DURBAN: HE MIGHT have been born with a “silver spoon” in his mouth but Kuben Naidoo knows forward thinking and hard work to be the vital ingredients in a business success recipe.
Naidoo, the son of well known hotelier Thumba, who together with his brothers owned a string of hotels and other business operations in their heyday, has achieved success in bucket loads.
As the chief executive of True Blue Investment Holdings, he has been the driving force behind the company that recently acquired its 100th KFC franchise outlet.
True Blue is by far the largest owner of KFC restaurants in the country, and is only rivalled by Yum! Brands, KFC’s holding company, which has about 90 outlets in its name in South Africa.
Five years ago, True Blue owned 50 outlets selling world famous “finger licken’ good” chicken products, but Naidoo and his management committee had something to crow about after adding a “development team” to their operations.
The team was tasked with spicing up True Blue’s KFC interests and the company’s brood of outlets has since grown exponentially.
With KZN being its main area of concentration, the company has since hatched outlets in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Namibia and Mozambique. True Blue cracked its latest outlet in Warwick Place, Pinetown, last month.
A team of about 160 people manage True Blue’s various daily operations and they employ nearly 3 000 workers to ensure their delivery is always hot and fresh.
“Embedded in our True Blue Logo is our primary principle of integrity and honesty, which we espouse all the time. The culture of being fair, honest, family-orientated and making the workplace a fun environment has been key to all our successes,” Naidoo revealed.
Yum! has laid down strict standards on cleanliness and food preparation franchisees are expected to uphold.
Naidoo said True Blue had been equal to the task, especially maintaining high standards of hygiene and service.
“Serving food at the right temperature is a non-negotiable standard at all KFC stores. All food items that don’t meet the standards are discarded.
“Also, all on the bone meat must be discarded if it has not been sold, 90 minutes after preparation. Chips are binned if they are not sold 10 minutes after frying.”
To minimise wastage, Naidoo said timing when food went into pressure cookers or fryers was essential, and they had devised tried and trusted projection tools for that purpose.
“We project the amount of food needed to be prepared at each outlet, for 30 minute intervals in a day, based on sales analysis of the previous eight weeks.
“We might incur losses adhering to the strict standards, but it ensures customers can trust the safety, quality and taste of our products,” Naidoo explained.
Therefore, when he travels overseas he and his wife have peace of mind tucking into KFC, knowing the story behind the taste.
And KFC features at their dinner table at least every fortnight.
He said with their KFC outlets dealing largely with cash, the right control systems needed to be in place, and they had invested heavily in their IT infrastructure.
“We also ensure that we have the right people in place so that the right culture is maintained at all our outlets.”
About directing his troops daily, Naidoo said he always looks to empower his workers.
“It’s leading without being aggressive and how you present the company’s vision and getting everyone to follow willingly.”
However, Naidoo said there were times when he had to ask some people to jump off.
Making tough business decisions is something that has been ingrained in Naidoo from an early age, mostly through his father.
“My father was a self-made man.”
Naidoo said his father was determined to alter the fortunes of his family, which lived communally in their Overport home.
Their lives changed for the better after his father opened a tea room on East Street, with start-up capital from his brothers who worked as barmen at the time.
“My father was the brains behind the store and from there they went on to become pioneers in the hotel industry, with establishments in various areas, including Durban’s Butterworth Hotel.
“During my school years I worked in the businesses. My job mostly entailed working in a liquor store.”
He said he was getting acquainted with the business side of things but his father wanted him to study medicine.
“I was so passionate about pleasing my parents. They wanted me to be the first professional in the family, and I obliged.
"Each time my report card came home they would proudly show off my good results to the neighbours," Naidoo remembered.
He started studying in India but couldn’t settle there and moved to Canada to continue his studies.
When he got accepted at Wits Medical School, he studied there until his third year but realised his heart was in business.
In 1984, his father asked him to manage the buzzing Butterworth Hotel in Joe Slovo Street, Durban.
His father recognised his business prowess and was happy to hand over the reins to all the family’s interests, which included a string of hotels and two KFC outlets, to him.
“My dad opened one of the first KFC outlets in Chatsworth, with nine partners in 1974.
“It didn’t do well because fast food was not popular, the others sold their shareholding in the store until only he and another partner remained.
“Ten years later he opened another in Tongaat.
“When I took over, we owned one and a half KFC outlets and have grown it to where it is.”