Martin Allies is the chief executive officer of Cafe Deco Group, which recently merged with Chevalier Pacific Holdings, the parent of Igor's Group - making it one of Hong Kong's largest food and beverage (F&B) companies, employing about 900 staff in more than 40 outlets. After graduating from the prestigious Heidelberg Hotel School in Germany, Allies worked with the Hyatt Hotel Group and Mandarin Oriental Group as executive chef and F&B director in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. In 1990, he came to Hong Kong where he made a name for himself managing the then newly-opened Peak Cafe. In 1994, Allies led the Caf? Deco Group's expansion with the launch of its landmark restaurant on the Peak. Now on top of his game, he oversees the group's finances, employees, strategies and ever-expanding operations. He talks to Liana Cafolla
How did you get into the F&B business?
My family had everything from restaurants to butcher shops to cinemas. Because I was exposed to the hospitality industry at a very early age, it came naturally for me to go into this business.
What is your day-to-day work like?
I try to get to the office early so I could get a few things in motion right away. A lot of times, I need to go out and deal with operational matters as well as investor relations, talk to landlords or prospective employees. A business like ours is a serious business, and I need to be on top of not only the operational side of things, but also the financial side.
What's the best part of your job?
We now employ over 900 staff from all walks of life. What is exciting about it is that every day is different. It's never the same because of the diversity of our business.
What are the challenges?
The Sars outbreak [in 2003] was a very challenging time because of the expectations of customers and staff. I made sure that the staff were looked after. I also had to deal with suppliers, landlords, and partners. I'm very happy to say we didn't have to close any of our operations.
What is your leadership style?
Basically, I have to manage expectations - what I expect from my team and what I can offer them in return. We can now move our people around and put them where they will blossom best. We are very fortunate to have different operations, especially after we merged with another company. We can now give them different career options and I think that's very important.
What is needed to train the next generation?
I think a lot of companies should open their doors to youngsters so that they will understand what the business is all about.
How do you relax?
I work out in the gym for half an hour at least three times a week to clear my mind.
What advice would you give to young people?
The pressure on young people to excel in the academic field is tremendous. Very few have an idea where to go. I would advise them to try and experience as much as they can. I think the one thing young people should not have is fear. The fearless will succeed. If they want to go somewhere, and they have the passion and the drive, a door will always open. Write letters to restaurants or to other businesses, and see if a door opens.
What are Cafe Deco's corporate targets for the next few years?
We want to use the scalability of our business to grow substantially. In terms of numbers, we would like to double our company in the next couple of years. It's not necessarily the number of outlets, but their scalability. Can we roll out certain concepts? Can we move on to the next level? We have just started a new business which is a funky dim sum bar. One is opening in July, and another in October, so we have already identified two locations. This is something we'd like to roll out.
If you have passion and drive, a door will always be open for you
Try new things and experience as much as you can
The only thing you should fear is fear itself