INTA Bulletin

July 15, 2016 Vol. 71 No. 12 Back to Bulletin Main Page

Robert Brozin, Co-Founder, Nando’s, on Building a Brand with Passion

When Robert Brozin purchased a “dodgy” local café called Chickenland with his business partner, Fernando Duarte, the co-founder of the now-famous Nando’s restaurant chain he never imagined he would become so personally invested. “I thought I would be a silent partner,” says Mr. Brozin, whose keynote address will be kicking off INTA’s “Building Africa with Brands” conference on September 1. Much to his surprise, he was soon working full time to build the NANDO’S brand, which from day one has been focused on the core values of “pride, passion, courage, integrity, and family”—and of course, fun. “If you don’t enjoy the business, then don’t stay in the business,” says Mr. Brozin.

The INTA Bulletin spoke more with Mr. Brozin about his brand, his vision, and what attendees can expect to hear from him at INTA’s upcoming conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

What was your path to opening Nando’s like?
I was working for my father in the electronics distribution business, which I really never enjoyed. But I met Fernando Duarte there; he was on the technical side and I was on the marketing side. We used to eat lunches together at a little Portuguese café that sold hardboiled eggs and fish and chips, and chicken marinated with PERi-PERi sauce. It was a dodgy café on what I thought was the wrong side of town. I eventually left my dad and went out on my own, and I suggested to Fernando that we buy that little café and turn it into a focused chicken outfit. We knew nothing about the restaurant business at the time, and nothing about what we were going to do—we had just a bit of an inkling that it would do well. About a year after I left my dad, we bought the place. Personally, I thought it was going to be an investment from my own perspective, and that I would be a silent partner and go there Monday mornings with a brown paper bag and deliver the cash. It didn’t quite work out that way though. Being entrepreneurial, at the same time we opened a video and TV repair company, which Fernando concentrated on, while I dived full time into the restaurant business. The more I got involved, the more I found I loved it. Even though I was quite far from my home and community, the more I worked there, the more I thrived, and soon I was involved absolutely full time.

How did you choose the name?
The original name of the café was Chickenland, but we wanted to give it a bit of personality, so we tried to name it after Fernando. However, we couldn’t register the name Fernando as a trademark as there was a bed and breakfast in a coastal town called Fernando's. Fernando had just had a son called Nando, so we tried that instead and that got registered—so we were very strategic.

How many countries are you operating in today since your launch in Johannesburg in 1987?
We’re in 23 countries and operate just under 1,200 restaurants.

How would you describe the brand?
Irreverent, passionate, cheeky; it’s a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. We’ve had a lot of discussions with our trademark attorneys and they’re quite frustrated with us because we operate in different places in slightly different ways and they often tell us that if we make certain changes it’s a little bit compromising of the brand, but it’s part of our way to adapt when necessary.

We’re a hugely, hugely values-based organization. We have five values we swear by: pride, passion, courage, integrity, and family. You have to enjoy what you’re doing and you’ve got to enjoy the business. If you don’t enjoy the business, then don’t stay in the business. At the same time, you can’t compromise profitability; in fact, fun should generate extra profitability. We think a lot of the things we’re doing are focused around purpose, but at the same time there’s an element of fun.
How do the Nando’s Art Project and the Goodbye Malaria project relate to the brand?
The philosophies of both projects are the same, but the ways we’ve integrated them are different, and that gives you a good idea of how we operate the business. Most companies participate in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, and a lot of people who do that are just writing a check. We hate that, because we don’t believe that provides a sense of sustainability. Any project has to be threaded into the DNA of the brand and it has to have a deep impact. It can’t be something where a new CEO comes in and decides he’s now going to support swimming or long-distance running. That’s the opposite of what we do. 

Nando’s Art Project
Dick Enthoven, our partner, is an absolutely passionate art collector. He believes in art as an expression of civilization, and that different generations express themselves in different ways through art. Dick initially came up with the idea of putting beautiful art work on the walls, so we started the program that way. Today, all of our restaurants carry South African art. We’ve probably invested $4 million on South African art this year, which makes us the biggest procurer of South African art in the world, so we’re really underpinning the South African art industry. You slowly build the career of a young artist, and as you build that, the value of our art collection goes up. So you’ve got complete shared value between the business and the artist. But most importantly, we believe that beautiful art in our restaurants makes our chicken taste better. We’ve got probably a $15 million collection today of beautiful South African art that we think is going to be worth a lot of money going into the future. But even if it isn’t, that’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing it because we believe it’s right for our restaurants and for the South African art community. We’re giving them a voice. 

