Business profile: David Niven of Nando's

By Paul Wootton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Late-2000s recession

David Niven values Nando's  social culture
David Niven values Nando's social culture
David Niven has led Nando's through the recession by emphasising the company's commitment to its workforce, an act of faith which has paid off handsomely

On the company's response to the recession:

In November 2008 Nando's gathered its managers together in a Leicester Square cinema and gave them a guarantee that there would be no redundancies within the business, no pay cuts and that bonuses would be paid as normal.

"When things were looking seriously tough we coined a phrase we've used in business over the past year: ‘Recession? We’re not taking part’. Everybody was so desperately pessimistic that you could talk yourself into depression and we tried not to do that. We said we’d plough forward. And that’s what we’ve done.”

On Nando's commitment to its workforce, demonstrated by it being named the best big company to work for in the annual Sunday Times poll:

"We've surpassed our expectations both at top line and at bottom line.” And he attributes these results largely to the company’s relationship with its workforce. "We’ve succeeded by having 6,500 people fully committed to what we were doing and understanding what we were doing. We got them to relax and understand that it was going to be business as usual."

“We invest a huge amount of money in looking after our guys at all levels. We have a very powerful social culture within the business, which helps managers bond teams together. We have a very low turnover of managers. We keep people. That means we have people in the restaurants who know what they’re doing.”

On Nando's unique proposition:

"If you want to eat pizza in the evening you have a raft of choices. If you want a burger, you’ve got plenty of choices. You want Chinese? It’s the same. But if you want peri-peri chicken, there’s Nando’s. So that helps but fundamentally our performance was about keeping the enthusiasm and drive of the team – both here in central support and more importantly out in the restaurants. And it’s held up remarkably.”

On the business's ethos and future plans:

Nando's eschews the carbon-copy approach to roll-out; each restaurant is individually designed. “We use different designers to make sure the brand doesn’t become formulaic,” confirms Niven. “And we invest a lot of money in the restaurant environments. So in Nando’s you can spend £10 on fantastic food and sit in an environment where you’d feel comfortable spending £50. That enhances the value proposition.”

Last year Nando's opened 15 new restaurants in the UK, bringing its tally to 243; this year there are plans for 20-plus openings.

"We think we have an opportunity in the UK to reach 450 restaurants. Our challenge in the next five years is to find the extra 200.”

Nando's was first launched in South Africa 22 years ago in a little town just outside of Johannesburg. It came to the UK eight years later. Currently, there are 900 restaurants worldwide, spanning 23 countries; and just over 18 months ago, the brand entered the US market, a brave move given the climate. But Niven, who is responsible for the UK and the US markets, believes the US represents a “massive opportunity” for the brand. Its two sites in Washington DC are trading “extraordinarily well”. It’s about to open a third and sign a lease on a fourth. Expansion will be cautious, says Niven, as the company ensures its model and offer are right for the American market. "We fill a niche in the States, which is relatively untapped."

As for the next five years, Niven is clear about the major trends that will dominate the UK’s restaurant scene. Value is going to remain key, and the quality and provenance of food will become more important.

“People really do care about where their food comes from, and we’re becoming less tolerant of poor service.”

Business will also become more competitive: “But, the market is expected to grow at a rate that gives us great confidence that there’s still a lot to go for in the UK”

David Niven's timeline:

1975-87 – Regional director, Asda Group
1987-89 – Operations director, Burton Group
1989-94 – Managing director, Horne Brothers (part of the Sears group)
1994-2006 – CEO, Alshaya Group
2006 to present – MD – UK & USA, Nando’s

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