MasterChef's George Calombaris: The do's and don'ts of business

George Calombaris is a busy man. He’s just finished judging another season of the successful TV show MasterChef Australia, and is currently juggling seven restaurants (six in Melbourne, one in Mykonos, Greece).

In addition to that, the 32-year old has just been named as a finalist for this year’s Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and is planning to launch his next dining extablishment in a few months, Mama Baba in South Yarra.

In this exclusive interview with Smarter Business Ideas, he shares some of his experiences on what it takes to run a successful business.

Do: Listen to your customers

Many restaurateurs get defensive when an unhappy customer gives negative feedback. Not Calombaris.

“Don’t be naive. When someone doesn’t like something and sends it back, question it. Don’t go, ‘Yeah it was fine, that’s how we do it’,” he said.

“Identify what you’ve done wrong, work out what you can do better. Constantly question yourself every single day.“

Do: Know your numbers

When Calombaris and three co-founders opened his first restaurant, The Press Club, in 2006, he took care of the accounts on his own. Now, even though he has an accounts department comprising of five staff, he still checks in every day to stay on top of his business’ figures.

As he explains, if you don’t have a grip on your own costs and standards, then “things are going to go down the drain very quickly”.

“I’m constantly asking, ‘Guys, how are we going? Show me our creditors and debtors’. If I don’t know what they are, that’s a problem.

“That’s the biggest problem with businesses out there - they look at things retrospectively: ‘We made a  loss last week, this week we’ll do better’. Not in my business. We’re working by the minute here. By the end of the day, I know if we’ve made budget, and if we don’t, butts are being kicked. It’s as simple as that.”

Do: Be prepared and plan

One of the most important pieces of advice that Calombaris shares with MasterChef contestants who have just opened their restaurants is the need to stay on the ball, research and plan.

“You’ve got to be prepared for everything at the moment. Look at what’s happening out there. The market’s changing. Make sure you know what’s going on. Read, look, talk, understand and make sure you’re constantly one step ahead of everyone else, not two steps behind.”

In addition to that, a business plan is necessary for the success of any enterprise.

“Think about what you want to achieve in a year’s time, two years’ time, three years’ time. These things need to be nutted out from day one, and it can be one page long. It doesn’t have to be 45 pages long.”

Don't: Become complacent

During his career, Calombaris has won a whole host of accolades, including The Age Good Food Guide Young Chef of the Year in 2004 and being chosen to represent Australia in the Bocuse d ‘Or International Culinary Grand Prix in Lyon France. Meanwhile, The Press Club Group has grown from $7 million turnover to $21 million in four years.

However, Calombaris is adamant that he does not rest on his laurels.

“I tell everyone all the time, ‘I’m not successful yet, I’m not done yet’. I’ve got a long way to go, I've got obstacles to jump over and success will come when I’m retired, sitting back and enjoying the fruits of my labour,” he said.

“I’m loving it now, but you never count your eggs before they hatch. I always say, stay humble, grounded, keep your eye on the prize, and constantly question yourself and your business. Don’t you sit comfortably. The minute you do that, you become complacent.”

Don't: Hire staff based on their resume

Great employees don’t need to have had a dozen accolades on their CV, according to Calombaris. Rather than hire people based on just their experience, he carefully chooses them according to their personality and attitude.

“When I interview someone, I don’t care about their resume or who they’ve worked with,” he explained. 

”You come 10 minutes before your interview and you’re ready. When you get up to leave, you shake my hand, you look at me in the eyes. That is success for me. That’s brilliant.”

The Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award ceremony will take place in Melbourne on 17 November this year. The national winner will represent Australia at the 2012 Ernst and Young World Entrepreneur of the Year award in Monte Carlo. For more information, visit the Ernst and Young website.
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