‘Managing is like being the conductor of an orchestra’
2007-06-07 15:34:22 -
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In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Hyat Syed, MD of Tallaght-based Kohinoor Premium Quality Meals 

Born and reared in New York, Hyat Syed is of Pakistani descent. Now living in Ireland, his American accent is slight, but the attitude is still there.

Syed studied for his MBA in New York and then worked for years in multi-nationals such as Kraft Foods and Hallmark Cards as a brand manager in marketing. Meanwhile, his father-in-law Mohammad Latif was running the successful Punjab Balti House and Grill restaurant in Ranelagh.

“I mentioned to my father-in-law that I was considering moving from the corporate world and he suggested I try the restaurant business,” he says. “It was only ever going to be for a year, a sabbatical, to help my family. But fate and events took over and here I am still.”

Syed moved to Dublin, and a formal shareholding in his father-in-law’s company made him the managing director. The restaurant was doing well, but Syed wanted to use his skills to take the business onto a new level.

“We had tried opening another restaurant in Dun Laoghaire, but the location was not right and we moved on, looking at other ways to expand.”

Syed looked around at the market and realised that very few supermarkets were selling Pakistani/Indian style cuisine. “Marks and Spencer’s were doing a range, but I felt there was room for a real authentic, premium quality product in other outlets,” he says.

Pre-packed individual ready meals became the plan. But this involved a big change of practice for the business. “Preparing food for immediate consumption by clients in a restaurant is a totally different business to preparing catering packs for hospitals, for flights with Gate Gourmet, for multiples like SuperValu,” explains Syed. “We went on a huge learning curve.”

Food testing, two years of planning, complying with the many directives around food safety, acquiring dedicated premises for production and hustling for contracts all became part of the new business – Kohinoor.

“While the regulations and permits seem daunting,” he says, “it takes very little extra energy to do something right. It takes nearly the same amount of energy to do things the wrong way.”

An initial approach to Enterprise Ireland for start-up assistance did not get a positive response, but once Kohinoor became a reality, Enterprise Ireland came to Syed. He did not need investment, but he did ask John Magill of Enterprise Ireland for help.

“When you run a business it can be lonely,” explains Syed, “you have no-one to ask for advice or help with decisions. I asked Enterprise Ireland to give us some real worthwhile mentoring. I needed honest feedback and critical analysis.”
The counselling and advice from consultants he received helped Syed in his strategic planning and approaches to the retail multiples.

“It was very practical,” he says. “I particularly appreciated the help from Dr Catherine Halbert on food safety and procedures. John Hickey also supported me in an incredible way. He helped facilitate so much. Enterprise Ireland is also investing by way of a grant to hire some much needed staff.”

The process resulted in strong contacts and links within the industry. “I must credit Musgrave’s for giving new producers a chance; they are helping small companies in Ireland,” he notes. “Getting product onto shelves is what it’s all about.”

So what are the most important criteria to running a successful business? Syed admits that running a family business can be tricky: “There can be a blurring of roles, you must be careful to keep boundaries to prevent trouble.”

Communicating with staff is high on Syed’s list of priorities. “Managing a restaurant, or any business, is like being the conductor of an orchestra,” he says. “It is my job to ensure that we are all playing from the same page. People look for direction.” 

While both the Punjab Balti House and Kohinoor boast an international staff – from Nepal, Russia, France, Ireland, Argentina, India and Pakistan – Syed is clear about what he looks for in people:
“I need a team who have energy, a good attitude and team players,” he says. “I don’t care if they are purple, red green or orange.”
 
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