The lasting value of Founders
30th March 2016
I visited IKEA earlier this month and learned of the founder Ingvar Kamprad's great mantra "you can copy business but you can't copy culture." Most people rightly talk about our wonderful team members when they think of Pret culture and indeed they deserve many blogs in future. Here, I am going to describe three of the less visible Pret cultural characteristics established by our two founders, Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham. Here they are:
1. A sense of purpose
Companies that put a sense of purpose ahead of profits tend to last longer and do better than short term profit seekers. You only have to read Walter Isaacson's vivid biography of Steve Jobs to get confirmation of this. Pret's mission statement - to create handmade natural food avoiding obscure chemicals and preservatives - remains the guiding principle for the company 30 years on. It forces us into a virtuous circle:
• Natural food deteriorates fast
• Natural food cannot easily be transported from factories
• Natural food therefore has to be prepared in our shops
• Natural food will not keep overnight and can be given away
• Pret has distributed its unsold food to the homeless since 1986
Pret's Mission Statement
This sense of purpose means that our sandwiches and salads are fresher than those sold by most chains because they last a few hours and not a few days. It also means that our teams feel that Pret stands for something and they are proud of our efforts to help alleviate homelessness.
Innovation is never easy and the larger you get the more difficult it is. "Never Standing Still" is a core Pret value and has its origins in the perfectionist and restless personalities of our two founders. I love the adage "if you want to stay the same, you have to keep changing". It applies to our food. Ten years ago, Pret's granary sandwiches made up nearly 30% of our sales - in 2016 they will account for less than 10%. They have been replaced by a variety of new and less bready products - protein pots, grain salads, cold pressed juices, flat whites, macaroni cheese, porridge and most recently, twelve gluten and dairy free soups.
Sinclair Beecham and Julian Metcalfe, the founders of Pret
Most companies are not murdered by the market place - they just die. They don't face up to the challenges facing them and they are unable to react in time. We strive for a culture of clear-talking and honesty – it seems to be the best protection for companies, as indeed it is for human relationships. The most important job of the CEO is to define reality as truthfully as possible. I get daily practice at this through the exchange of views with customers by email or social media. Nine times out of ten they are either trying to tell me the truth or they are seeking the truth from me about a given situation. What they cannot bear is cover ups, corporate blurb or any kind of fakery. They are extremely good at spotting these and they keep me on my toes. It helps me to act in ways that will encourage the truth within the business - by being approachable and rewarding those who say it as they see it.
Pret can never rest on its laurels. Sticking to our mission statement, striving to innovate and fostering honesty will go a long way to helping us stay close to customers and to our staff. Of course, like everyone, we don't achieve our ideals all the time - in fact I know we fall short far too often.
However, at least our founders placed these three characteristics in our culture. It makes my job a lot easier.
One of Pret's first charity run vans