How I Got Here: Mark Lilley

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mark Lilley Abokado

Related tags: Casual dining, Health

Mark Lilley founded healthy eating chain Abokado in 2004 with his wife Lindsay. The company has grown to 23 locations across London with further growth planned for next year.

Why restaurants?
I’m a total foodie. Also it looked easy. Quite a few people go into the restaurant business thinking that way, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. From a punter’s point of view it may look easy enough but in reality it’s incredibly hard work.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
I’m glad no one told me how hard work it would be or I would never have pursued it. I also wish we’d been advised to get a high calibre team earlier on instead of trying to do everything ourselves.

What do you do in your spare time?
I spend time with my wife and my four children, which keeps me pretty busy. I also exercise a lot, mostly tennis and running. Exercise is a release and it keeps me sane.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
I always enjoy my visits to any of the Soho House outposts - relaxed but friendly service and uncomplicated food.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
To be honest I’d probably still be in banking, working miles from home. My kids wouldn’t know me. 

What motivates you?
I am incredibly competitive in business, so being better than the competition drives me, but what motivates me even more than that is creating something that I am really proud of. My wife Lindsay and I had a purpose when we started Abokado, which was to make healthy food more accessible to more people, and to this day that still stands. What better reason to get out of bed every morning than to carry on with that vision.

Where was your last holiday?
California with my family. It was an incredible holiday, and of course food was never far from my mind. The food scene in San Francisco and LA is so inspirational. I came back to London with a bunch of new ideas.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
I’m fortunate to have had so many inspirational people help me over the years, it wouldn’t be fair to single anyone out. We operate in such a supportive sector where there’s a real respect for how much energy and hard work we all put into our businesses.

What keeps you up at night?
Not much actually. I’m a pretty good sleeper. Even in the early days when the business was limping day to day I would put my head down and sleep pretty soundly.

Worst business decision?
Gosh, there have been so many. Where do I start? Thankfully we’ve made fewer as the years have rolled on.

Best business decision?
To broaden our range. I see how our immediate competitors are struggling with their narrow sushi and Asian menus and with having such a huge reliance on lunch. I’m thankful we put so much energy into broadening our offer into coffee, breakfast, juices and overall creating a more balanced menu. Our pattern of trade and frequency of visits is now closer to a Pret a Manger - a good place to be.

What are you reading at the moment?
Good to Great​ by Jim Collins, which is a really good read. It was sent to me by one of our investors. A subtle hint maybe... 

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Be persistent. Do the things others are not prepared to do. Be prepared to work harder than you have ever worked in your life. Do something that excites you. Be nice.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
I’d change the taxation regime. It’s completely unfair that the taxation structure for the hospitality sector is more costly than for any other industry. The taxation percentage is off the scale and it’s at odds with what you see in the US and many other countries. If the government wants to see a vibrant, flourishing high street it has to create a more level playing field.

CV

1973 Born in Roehampton
1984 – 1990 Tiffin Grammar School for Boys, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey
1991 Degree in Business Studies, University of Sheffield, England
1996 – 1999 Chartered Accountant, PWC
2000-2002 Investment Banker, Kleinwort Benson
2004 Founded Abokado

 

Related topics: People

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