Feb 7, 2019
By Greg Layton
Former CEO, Lite n' Easy
Passion, respect for your people and keeping the soul alive in your business
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In this episode, we meet Cliff Gale, former Managing Director of Lite n’ Easy for over 20 years and talk about passion, respect for your people and keeping the soul alive in your business.
Cliff bought into Lite n’ Easy after he saw a two-line ad in a paper in its very early days. He then led the business for over two decades and grew it into one of the most successful businesses of its type.
- Knowing your business inside-out;
- Treating your people and customers with respect and recognising their efforts;
- Keeping the business emotive and building its soul;
- Focusing on the things that count and profit will come;
- The difference between givers and takers.
A special thanks to Sarah Chamberlain from The Real Estate Stylist for recommending Cliff.
Key Quotes and Points from Cliff Gale:
- A colleague said to me, “Because we don't see that passionate emotion all the time from you, it's great when we see you like that, it makes us feel like you care. You care about the business, and you care about us.” Well, I'm glad you said that because I do. That's it. I was so passionate about the business. I was so focused on making the business successful. I was never focused on the profit of the business. The business was a very profitable business, but I knew that if we got all the blocks in place, that the outcome would be profit. So I never had to worry about that at all, and it was much more fun running the business by just being able to do things properly and for me to be myself there.
- I prided myself on the fact that I really carried myself very similarly in my workplace as I did out of my workplace. I didn't have a suit. I never wore a suit at work anyway, but I never felt like I put a suit on when I walked in the door. I never wanted to be seen like that, and I don't believe I was ever seen like that either. I was just Cliff in there. I was seen to be the driver of the business.
- Look, we had to pay people the right amount of money. That was a core… I learned that as well. You had to make sure you're paying people a fair and reasonable amount for the role they did, but I learned, and I'd learned this emphatically, that a lot of why people continue to work for you and wanted to do the right thing by you – and I guess that was something that I always felt a lot of people really wanted to do the right thing by me – was because I treated them with respect in the business. I ran the business morally correct. We were generous in the way we ran the business.
- I looked at my business very simply. If we treated people right, they would basically give it back to you. In this world, that might sound very, very simplistic but I think it's very, very underrated. I think the value is of just doing the right thing by people, and of course, look, there's mentoring on the way of your staff and all that sort of thing. Yes, there was all that stuff that was involved in the business as it kept growing. We had logistical issues. We had all sorts of production issues, but I reflected on the sense of why the business was successful – because people basically wanted to do the right thing.
- We then found by just focusing on what we did and doing it very, very well that was a very important part of I guess why the business was so successful. We didn't try to be all things to everybody, but we tried to do everything very, very, very well. I reflected one time and thinking that we might even get as big as Jenny Craig or one of those sorts of business. I think in the end, we're probably 10, 15 times bigger than Jenny Craig as a business. I guess that's one of the nice things I reflect on. I reflect on the success of the business. And, yeah, look, as I said earlier, success generates profit, of course, but my feeling is not about the profit. The profit was always considered to me to be an outcome.
- People wanted to work at Lite n' Easy. I wanted to employ what I referred to as “givers” rather than “takers”. Givers are the ones that were prepared to just hang around the end of the day until everything was all finished and all done, and the takers were the ones that, in the interview, they started talking about their wages and when their first review was and things like that. We're able to identify very early in our recruitment process to try to identify people that were, what I called “givers”.
- Because I was so passionate about the business, at times, I would really micromanage an issue, but I was really, really conscious that if I micromanage something, I only did that because it was either a serious problem or it was one that I didn't want to skirt around. If it was serious enough for me to get involved in, I wanted to find out all the ingredients of what created that problem for us.
- We would then get to the root of the problem, and that was really important to me, we would then come to an agreement that this issue moving forward would be done differently. That's, I guess, what it was all about for me. But I guess reflecting on what you were getting at there, Greg, micromanaging the business was in some ways a bit of a call for me, but I was very focused on not doing it unless it was really, really important. I found it was sometimes, when it was extremely important, but I got out really quick.
- I mean, one time, we had a particular problem. This is, I guess, with an idea of the size of the business and giving an insight into me personally. The business, this was probably in about the 12th or 15th year. The business was probably turning over $50 or $60 million a year and I had an issue. It couldn't get resolved, so I spent eight hours one day in the freezer just helping manage something that I wasn't happy with.
- Now, that's an absolute extension of micromanaging, but it reflected the passion that I had at the time. Did I do that regularly? No, I didn't do that regularly. Did I walk home at the end of that day with frostbite, genuine frostbite on my feet? Yes, I did. Did it take me six months to get over it? Yes, it did. And was that intentional? It certainly wasn't, but it was really, really important to me to show everybody that this thing could be resolved. Now, that might sound like a screwy story, but that was just part of my psyche to do stuff like that.
- Do not underestimate the core needs that people have in life, people being ultimately employees, people that work for you, the core needs of wanting to be appreciated in their roles, wanting to be shown respect in their roles. There's lots of media in the last year or two that's really highlighting the problems of harassments and all sorts of things like that. I was very, very, very conscious of that… as I said, I ran the business ethically correct and all that sort of thing, but I believe we've probably gone a little bit too far the other way. There's been too much focus on profit outcomes in business rather than maybe building the process along the way through empowering people, through effective delegation.
- Just, I guess, getting back to basics, getting back to what made you feel good with an early boss that you dealt with? What was a boss that you respected like, and what did they do? What did they do themselves when you were working for them?
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