09 July 2013

Lessons in Success: George Calombaris

* This is an updated and edited version of an article originally published in InSight 102 on 7 October, 2009

MasterChef has returned to our screens for a fifth season and is not having quite the same ratings success as the glory years of 2009 and 2010. My interest certainly waned as soon as Channel 10 started promoting the sexist and very dated ‘boys versus girls’ concept (I mean why not ‘long hair/short hair or those born in Australia/those not or republicans/monarchists?). 

Of course the real stars remain the three judges - Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris. The show's producers did a very astute job back in 2009 when they selected (cast?) what could have been a controversial (all-male, all-Melbourne, 2 ex-pat Poms) panel of judges. 

Most of the MasterChef media spotlight has fallen onto George Calombaris, with ‘unlikely sex symbol' being quoted in more than one article. The Age Melbourne Magazine featured George as their October 2009 cover story. It is an excellent article and provides an illuminating glimpse into how George has come so far in a relatively short period of time. 

This is what I took from the story of George's life so far: 
  1. It doesn't matter where you grow up - George grew up in the decidedly unfashionable outer-Melbourne area of Berwick/Narre Warren.
  2. Poor school results aren't the end of the world - George scored 17 out of 99.95 for his VCE.
  3. Be prepared to start at the bottom and do the hard yards - George's first job at age 16, was washing pots in a restaurant.
  4. Don't be afraid of failure - George was chef de cuisine at fine dining restaurant, Reserve, when it closed after failing financially in 2005. George's marriage dissolved in 2007 after lasting only three years.
  5. Find like-minded people as business partners - Behind the scenes (and putting up much of the money) in George's restaurants (Hellenic Republic, Press Club, Maha Bar and Grill) are savvy businessmen, Joe Calleja and George Sykiotis.
  6. Make your passion your life - To quote George's partner, Tricario "I can sit by the pool and read a book; he'll sit by the pool and write a new menu. After MasterChef, I told him he needed to have a break but it's what he loves to do and that's what makes him so successful."
  7. Create foolproof systems to deliver consistent quality - George states that the Hellenic Republic is about high-volume consistency through codifying every dish on the menu. "You could put a plumber in Hellenic, put a chef's jacket on him and show him the book. ‘Go ahead you make it'. It's all structures."
  8. Keep life in perspective - George's father had two bouts of bowel cancer 10 years apart, which had George say "I reflect on walking into the Alfred Hospital with him to get his chemotherapy and I think, why would I whinge about scales on the salmon or a staff member calling in sick? It drives me always to think positive."
  9. Spend more time working ON a business, rather than IN it - George employs 130 people and doesn't regularly cook in any of his restaurants. He spends his time in his restaurants eating and observing the interactions between his staff and the customers and continually looking for ways to improve his customers' dining experience.
  10. Be full of energy for life - Quoting his dad "He hates the word tired. He doesn't believe in it. He says you're here to live, you're going to be a long time dead, so just do it."
  11. Be yourself - There's no Ramsay-esque temper tantrums, airs and graces or anything about George that yells ‘try-hard'. He's comfortable being himself and the enthusiasm he has for dining, great culinary skills and the hospitality industry comes across as authentic and compelling.
The world of cooking and restaurants is a great breeding ground for success because it doesn't matter where you were born, what school you went to, how good your marks were, who your parents know or what you look like - what counts is great food and excellent service delivered with passion, consistently. 

On that count I would argue George Calombaris is a better success role model than many of our over-hyped and over-paid CEOs or our many ethically, competency and morally-challenged politicians. 

Related articles:

No comments:

Post a Comment