Leadership Success At Famous Brands – Kevin Hedderwick

16 years ago Kevin Hedderwick entered the world of Steers Holdings when its market capitalisation was R105 million with a share price of R1,69. This was at the time when there were jitters in the market with McDonalds entering its space, but it made no significant difference. He thrust it forward into what can be described as a fairy tale story that involved the acquisition of household brands like Wimpy, Debonairs Pizza; FishAways; Mugg & Bean; Tasha’s; Housefamous brands 2 of Coffees; Milky Lane; and many more. Today the business is called Famous Brands with a market capitalisation of just over 14 billion and a share price of close to R134. Can anyone doubt this man’s ability to create successful, dynamic movement?

Hedderwick easily refers to Adrian Gore and Stephen Saad as examples of great leaders that have achieved the extraordinary. When I suggested that it was time to place him in the same category, he was hesitant, as though he doesn’t feel worthy of it yet. His response is indicative of his character. Despite the fact that he started out on this journey with a desire to not be poor, and then achieving success beyond his expectations, he remains a down to earth, humble human being. In the bigger picture this may be more admirable and could positively impact the people around him more than the business achievements. People follow great leaders because of who they are personally, more than they do because of what they say or achieved – granted, what you achieve usually helps form who you are.

Digging deeper to understand what drove the man, whether it was as simple as not wanting to be poor, one discovers more. His mother’s influence was central. She repeatedly said to everyone: “This kid is special”. He lost her when he was seventeen, but she made her mark. The belief that he was special grew inside him and he achieved consistently since.

Hedderwick has “street cred” in his industry. He left a very senior and cushy corporate post to start a Keg franchise in East London where he mopped floors and served tables. Possessed of a competitive spirit he and his family took this struggling pub to becoming the ‘Keg of the year’. Head office needed his corporate leadership experience to take the restaurant chain to the next level and he craved more mental stimulation. He was appointed as the MD and naturally took it to the next level, as expected. This added perfectly to his experience kit for what lay ahead.

In leadership he talks about two fundamentals. The first is “People”, of which he says: “Leadership is having the ability to surround yourself with the best damn people you can find, and it doesn’t matter that they can be smarter than you or academically brighter.” The other fundamental is “process”. For him these are the two things that he feeds off: “People, being able to pick them, spot them, and process  is being able to go and look for best practice and install it where ever you go, for continuous improvement”.famous brands 4

He has come to learn that managing people is not complex; they need three things: “Tell me what you expect of me exactly; give me help when I need it; and reward me accordingly”.

This may be simple, but it is not easy. Hedderwick had to learn the hard way, which is probably the only way with something worthwhile. When he started at Steers Holdings he brought the blue chip company principles along. He explains “what I did have in my tool box was process and I pushed all this process in the business. It didn’t work. The reason was that we didn’t have the right people in place. You can’t have the one without the other. They feed off each other.”

The Famous Brands success thus far has also been a result of sticking to their core: “In the early days we were under no illusions as to what our core was”. Also, understanding the market “in terms of where you are going to participate or play” says Hedderwick. In Famous Brands they continually drive for answers to two questions: How do we get closer to our customer (franchisees) and how do we get closer to our consumer (clients in restaurants)?

Another critical success factor was the backing of the main shareholders, the Halamandaris family and their vision to bring someone from the outside in and support the overall strategy.

Hedderwick and his team would never have achieved success without a culture of hard work and attention to detail, which according to him takes some risk out of the journey. He also states: “If you are going to be successful in any business you have to be fanatical about the detail. I don’t know whether you can be a great leader if you don’t pay attention to the detail.”

During a personal discussion with the global CEO of Coca Cola in Atlanta Hedderwick asked him what the one thing was about managing such a large corporate successfully. His spontaneous response was: “Kevin you have to have line of site”. For Hedderwick this is about being close to the detail. As organisations grow, hierarchy follows, and leaders become further removed from the people and the essence of the business. He absolutely believes in flat structures for this exact reason, “to keep your finger on the pulse”, he adds.

famous brands 1The biggest challenge of success is when a leader or team reaches a place where they believe they have arrived, at which moment they start moving downward. He believes the way he has prevented hubris from sneaking in the back door has been by surrounding himself with a great team of people “who execute flawlessly like we want them to do” he says. The team prompts him about growth, because they are fanatical about being “growth champions”. Hedderwick explains: “Growth is never off the agenda at Famous Brands”. They also do climate surveys on a regular basis and feedback from stakeholders is that they have a high performance culture, which they fiercely protect.

As a business they have completed one chapter and I can’t help sense that they will write several more. They have a strong balance sheet, no debt, are highly cash generative and according to their credible leader “Famous Brands is about to embark on a whole new chapter in its life.” This could be another AVI or even Bidvest story with a great leader and team at the helm who knows their strengths lie in brands, logistics and manufacturing, and they understand the food and beverages space.

For Hedderwick self-belief, tenacity and lots of courage is key. This Famous Brands team has a lot going for them, and at this stage of the journey seem unstoppable! Like the All Black rugby team they have moved from good to great. The next chapter will probably be about moving from great to significant.

Listen to the master lesson conversation with Kevin Hedderwick on CliffCentral.com  here

and the interview here

This article appeared in the:

Business Report




on 26 November 2015

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on adriaan@leadershipplatform.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.






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