Irish visitors to the football World Cup in Qatar later this year will be pleasantly surprised to find a little taste of home in Doha in the form of a new Centra store. The new store is Centra’s first foray outside of Ireland and is the brainchild of Stefan Sick, Musgrave Group’s Managing Director International and recent participant on the Smurfit Executive Development three day 'Leading for High Impact and Results' course.

The new store will be familiar, yet different, as Stefan explains. “It is a unique concept. The majority of the 500 square metre store will be devoted to food service and only a small proportion will be for supermarket space.”

But that food service element will be very familiar as well. Half the store will be taken up by a Frank & Honest coffee shop, while the remainder will feature other familiar Musgrave brands like Caramico pizza and Moo’d ice cream as well as its renowned fresh bakery offer. Customers will be able to sit in the coffee shop and order in from the other half of the store or buy and bring from the store.

The objective is for the Doha store to be the first of many across the Middle East and Europe. “This is the first Centra store outside the island of Ireland and the AlMana Group is our franchise partner in Qatar”, he points out. “They already have a number of other active franchise concepts in different industries including McDonald’s in the food and beverage sector, Nissan in the automotive sector and Zara in the retail sector.”

An acknowledged franchising expert, Stefan joined Musgrave in late 2018 following a career which took him from KFC and Pizza Hut owner Yum! to Holland & Barrett and latterly to TGI Fridays, following a stint in the hospitality industry in his native Austria.

“I went to hotel management and catering school after finishing school. I got a lot of work experience as a waiter, bartender, and so on and then worked in the travel industry. When I was 27 years of age decided that I needed a degree to give my career a boost.”

That decision took him to the University of Vienna where he graduated with a Masters in Business. While there he qualified for a scholarship to study for an MBA at Lancaster University where he graduated in 2002.

His move into the franchising arena came in 2003 when he joined Yum! as Business Development Manager and later as Development Manager. At the time the company owned the KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s, and A&W Burger brands. While there he was responsible for recruiting new franchisees, working with franchisees to set up and grow their businesses, and was ultimately in charge of development in 20 countries in the European region.

He moved on to Holland & Barrett in 2007. “I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial,” he explains. “There was no job description or blueprint for the role there. “They wanted to expand internationally, and I explained the franchise model used by all the big retail brands and they liked it. It wouldn’t require a lot of investment by Holland & Barrett because the franchise partners would be making it.”

Having spent two years setting up systems and manuals and so on for the new model, the breakthrough came in South Africa with a major pharmacy chain which wanted to split its consumer and pharmacy offerings. “Within two years we were in seven markets,” he notes. “In most cases we targeted markets which were like Britain in terms of how they classified vitamins and supplement products as foods rather than medicines. This made it easier to set up stores.”

Holland & Barrett was then taken private by the Carlyle Group and it was time for his next move in 2011. “I had three job offers and I went to TGI Fridays and stayed for eight years.”

He joined as Director of Development for Europe & India and finished as Senior Director of Development – International which saw him take responsibility for the company’s development internationally across more than 60 countries working with existing franchise and joint venture partners as well as new potential franchise candidates.

That role also saw him join the TGI Fridays international leadership team. “That was my first involvement in leadership. Holland & Barrett was more like a consultancy role and at Yum! I did everything myself.”

Seeking out a new challenge, he joined the Musgrave Group in November 2018. As Managing Director International the new role saw him take responsibility for all the international business for the various Musgrave brands. So successful has the international wholesale business been over the past two years that it has been separated from the international franchising unit and re-integrated with the main Musgrave business to give it the support and resources it requires.

With his focus now trained firmly on the franchising side of the business he began to look at the challenges presented by leading a team based in Ireland from his home in the UK. “I decided that I needed to do a little bit more on my leadership skills,” he explains. “I had done a lot of management training over the years with Yum! and TGI Fridays but it was mostly about team building and not about things like the difficult conversations you need to have when you are a leader. Our HR department pointed me towards the Smurfit Leading for High Impact and Results course.”

Cultural considerations also influenced his choice. “I wanted to do course in Ireland. I have travelled the world and visited over 100 different countries and I believe every country is different when it comes to management. I have a team reporting to me in Ireland and Irish people are very entrepreneurial. That’s great but it makes a difference to how you lead and communicate. On the other hand, I have had colleagues from Asia who want to follow directions to the letter and won’t finish work until a request is completed. You almost have to tell them that they need to sleep. And then in America you have the hire and fire culture where people live in fear of being fired by a text message. All of these things make a different to how you lead, and I wanted to do a course where the majority of people I was speaking to were from. I wanted to understand how leadership is done in Ireland.”

The course lived up to all of his expectations. “It was quite theoretical, which is very good. Also, the other people from the course were from a wide range of backgrounds including medicine, IT, project management, finance and manufacturing. Working with them in breakout groups and listening to them speak about their own experiences was very useful. We also learned about the situation, behaviour, impact (SBI) framework, which I found very useful. It helps you provide feedback to people in a meaningful way. It means not just telling people they were wrong but how they can do things differently in future.”

He believes the course has helped him become a better leader and manager. “Alex Ferguson says he ran Manchester United with a million small conversations,” he points out. “I now have a poster next to my computer screen with four or five bullet points relating to the key learnings from the course and that’s one of them. I’m very Germanic and tend to focus on getting it done but the small conversations are very important. Maybe I’m not the best at giving feedback. Leaders need to ask how people are feeling, sometimes that can be the most important thing to do. Maybe I wasn’t the best at that before doing the course.”

He would definitely recommend the course to others. “Very seldom do you get such a small group of people from such a variety of backgrounds on such a high-quality course. That is very good for networking. It is very good value for money. I would also recommend it internally for other people in Musgrave. Having other people on the team do the course would help me in my job. Everybody is a leader in many ways and if team members understand the complexity of leadership that will help. It has certainly helped me in my own job. I feel my conversations with people are getting better. Also, since I’ve done the course, the vibe I’m getting is that I am doing better at meeting people.”

And his advice to others considering the course? “I put in a lot of effort to course. You have to do that. If you put in a lot, you will get a lot out of it. If you just come to be entertained and listen, you won’t get full value from it. At least 50% of what you get from the course comes from what you put into it.”

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