A conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

21st century leaders who will inspire you – Allan English

Allan English is founder of Silver Chef where he was the Managing Director from 1986 to June 2010 when he was appointed Non-executive Chairman. The idea for Silver Chef was born at a 1985 US trade show. Seeing that the American home delivery pizza market was booming, and convinced of the market's potential for growth in Australia, Allan invested heavily in conveyor ovens.


Unfortunately, it soon became clear that many pizza businesses could not afford to buy them. The solution? The ovens were rented out, and soon began to sell themselves.


Ten years later, Allan bought out his partner and devised a funding option that enabled small businesses to procure the equipment they needed, without committing large amounts of capital up-front. The new option, called Rent-Try-Buy®, has been at the centre of the Silver Chef success story ever since.


Allan is a Director of the Board of Karuna Hospice Pty Ltd, a Brisbane-based charity operating since 1992. Karuna strives to bring comfort, support, care and peace of mind to those who are dying, as well as their carers and families. Karuna provides free nursing, counseling, spiritual care, grief and loss support and equipment loans to over 500 people a year.


Allan is an Ambassador of  Opportunity International Australia, a non profit offering microfinance in developing countries. Allan has provided theBrisbane office of OIA space pro bono since 2003. He has raised significant funds for OIA's work with the poor since 2001. Allan English received the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for the northern region in 2006. Silver Chef was proud to be listed Number 25 on the BRW Great Place to Work 2010.

On June 17 1,000 special guests were a part of a leadership dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This luncheon at the Brisbane Convention Centre explored the theme of values in leadership and the importance of environmental thinking, moderated by Sandra Sully.

Green Cross parternered with luncheon presenter, Dalai Lama in Australia Ltd, because we believe that the Dalai Lama has a special ability to connect spiritual and environmental values. We selected a panel of business and community leaders to join Sandra Sully after the Dalai Lama spoke, to help our audience connect with inspiring leadership at a personal level.


Here we profile luncheon panelist Allan English, founder and Chairman of Silver Chef. Allan's contribution to community in Brisbane and in our region is as inspiring as his entrepreneurial thinking, as the interview with Green Cross CEO Mara Bun below suggests.


MB - Silver Chef made it to the BRW 2010 "Great Place to Work" list - what do workplace values have to do with that?

AE - We have been trading for over 20 years and over the past four years we have formalized our driving values under a 'TRAFFIC' acronym which stands for Teamwork, Respect, Attitude, Flexibility, Integrity, and Communication. We really put our values into action around this framework.


Each day the senior leadership team meets for ten minutes - it's a stand up meeting where we discuss what's happening around the company. At the end of each meeting a nomination is made for a staff member who has demonstrated one of the core values the previous day. One of our senior team members taps the individual on the back and offers recognition.


Six of these meetings happen every day - with a nomination at the end of each one, so the whole organisation clearly understands our core values and sees them demonstrated every day. Our Employee of the Month and of the Year are all about demonstrating our core values.


MB - Is this a bottom line strategy?


AE - Its not about cost saving - our choice of values is driven to be a compass for "fork in road decisions", principles you can rely on to guide you to make the right decision every time.


Our values are not goals that can be quantified according to objective numbers achieved - rather they are points on a compass to guide moral dilemmas or any decision with values attached. "Does it hold true to our core values?" we ask ourselves, right across the company.


MB - Has this approach nonetheless delivered good financial returns?


AE - Over the past four years we have grown our top line by 50% on average annually, and our compound profit has grown 30% on average each year. We have managed to grow through the GFC as a small business in a competitive market.


Yes - values had a lot to do with that.


When you build a work environment that is strongly linked to values, the approach gets mirrored back immediately to our customers. The core values are top of mind when our staff deals with customers. Customer satisfaction surveys for last 3 years have gone up consistently (measured by whether you would recommend us to a friend) and we now outperform BMW.  When customer referrals go up, total volume goes up.


What that creates is an environment and reputation where we can attract the highest quality candidates because of our culture - we attract A-grade players each time - it's self-fulfilling.


MB - You might say that your generosity of spirit is actually self-serving!


AE - That's true - when the Victorian bushfires happened, the day after we examined our database for all clients in areas affected and we phoned and wrote to give them 2 month holiday on rental costs of assets. We wanted to give our clients a chance to get back on their feet.


The amount of repeat business and referrals more than compensated for cost of giving free rent. We did the same thing after the Queensland floods and cyclone and advertised on radio across the regions to ensure that small business could get on their feet without outlaying cash.


Our values benefit our community and demonstrate to our staff that our company actually believes in what we are doing.


MB - Lets take that to a personal level Allan. You have been supporting Opportunity International Australia in a big way. Tell us about what inspired you to support Opportunity.


Opportunity International Australia is an organisation that puts Christian values into practical action, by providing microfinance to people to lift them permanently out of poverty. I was drawn to this organisation because of its practical approach to addressing poverty and because of the strong values base and the fact that they provide a path out of poverty - or a hand up - instead of a hand out.


Here's an example of how this works. There is a woman in the Philippines who used to make a living as a fishmonger, selling fish on consignment. Working under unbelievably difficult circumstances, she was able to keep 20% of the value of fish sold.


With a small loan that provided working capital she was able to finance purchase of greater quantities of fish, moving up the value chain and keeping a greater proportion of the profit. She then took out another small loan to invest in the capacity to smoke and cure the fish and this took her further up the value chain.


Now she has a profitable business and employs a group of workers in her town who sell fish for her on consignment. It's a terrific story of how in less than two years, so many lives have been transformed, value created, and opportunities shared.


We have been delighted to host the Opportunity International Australia headquarters at Silver Chef premises as a pro bono contribution to their work, and I have worked hard to raise funds for and participate in their work.


MB - Allan you are on the Board of Karuna, a Brisbane based charity that brings comfort and support to those you are dying. Tell us about that.


Dying can be an uncomfortable topic in the West, but we are spending a fortune on supporting people in critical care facilities in hospitals and the process is not easing suffering - far from it.


I love the work of Karuna in providing free nursing, counseling, spiritual care, grief and loss support to hundreds of people each year - it helps people to die at home surrounded by family and love rather than clinical hospital instruments.


Karuna serves the Brisbane community inspired by the inspirational ideals and examples set by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Karuna's spiritual patron whose own lifelong mission is to serve others with universal compassion and kindness.


These are Karuna's underlying values and I share them.

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