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The Caterer

Take it from Me

01 May 2005
Take it from Me

Robin Rowland, 44, has pinned his career on the promise he saw in midpriced brands. Today, he's chief executive of the converyor-belt sushi chain, Yo! Sushi. For an insight into his views on life and business, read on

I've got to this point through self-belief and working for fantastic brands. I've always worked with mid-priced aspirational chains because fast-casual is the next big growth. In the late ‘80's, I worked for Old Orleans and prior to that with Whitbread. I also ran a chunk of the restaurant division at Scottish & Newcastle and was at City Centre Restaurants when we created Caffe Uno and Frankie & Benny's, before joining Yo! Sushi in 1999.

You have to collect good people around you. I am better at managing an organisation so I surrounded myself with conceptual people. I was taught the lesson early on in my career that I am paid to manage a business for shareholders.

Working at Old Orleans was a high point in my career. I took it from five restaurants to 22 in three years and I hadn't even turned 30. Another high point has got to be the MBO at Yo! Sushi in 2003.

It's true, I've had lucky breaks. I am an eternally optimistic person where others aren't, and doors have opened for me. But I also take risks. I left the belly of Scottish & Newcastle where I ran 100 restaurants or so to run just five at the Restaurant Group. Then I did it again when I joined Yo! Sushi, which also then had five restaurants. I did it because I wanted to be my own boss and test myself. I am much keener on running a business than spending 25% of my time bringing people on board for decision-making. Look at Strada, Carluccio's - all these successful companies are run by people who make things happen.

I live life; I don't want to be a passenger so I guess my philosophy is the same as Yo! Sushi - "constant and never ending innovation". I follow it at home and at work. I've got three children under four and I am renovating a house. At work I have got six restaurants opening in the next six weeks including four abroad - two in Dubai and one each in Paris and Athens. In negotiations, I use patience. You'll find you can't fold a piece of paper more than seven times and here at Yo! we use that philosophy in negotiation. We are utterly decent and friendly but we don't commit, and usually by the seventh meeting the other side gives us what we want. I also believe in karma - if you go the extra mile, it opens doors.

Life is about chapters. In another 10 years, I'd hope - besides having direct operation of a company - to be a non-executive director in a leisure or hospitality company where I could add value. It would be good to have an international flavour to my career, too, and I reckon I've got another couple of businesses in me.

Interview by Rosalind Mullen

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