Goodbye Malaria Project 

We believe, as an African brand, that we have a responsibility to deal with malaria by Africans for Africans and not only rely on foreign NGOs to sort it out. We got really involved in handing out malaria nets and now we’re involved in an intense program for indoor residual spraying. We’ve made an impact on 240,000 people in the three years that we have implemented the IRS (Indoor Residual Spray program) in Southern Mozambique. That’s something we’re very proud of.

How long did it take you to get the brand to where it is today?
I like to say that it took us about 15 years to become an overnight success. We started in 1987 and always had a big vision and aspirations to grow a global brand, but growing a global brand out of Africa is a big challenge. I don’t think there’s another brand at a consumer-facing level that’s done it—at least very few retail brands that have done it. We’ve grown it organically, restaurant by restaurant, without acquiring other businesses.

What kind of challenges did you face?
Growing the business out of South Africa has had huge challenges. The political situation and certain currency restrictions were challenges in the early days, and logistics are difficult.

How did you know how to approach building the brand with no restaurant experience and despite these challenges?
In early days, we just knew the chicken was so delicious. We knew we had a product worth defending. The first ten years were years of huge learning, and there were some very close moments where we were walking a thin line between failure and success. Early on, we didn’t have any cash, so we couldn’t afford a lot of things. Having a shortage of cash really makes you very innovative. The brand was formed almost on the fact that we never had cash, so we developed this cheeky advertising campaign; some of the ads, which I plan to show at the conference, were even banned at the time. They don’t seem so bad now, but in 1990s South Africa, they were viewed as being a bit risqué. That in a way brought a sense of irreverence to the brand. We didn’t quite realize how it was going to work out, but it did, and it was a result of having no money.

What we’ve done is we’ve tried to change the way the world thinks about Africa. We built a really world class facility in Johannesburg; a lot of our businesses are de-centralized and operate completely autonomously, but we have a golden rule book of things they can’t play with. There are ten rules they have to adhere to, and then they run almost autonomously, but our core remains always the same. In essence, our focus remains on the people. The people make the chicken, so you have to be a people-centric organization. We focus on our own people, they focus on the customer, and happy people equals happy customer equals happy bank manager. It’s a very simple philosophy that drives profitability well. Every restaurant in every market has to adhere to those rules.

Another core of our success is that we’ve managed to maintain long relationships. One of those is a relationship with our partner, Dick Enthoven, and his family. The Enthoven family invested when we had three restaurants. They took a view that this was a good concept, and we’ve been together 25 years now.

Are there any advantages to building a brand in Africa?
The biggest advantage is the mindset of our people. Africa operates at a “New York” kind of pace, because, politically, things are always changing at such a dramatic rate. We could have a “Brexit” a day here; you could have absolute disaster in the morning and somehow optimism at night. You have to be able to operate in a very interesting, unexpected environment. Our management is used to that. They’re used to dealing with almost anything that gets thrown at them.

Secondly, coming out of Africa, we’re different. It’s a very different brand with a lot of soul and old-fashioned values. In America, there’s a certain searching for some of those old style, artisanal values. When we bring out our business people to Africa and we insist on top leadership coming out to Johannesburg or our farm in Mozambique where we grow our chilis, they come and touch the soil, feel the sun, and understand a little bit of Africa; one can’t undervalue that kind of purpose in a business. It’s something different. You’re not coming to Detroit or Florida, you’re coming to Johannesburg, where the “brand soul” of our company resides.

Lastly, in South Africa there’s huge intellectual capital around creativity. Particularly in the advertising world, there’s a huge diaspora of African creativity. In some of the big agencies on Madison Avenue and London there are South Africans who have built their way up to be creative directors, and we’ve used that creative energy in designing our furniture and our art program (see box).

What advice do you have for established brands thinking about expanding into Africa?
If you’re coming into Africa, you have to be patient, resilient, and take a long-term view. It’s not going to be instant gratification. My advice is that it shouldn’t be only a profit motive. It’s a fantastic place to make a difference in people’s lives. The advantage you can add on the social side is enormous. At the same time, you can make profits here, but it’s a profit that’s going to take time. You’re going to come up against all kinds of things you don’t anticipate. South Africa is a great place to invest as a gateway to the rest of the region, but people who take a short-term view go out very quickly. If part of your strategy is to make a social impact, it’s a great place to do it. There are so many social causes, and at the same time it will help your business because you have access to really smart people who think differently—you’ll find exceptional talent.

What else can attendees of the Building Africa with Brands conference expect to hear from you?
They’re going to get a sense of our company, our vision, how we have fun and make money and how we approach the different markets in which we operate. We’ll focus on a comparison of the UK and South Africa, show them some of our early ads, and get them inspired in terms of an African company that went global. I love sharing our story with people who want to listen.

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