say “Said is fantastic” and everything. But I promise you, once we had eight shops, Said’s shop didn’t do that well, and there was something wrong and I realised after a time to forget the blondes, there was something really not right. And from that day I really understood it, which is that there is no points, for managers – people in position of power. I think they hire people, it’s one of the benefits of being in a position of power. I think you kind of in the end make decisions and you hire people like, in Said’s case he hired blondes, but they didn’t work well together, particularly. They just didn’t. And the rest of the hard working wonderful staff who were great with the customers, they didn’t take kindly to the blondes every month either because of course the blondes didn’t stay long. Particularly after Said had got them in his office. So what I did was I insisted, I produced the money to people that work in our shops and they do this all over the world they get a whole day. I think they get £80 and at the end of the day, at 4 o’clock, all of the staff vote on a napkin – either yes or no to that person. So the staff hire the staff. And I don’t think people really know that. To me it’s kind of obvious. So what we get is, when the person arrives, they don’t know if they’ve been accepted until 4 o’clock, the manager or someone, of course not the manager is providing its 80%. You have to have 80 out of 10 ticks. And it bloody works – it’s unbelievable because they arrive the following week or whenever they start everyone is willing them to succeed because they all feel that they hired them. And that’s at shop level.

Victoria Sinclair