Business ownership is a true test of character and self-belief – as Sarah Sparks discovered from Hip Group’s Jackie Grant. Hip Group is a hospitality goliath turning over $40 million annually from 12 sites across Auckland, and employing nearly 500 people. If they do not grow it, bake it or make it, they source it […]
Business ownership is a true test of character and self-belief – as Sarah Sparks discovered from Hip Group’s Jackie Grant.
Hip Group is a hospitality goliath turning over $40 million annually from 12 sites across Auckland, and employing nearly 500 people. If they do not grow it, bake it or make it, they source it direct from the farm to the table.
Fourteen years ago though, Hip Group was just a neighbourhood nipper, a humble sum of one called Café on Kohi. The dream then is the same now; “to create really great service in a casual café environment”, says co-founder Jackie Grant.
It’s clear that the success of Hip Group has been built on values like empathy, courage, curiosity and truth. “Everything has been a learning curve” she says.
Continually asking “what would we like here” backed up by an uncompromising sustainable food philosophy has been credited by Jackie as the “driving force” in all decision-making.
“It’s always been about how to make that customer experience incredible.”
Ensuring both customers and staff get what they want has been paramount. “If we learn and innovate by changing it up then it will be motivating for our staff to stay with us.”
Expansion has been fuelled by an undying commitment to “great quality” yet it’s led to making courageous calls. Some people have not aligned to the vision so they departed, Jackie admits. “For the first couple of years we struggled.”
Connections were lost with chefs wanting hot-house food on the off-season or butchers peddling non-free range ingredients. Yet, despite the challenges, staying curious with an uncompromising standard has led to innovations ranging from developing an artisan bakery to making tubs of tasty gelato that’s churned on-site.
Never in her wildest imagination, though, would Jackie have known what would unfold in the business. Within a decade of opening her relationship with her partner fell over, triggering a departure from the business for two years.
“I was distraught being away and felt my absolute being was cut off. It was my life.”
Then in 2016 she came back as an advisor.
“So my ‘grit’ is spending the last two years rebuilding after being CEO for nearly a year now.” Figuring things out on her own while her former partner remains a shareholder and trustee has been a true test of character and self-belief.
They say where there is a will there is a way. After stepping back in, Jackie quickly assembled a “circle of wisdom, of people who are really good at what they do”. Most were existing staff.
She knew she needed to change things up again. “We weren’t talking about being magical”.
So a values discussion soon followed to fire up her team’s belief in the business. Words flowed, like “care”, “humble”, “truth” and “change”. Hip Group was feeling its mojo once again.
Jackie set up her new circle for success by collectively sharing responsibility and accountability. “We built a business plan together and I am proud to say that we achieved everything after finishing the financial year.”
During the process she renegotiated finance facilities and oversaw a multi-million capital expenditure at the company’s Britomart site.
‘Grace’ was found not long after becoming CEO. It was clear to Jackie that the operation urgently needed a head of HR, a CFO and GM’s to head each site. At the Board’s request Jackie accepted she needed to engage a consultant to validate what she was doing.
Sam Gadd from Humankind got the nod to assess the new workplace action plan. After interviewing all of the team Sam was amazed that Jackie was spot-on thanks to trusting her intuition.
“We did a leadership day recently and over 20 people had re-joined the company in the last month,” she says.
Jackie figured the rebuild had to start from the inside out. “When you work in it, you definitely feel it. The team must believe in what they’re doing to do it right.”
She says it’s all about raising the standard by taking away little “unconscious experiences” that customers don’t need, so they have a great experience.
Now after a year of “tidying up, doing remedial work to ensure everything wasn’t broken” Hip Group is evolving once again, and with a multi-million dollar upgrade of Café on Kohi.
In a way Jackie’s back where it all started, yet this time she is all the wiser and incredibly stronger.
Sarah Sparks is an Auckland-based freelance writer. Email [email protected]