Fast 50 contender: Wellington Hospitality Group

L-R Cormac Denton, Jamie Williams

Wellington Hospitality Group is an independently owned hospitality company, with a significant portfolio of venues across the lower North Island. They were also the Wellington winners of this year’s regional Master of Growth award.

For those new to the award, the Master of Growth is a recent addition to the Deloitte Fast 50 programme, recognising large-scale companies that have seen sustained expansion over the last five years. Wellington Hospitality Group placed 8th in the Master of Growth index last year with an amazing 272% revenue growth, and are back on the index again in 2018.

With that in mind, Chief Financial Officer Cormac Denton, takes us through the company’s history, his experience with the Fast 50, and his patented formula for business growth…

Tell us a little about Wellington Hospitality Group and your role in the business...

Wellington Hospitality Group was started twelve years ago by two school friends: Andrew (Will) and Jamie Williams. Jamie came out of the IT sector as an experience-driven guy who needed to get out of the rat race and decided to buy a pub. He roped in Will, who luckily had a hospitality background, and they started with just one pub in the Wellington suburb of Khandallah.

I joined the team nearly three years ago on the premise I could help them grow. At that stage there were about six bars in the group. Luckily for me, there have been some great people on the journey and we’ve grown the group to a stage we can start to properly invest in our people.

How many brands does the group oversee?

We have around 30 different businesses ranging from our bars and restaurants, to a function catering business called Black and Gold, and a stake in a craft brewery called Fortune Favours. We’re now up to about 500 employees, and when I started there were about 200. We measure growth by how exciting our annual party is, and our last gathering had acrobats preforming in hoops suspended from the ceiling!

What is the secret to growing a successful business?

My background is from high growth companies, so I have this theory that to succeed, there’s a ‘triangle of growth’ - three critical elements for growing or maintaining a company.

The first thing is debt or equity, and having the right money at the right time and the mechanisms to use it. The key is being bankable and having the right partnerships. Going through our growth journey, we have consistently been reviewing our debt facilities and whether it’s the right time to take on equity. Getting this mixture right will allow us to grow much, much faster in the future.

The next part is your marketplace. It is a simple question; ‘how you will grow?’. Growth can either happen organically or through acquisition. For instance, organically would be like a technology company finding an issue they can overcome and ensuring there are enough problems they can fix to allow them to grow. Acquisitional growth is taking advantage of a fragmented marketplace, or using size to create gain on the companies you’re buying.

The last part of the growth triangle is operational ability, and it is the most critical. Can the company handle growth, how much is too much, and have you built up your growth engine? While our brands are in lots of different locations, we have a central support office with around 25 people, covering areas like marketing, IT, HR, graphics, finance, and quality assurance. That’s unusual in our industry, but we see the opportunity to provide our venues with the toolset they need to focus delivering emotional experiences to our customers. 

What are your goals for the future?

The big audacious goal is all about how we bring New Zealand hospitality to the world. New Zealand exports truckloads of high quality goods around the globe, but what would be fantastic for us would be to wrap all of that up into one hospitality product offering that delivers on that Kiwi hospitality. 

Our more immediate focus is developing our people to create customer experiences. We love it when people come in to our venues and have an emotional connection with our team. We’re lucky we are in a service-based industry, so if we can focus on developing our team with a toolbox to understand what unattainably fantastic customer experience mean, they will be able to create the sort of spontaneous emotional connections that will make peoples’ days, or defining moments in their lives.

Why did you enter the Deloitte Fast 50 last year and how did you find the experience?

We’re audited by Deloitte and have commercial partner who could see the value in us entering. The Fast 50’s Master of Growth programme suited our size and aspirations as we got to show that we are a mature business, but still have a lot of gas in the tank.

In terms of benefits, the Fast 50 is a respected programme and a great shopping list for private equity, equity investors, banks and numerous other people who can finance deals. In my role, this allows a business to showcase and open conversations with critical stakeholders, but also gives credibility to the partners that have supported you through growth. 

The application was relatively painless too. If you know your business, it’s an easy process and the rest of the journey is about meeting and bouncing ideas off highly intelligent people. Anyone lucky enough to make it to the Festival of Growth will always hold a debt of gratitude to the organisers and sponsors for the energy that day provides.  

What benefits from did you see from the Fast 50’s Festival of Growth specifically?

The day is busy with people who are going places and have done amazing things. We were lucky enough to make some extraordinary connections and build a network that has proved invaluable throughout the year.

As part of the Master of Growth index, we’ve experienced some of the growth pains and resource constraints that others were in the midst of. We tried to offer perspective and let people know that it gets better. It was rather humbling to feel like you are giving back to people who are achieving so much. I left the day thinking New Zealand was punching above its weight, producing talented people with phenomenal ideas. 

27 September, 2018 by Jen Scouler, Q & A

Jen Scouler

Jen Scouler

Jen Scouler works in the Deloitte clients & marketing team across digital content and social media. She also works closely with Deloitte Private.

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