Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 27 we had the pleasure of chatting to Mimmo Lubrano, the CEO of Sandhurst Fine Foods and the prior Vice President of the Australian Association of Food Professionals (AAFP).
Mimmo has extensive experience working for more than 30 years in the food industry. He has a plethora of experience in identifying fresh produce, as well as cooking unique recipes. Mimmo is extraordinarily passion-driven and has proven himself to be a great leader for those who are trying to get their produce, whether that be fresh or value-added, onto store shelves.
In this chat, Mimmo explains what he has learnt from being close to bankruptcy, the importance of passion and why trust between management and staff is critical for your long-term success.
Authored by Mimmo Lubrano, CEO of Sandhurst Fine Foods.
“A passion for food. A passion for family.”
Sandhurst Fine Foods was not always the business it is today. It started off as a small, family-owned business – and while it remains family-owned, it’s not quite as small.
As a kid growing up, instead of going to sport we went to the Sandhurst Farms in Macquarie Fields. Family-owned businesses have always been a part of our lives. My father went through a few iterations of businesses throughout my childhood before the success of Sandhurst Fine Foods. It took patience and persistence for our family-owned business to become successful – it wasn’t overnight or simply just luck. From being a small business to scaling up to what we are today, I understand the hardships and challenges small to medium-sized business owners face every day.
Persistence and passion are at the core of a successful business. Whether you’re the CEO of an international conglomerate or the sole owner of a small business, you must have inner strength and a love for what you do. A business is only as successful as the people who work within it. If you love what you do, employ equally passionate staff who are determined to persist through hard times (because there will always be hardships when running a business), and you will achieve your ambitions. But getting to this point is not an easy process.
In this article, I want to share how our family business persisted through hardships, the importance of passion, and the key to scaling your business.
From close to bankruptcy to an internationally renowned business
Today, Sandhurst Fine Foods is an internationally renowned business. But this wasn’t always the case. In the beginning, we were close to bankruptcy. When I joined in 1991, there was no money for wages for our family. All we had was a belief that we would eventually succeed. We repeatedly told ourselves, ‘we can’t fail in this business’.
If you have been close to bankruptcy, then you understand how your mindset shifts and you become stronger. But I don’t believe you have to have been close to bankruptcy to have an ability to persist through hard times. Understanding your purpose and building a business around something you love will ensure you continue, even when the going gets tough. For me, I love food and cooking. From testing new olive batches to cooking with our products, nothing brings me more joy. Identify what you love and build a business around that – you’ll never fail, no matter how close you may get.
We all had to do the small things, the things that weren’t in our job description, to ensure we succeeded. I was hired to run the sales and marketing of Sandhurst Fine Foods. Yet, I would also do deliveries – even though I hated it at the time. You may wonder, what got me through these hard times? An understanding that there will be a time when I didn’t have to do the small things. There would be a time when we would have enough money to pay my wages, pay the wages of delivery drivers and grow. This belief is what kept me going.
As a small to medium business owner, you don’t always have the luxury to do what you want within your business. You will have to take on the roles of multiple employees for several months or years. Maintaining a belief that you will succeed and grow, will empower you to keep going and working hard. Everybody starts somewhere and everybody has the opportunity for growth, you just need the right mindset.
With my background in marketing, I didn’t have a strong understanding of the sales sector. In my degree, there was a belief that marketing was separate to sales, so I didn’t have a lot of experience or practice prior to my role at Sandhurst Fine Foods. But I didn’t give up or lay this responsibility at somebody else’s feet (not that there was anybody else!). Instead, with the little money we had to spare, my brother and I attended seminars from business and real estate trainers on sales. Real estate agents are the best salesman out there. We took it upon ourselves to learn how to be good salesmen – and we did. Self-education is the foundation for success. Nobody knows everything when creating a small business. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn. Take it upon yourself to constantly look to improve and expand your knowledge. It will only strengthen you and your business.
Passion breeds success
Your passion will drive your persistence. I fundamentally believe this. As I outlined earlier, Sandhurst Fine Foods wasn’t an instant success, despite the quality of our products. Not making a wage for the first few years and getting close to bankruptcy would make many people consider quitting – but not me and my family! Our persistence was born from our passion for what we did and the products we created. We had a vision, and we weren’t going to stop until we saw it through.
Passion for me is my love of food and seeing what it can do. Food brings people together and connects individuals. When I was growing up, I learnt my love of food from watching food sales representatives do their jobs and from spending my childhood at the factory instead of playing football. Nowadays, the exhilaration of going to the factories and the farms is an excitement I still feel to this day. It’s a feeling that will never leave me – it’s a part of me. Food is what makes life beautiful. But food isn’t everyone’s passion – nor should it be. Everyone must discover and identify what makes them tick. What brings them passion. Without this understanding, you will find it hard to persevere when business gets tough.
The benefit of being a part of a family business is that we have an underlying legacy of giving back to others. But all businesses can adopt this practice. Sometimes you may have to look outside of your career to find what makes you passionate about your business. If you are a real estate agent, maybe it’s not the arduous hours of walking around homes and filling paperwork that you’re passionate about. Instead, it could be the idea that you’re helping people find their forever homes – you are a part of making so many people’s lives brighter.
Whether what you do is your passion or how your business affects others is your passion, the important thing is that you have something you believe in. Without something to believe in you will find it difficult not only to enjoy life and your job, but also to keep going when the going gets tough. Passion is what makes a successful business.
Lay a foundation of trust
While I love my family and the work we do within Sandhurst Fine Foods, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the people we employ. Your staff are the backbone of every business – whether you employ 1000 people or 10. Ensuring you create a welcoming and enjoyable environment for them is paramount to a successful business operation.
Involve your workers in every step. Be completely transparent. This is how you build a foundation of trust and respect. Our accounts team, apart from being great with money, are also olive experts. We get many of our workers, no matter what department they work in, to be involved in the tasting panels. They’re experts in Sandhurst Fine Foods just as much as I am. This has ensured we have built a solid team that is committed to our business. It has also meant we continue to create great products, as who would have thought our accountants would have such great food palates?
Getting your workers to be committed to your business isn’t always easy. The main way to do so is by treating them as if they are family. At Sandhurst Fine Foods, every staff member is part of the family. We hold quarterly barbecues; I ensure I chat to everyone and know what’s going on in their lives. You need to show your staff you care rather than just telling them. It’s easy to send out emails saying how much you appreciate them but if this isn’t consolidated through your actions, they’re just empty words. I strive to ensure every member of staff knows they really matter. This helps to encourage buy in and ensures they remain loyal to your business just like you are loyal to them.
Owning a business is filled with highs and lows (believe me, I’ve experienced it!), but if you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll always succeed. Having mental toughness and a desire to overcome all challenges is essential to owning a small to medium-sized business. Maintaining a positive attitude and finding purpose in what you do will ensure you persist through all challenges.
The importance of passion, loyalty, and fortitude is the same for your workers. Ensuring you foster quality relationships built on trust and respect is paramount to a successful business. Always remember that without your staff, your business would crumble.
So, ask yourself, what are you passionate about?