Nando’s has arrived! Talking to CEO Robbie Brozin

Robbie-Brozin2In the world of business, you know you’ve got it made when the Financial Times puts together a splashy profile of you and your business. And that’s the happy position that Robbie Brozin found himself in recently when the FT published a long interview with the Nando’s co-founder and CEO. (Pic: A young Robbie Brozin clicked by myself for an interview in 1990, at the then flagship Nando’s in Savoy, Jo’burg. Ed]

IF anyone else said they wanted to change the way the world thinks about chicken and to “change people’s lives, one chicken at a time”, they would probably be laughed at. But when Robert Brozin says it, it does not seem quite such a cliché.

He is co-founder and chief executive of Nando’s, the fast-food chain that has grown from humble Johannesburg beginnings into an international brand that has captured the attention of world leaders and superstars. When US president Barack Obama visited South Africa in 2013, he joked that “in America we see the reach of your culture . . . we’ve got a Nando’s just a couple of blocks from the White House”.

Add singers Beyoncé and Rihanna, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, David Cameron, the British prime minister, and David Beckham, the former footballer, to a list of famous fans that keeps growing and you get an idea of the impact Nando’s and its Portuguese-style hot and spicy “peri-peri” chicken has had. Over nearly 30 years, the business has grown to more than 1,000 outlets in 23 countries as diverse as Fiji, Bangladesh and Namibia.

The story began in 1987 when Mr Brozin, who is widely known as Robbie, was introduced to a small Johannesburg café, Chickenland, by his friend Fernando Duarte. They borrowed cash from friends and family to buy the business.

It was a complete punt. Mr Brozin had “always loved food”, but never considered going into the restaurant business. After doing a business degree, he failed his accountancy exams and worked for his father selling Sanyo electronics.

He was not enjoying it. “Life’s short . . . You know what I mean? And I worked for my dad, and I’ve been in a corporate, worked at Deloitte’s . . . at Price Waterhouse, and Jesus, I hated work,” he says, speaking to the Financial Times in a more traditional restaurant. In his trademark casual jeans and shirt, the charismatic 55-year-old bursts with enthusiasm, at times referring to himself in the third person as expletives fly left, right and centre.

With his new restaurant business, now renamed Nando’s,it was different. When the company opened its second outlet in Johannesburg, Mr Brozin managed it and “loved watching the bones coming back from the restaurants back into the kitchen”. Yet he seems uninterested in the corporate side of the business and is stepping back as Nando’s prepares for the next stage of its evolution.

Getting clarity on who owns what in the private group’s opaque structure proves difficult, other than confirming that Mr Brozin and the Enthoven family are the main shareholders. The Enthovens have backed Nando’s since it was just three restaurants and initially invested about R1m ($86,000) in the company in the early 1990s.

Nando’s opened its first outlet in London in 1992 when it partnered with Dick Enthoven, and his son Robby has built up the UK operation.

But last year, the group had to defend itself against claims in the Guardian newspaper that it was using a complex web of offshore structures to legally reduce its UK tax bill.

Nando’s responded that it paid more than £12m in corporation tax in the UK in 2013, on a profit of £58.2m.

Mr Brozin, now concentrating on philanthropic projects, refers questions about finances to Andrew Lynch, global chief executive. He joined early last year and is tasked with adding more corporate structure to the group. Mr Lynch says: “It has grown almost in a federal way, almost a haphazard way, over many years as friends and acquain­tances of Rob have gone out to different markets.” The group’s main markets are the UK, South Africa and Australia.

Each country’s operations run almost autonomously, with a mix of franchises and directly owned stores, with all the bottled “peri-peri” sauce produced at a factory near Johannesburg overseen by Mr Duarte. The art in the restaurants is South African. Nando’s promotes South African artists and claims to be the world’s top buyer of the country’s contemporary art.

Mr Lynch declines to reveal details about financial performance, only saying all the main operations are profit making. He adds that the group plans to increase the number of restaurants by about 30 in the UKannually, and 20 to 30 in the rest of the world.

But as it expands, both Mr Lynch and Mr Brozin insist that Nando’s will never be a “cookie-cutter” operation….. Read the full article