“People build brands, brands don’t build people.” The next hour of Caterer Middle East’s conversation with Eathos CEO Andy Holman can essentially be summed up by that one quote.
It’s the cornerstone around which Eathos, one of the Middle East’s success stories in the casual and fast casual markets with brands such as Joga, SushiArt, Kababji, and Tortilla, has been built. With an emphasis on fresh ingredients made to order, it has found its niche in challenging times for the sector as a whole.
Holman tells us that what Eathos does best is identify brands that have “got the first few up and they’re looking for somebody to come and help them figure out the next route of growth” – following the oft-cited “five, fifteen, fifty” expression when it comes to number of outlets.
As one of the few operators looking to expand rather than consolidate in today’s market, human capital is the most important aspect of ensuring that successful growth, and therefore it’s key than Holman finds the best possible staff.
“You can hire for attitude and you can train for aptitude,” he explains. “They have to love the brand that they’re part of and wear it, literally, on their sleeve.”
While many senior management don’t recognise the sacrifices that some of their junior employees make, Holman is different. “If you’re coming over to work in the Middle East, leaving your family behind in your mid-20s and you’re going to do that for 2-3,000 dirhams a month, most of which is going to go back home to support your family, then you have to be respected and looked after and provided support.”
It’s this understanding of his employees’ needs that drives Holman to identify potential workers that have a synergy with Eathos’s way of working, and that Eathos can also provide for. In return for them engaging with the brand, Eathos will offer them the ability to progress and advance.
However, it hasn’t always been easy for Eathos to find the right candidates. Holman says he was getting “frustrated with what seemed to be the only two models” which were “companies setting themselves up as recruiters that were nothing more than LinkedIn filters” or the “big guys who were looking to place only C-suite candidates at ridiculous rates”.
Then there were candidates advertised as having 10-20 years’ experience, but Holman found that “it was the same year 20 times. What we’re looking for is 20 years of learning, development, and growth.”
There are also issues, Holman says, of candidates saying “we did this or we did that, but what level of involvement did they really have?”
To get around these challenges, Holman wanted a more personal attachment with a recruitment company that could connect them with the correct calibre of staff and open a dialogue that would allow the perfect candidate to be placed.
Food People, a Dubai-based F&B recruitment agency set up by Greg Wright and Luke Truin, “hit the sweet spot” according to Holman, of having a good address book filled with big names and also having a “farm-to-fork” mind-set in that they had a connection at the restaurant level where the suppliers are.
“They’re both guys who love the business and they bring credibility when they talk to people”, says Holman about Wright and Truin.
Eathos also had to be a good fit for Food People, however, as they like to go about things in a certain way, says Wright. “We’re quite particular in the companies that we partner with. There has to be a genuine passion, a genuine belief that these brands are doing the right thing in the market, that they’re going to employ the right people, and those people are doing to have solid foundations, development, and great careers, and with Eathos I see that through and through.”
Truin accepts that Food People are “not the easiest people to work with” because they demand as much detail as possible to ensure they get the key information required to make their recommendations.
“I think it’s about having a clear plan at the outset,” expands Wright. “We had really good communication with Eathos at the beginning, so before we go out and start finding people we had a very cleat set of guidelines that everybody agreed upon and we knew exactly what we were looking for. Unfortunately there are some businesses in the region that don’t understand that true partnership model. We genuinely want to embed ourselves within the business so that we can add true value.”
For Wright the problem is that “in this region, recruitment can be quite a reactive thing” rather than pre-emptive hires which can be more thought out.
Holman agrees, saying “when a role needs to be filled, it’s incumbent on the person’s supervisrot to be absolutely clear – what do I need this person to do? What is this person going to be held accountable for? What are their KPIs? And deeper than that, how are they going to interact within the organisation?”
It’s no easy task to find someone that matches all those requirements, Holman says. “It takes time, it’s not a straightforward thing.”
That’s where having a recruitment specialist who is willing to ask the questions to get the details is important. Truin says “a lot of recruitment professionals will be worried about pushing back” but if they don’t they can miss out on the fundamental issues of what is required from the new hire.
A quality over quantity approach can take longer Wright admits, but it’s how Food People measure their triumphs.
“If I’m able to see the Eathos team having drinks or whatever, six, nine, 12 months later and they’re all getting along, that’s success to us,” says Wright.
Now as Eathos continues to grow throughout the Middle East, this symbiotic relationship will be at the heart of it.