How do founders keep the insurgency alive in their organizations? This question was at the heart of our 19th DM100 meeting, held in Johannesburg, and the conversation benefited from the experiences of two extraordinary former occupants of Bus No. 4.
It turns out that Adrian Gore, the founder and CEO of Discovery, and Robbie Brozin, the founder of Nando’s, shared the same bus to the King David School as kids. (For the record, both of them wanted to point out that Robbie was somewhat older!) Thank goodness for that bus driver—he had in his care the future founders of two South African companies that ultimately went global and illustrate how founders keep the insurgency alive as the company scales.
- Discovery: Adrian founded Discovery in 1992 with a very clear insurgent mission: Making people healthier and enhancing and protecting their lives. As a leader in wellness behavioral change, Discovery has grown to nearly 6 million customers worldwide.
- Nando’s: Robbie founded Nando’s in 1987 after he was invited by his friend Fernando Duarte to a Portuguese eatery in Rosettenville, South Africa, that was serving peri peri–basted and marinated chicken. Robbie bought the restaurant and grew Nando’s into one of the world’s best chicken restaurant chains, with more than 1,200 restaurants in 23 countries.
Here are some key lessons from Bus No. 4:
- The founders must first articulate the insurgency. In previous blogs, we’ve looked at the “limitless horizons” of great founders—their desire to ignore industry boundaries to create new markets—and both Robbie and Adrian were out to transform the world in their own way.
- Nando’s: This is how Robbie describes the insurgency: “In our industry, all the talk was about fast, cheap food. I remember folks telling me that if we can’t cook our chicken within three minutes we were doomed. But we rejected that thinking. We argued that the quality of our chicken will be remembered long after the wait is forgotten. For us the insurgency was all about the people who make the chicken. From the chicken farmer to the griller. These are the heroes of our business. And we’re out to make people’s lives better, one chicken at a time. The model we use to do this can be transferred to art, to fighting malaria. We are working to change the world.”
- Discovery: This is how Adrian describes the insurgency: “We’re here to make people healthier. And we’ll do it by rewarding our customers as they change their behaviors in ways that will help them lead longer and healthier lives. This was a completely different approach than anyone in our industry was taking at the time, and we think [it] has created a revolution. And our people understand it: We are here to help people live more years. It is an amazing ambition to give the world more human years, from which great things will emerge. And we can and have applied this mission to different kinds of insurance and now different financial products. We are in the early chapters of a revolutionary story.”
- The leadership team must then rally the organization around the insurgent mission and the values and capabilities required to support it. During our DM100 meeting, the two founders shared stories about how they worked to make sure everyone understood the insurgent mission. Their goals were similar, but their methods differed.
- Nando’s: “We have kept our insurgent mission alive through two main initiatives,” explained Robbie. “The first is our five values: pride, passion, courage, integrity and family. Of course, these can be read as generic words, but the magic comes when we work with each market to define what these words mean for them and how they can then deliver the Nando’s promise. In addition we have a ‘compass,’ a list of actions and behaviors that everyone knows we do all the time. Our leaders try to evaluate all our actions through these lenses: Will this initiative enhance our values and fit our compass or not? As an example, we had a meeting on supply chain and we were doing amazing things to upgrade our capabilities, but we weren’t talking enough about where we really spike. We can be good at a lot of aspects but if we’re not great, if we’re not the best company that ever existed around our supplier relationships, the rest doesn’t matter. These are the kind of interventions that keep the insurgency alive and well.”
- Discovery: “We obsess about keeping our insurgent mission alive,” Adrian said. “And we obsess about the key activities and capabilities that help us deliver it. In fact, we have a very clear repeatable model and we codify it, train on it, re-train on it and then talk about it some more. If I look at my diary, I spend most of my time talking with our frontline troops about our mission and how we deliver it. I see no other way of keeping it alive.”
- Founders must also create successors and trust them to expand the business—but they themselves must remain the voice of the insurgency. Here Adrian and Robbie are in different places. Adrian remains the CEO of Discovery and feels he’s halfway through the marathon required to build a truly world-class company. Robbie remains one of the two major shareholders of Nando’s, but he has turned over the CEO job to someone else. Both of them absolutely believe that their future success depends on grooming and trusting the next generation of leaders to take on the insurgent mission. They argue it is the only way the business will scale. Here are their voices:
- Nando’s: “One of the things I’m most proud about is handing the day-to-day management of the company over to others,” says Robbie. “They are doing fantastic things that I couldn’t have done. But I also feel that my job is to stay a bit paranoid, to make sure we don’t forget the basics as we work to build a great company. Our business is pretty simple and, at its most basic, we are successful when we make the heroes of the business those who make chicken. We must celebrate our suppliers, our grillers, our serving staff that gets a warm, beautiful chicken to our customers. But in a world of complexity, where initiatives pile on initiative, I feel a key role I can play is to be the voice of the insurgency. I can do this as a board member and as a coach and mentor of our people. —to make the world a better place, one chicken at a time.”
- Discovery: “I’m probably halfway through my mission to create an amazing company that changes the world,” says Adrian.“ And there’s so much more to do. But, I’ve got 10 tremendous leaders around me who are shaping and delivering the mission every day. We deliver the mission through our own companies and through our partners. I see one of my jobs going forward is to really help our partner companies think about how the mission translates into daily frontline routines and behaviors. And I want to capture more customer benefits of our network. We are only at the beginning of this mission, and I see myself driving these things as our great leaders deliver our mission day to day.”
It is a pretty good day when you can be in a meeting with amazing founders swapping stories about how they’ve grown. And the whole time I kept thinking quietly to myself about Bus No. 4. And here’s the strange thought that was going through my head—this imaginary discussion between two schoolboys:
Adrian to Robbie: My ambition is to create a company that helps people live longer and healthier lives.
Robbie to Adrian: Great idea, but I can imagine only one reason to live longer: peri peri– marinated chicken.
Adrian to Robbie: No one can like peri peri–marinated chicken as much as you do.
Robbie to Adrian: Send your healthier folks to my future restaurant and I will rock their world—one chicken at a time.