N_K_DPizza’s people philosophy
Rushika Bhatia
Business Pinup

N_K_DPizza’s people philosophy

Every detail matters
N_K_DPizza has grown so much, so fast. Most entrepreneurs have a problem letting go but there comes a time when you need to be more hands off, bring in professionals and not try to micro manage. Has he faced those issues?

“I’m not a micro manager, and I’m also not anal retentive,” he feels. “My job is to set the tone, direction and overall philosophy and the execution is carried out by other people.” That doesn’t mean he didn’t get 250 e-mails the day before or that he doesn’t pay very close attention to what’s going on.

“I have three executive assistants – three!” and he holds up three fingers for good measure. “One for international, one for domestic, and one for franchise. I know what’s going on all the time,” he states.

But, coming back to the question, does he really need to?

“We have to, because everything matters right now. If you’ve got a battleship and it turns a little bit, it’s different; we are still a small destroyer, and we feel every little wave. Every small decision can have a dramatic impact because our concept and brand is so new,” he explains.

People power
So now that we heard about N_K_DPizza’s brand ideology and Jeff’s aversion to micro managing – how about the company’s HR ideology. How do they treat their people?

“We’ve started talking about that much more in the last few months,” Jeff says as he admits that when you build a company it’s all about speed and getting on to the next thing. “I’ll look back five years from now and probably tell you that the most important thing I didn’t do was hire the best HR person I could find. We focussed on branding, on marketing, on operations and finance, and HR is often left as the last thing you do.”

But that’s changing rapidly and they are creating their own type of corporate culture – pretty much like their unique dough. Jeff explains that their typical employee profile includes characteristics like being outgoing, creative, inquisitive, hard working, and possessing a sense of humour. He also proudly declares that they have some very rude people working for them.

“We hire personalities first; you can always train talent second. If you can’t take it and dish it back out, you’re not going to work for us. I don’t care what colour your skin is or your gender; it’s about your personality. We hire very, very strong people and the strongest people in our office are female,” he reveals.

N_K_DPizza also prides itself on being very family and diversity centric. They have a standing policy that any employee who has a child gets one paid year off from work. If that individual is a male, he gets one year off too.

Will they be transferring that policy to the UAE where maternity leave doesn’t extend beyond 45 paid days? “Absolutely!” Jeff declares. And he doesn’t care if that person has worked for one day and got pregnant the day after. “If there are kids involved, we go out of our way and are very supportive. But if you don’t have kids, work your problems out before you get into work,” he warns.

Another thing they are planning is to make New Orleans and Dubai entrepreneurial sister cities. “The entrepreneurial spirit in New Orleans is mind blowing,” he gushes. “It’s become the ground zero in the United States. It is the new Silicon Valley because we’ve moved from technological innovation to social innovation.” So they intend to provide opportunities for their employees to work for a year abroad in these sister cities and other hubs around the world. A lot of companies do that, but N_K_DPizza wants to offer it to even the most junior employees.

Jeff also believes in spending a lot of time explaining to people how their job relates to somebody else’s: “I don’t care if you mop the floor; it has an impact on everything else in the office.”

They also make time for group activities. “We don’t go to the zoo and stand in the grass and you-fall-and-I’ll-catch-you kind of nonsense. We’ll go to the zoo and go the chimpanzee cage and I’ll explain why their gastrointestinal system is smaller than ours. Everything is brand related, mission-related team building,” he emphasises.

“Now, do I want to hang out with my employees? Absolutely not! I want them to have a personal life; I don’t want to be part of it. I do care about my employees but I don’t want to know too much because that’s often used against you,” he feels.

What goes around comes around
One moment he talks about maintaining a healthy distance and the next second he’s off narrating this story about rescuing five Filipino hotel workers in Dubai: “They were getting half their stipulated pay. We drove over to the hotel to find their employer and make a point with him. Two of the girls didn’t speak very good English but we hired all five of them because of their situation. We, as a company, have a soft spot for people who are marginalised and we’ll do everything we can to support them, within the means available.”

He’s stunned at the lack of wages and explains how cutting costs in this manner is bad for business in the long term: “These employees are the ambassadors for our brands. If the kid shows up at your door to deliver pizza and he does not like his job, you’ll know. If he is marginalised or not treated well, you’ll know. If you’re treated well and really have respect for the people you work for, then you build better pizzas, you answer the phone in a different way, you deliver in a different way, you interact with the person who delivers the produce differently. And what happens is – it’s magical in a way – you become something that people feel very positively about, whether they are customers or suppliers or anyone else.”

Jeff believes that the impediment to growth and success is people. “It’s just that simple. If you walk into a pizza place and you see a piece of paper on the floor and two guys just standing there, looking at it – that’s all you need to know about the company. Right there on the spot I can tell you that they don’t care about the food safety or the quality of the product,” he declares.

According to him, it’s not just pizza; you’re making somebody’s dinner for themselves, their spouse and kids. That’s a serious relationship. It had better be good.

He believes that a company is a living organism and if you, for a second, not treat it like a dynamic being, it’s going to atrophy, and it’s going to cost you a lot of money and time to win it back.

It’s just good business sense, according to him. If you treat your employees well, you not only get their loyalty and best output, but also find more people who want to work for you. So you get to pick the best and it’s a domino effect. “But business owners are often very short sighted,” Jeff laments. It’s a tremendous amount of investment – including in terms of energy, he admits – but at the end of the day it pays dividends.

Hope and hard work
As an anthropologist he obviously knows a thing or two about people. “All people want is to be recognised; they want incentive and a way up. Everybody wants a way up,” he declares as he cites his own example. “I dropped out of high school and grew up in a mobile home on a trailer park on the wrong side of town. And now I am working on my PhD, I’ve got beautiful kids, a thriving company – and I can talk to anybody on anything I have some knowledge about and hold my own ground. It doesn’t matter who you are; you can go anywhere.”

He believes in the power of creating that hope within his employees. “For example when I started the pizza place four years ago, I had a pizza delivery kid who came to me for a part-time job. He’s now an equity partner in my company and the director of operations. That was four years ago! And now he sits across the table negotiating ten million dollar distribution deals.”

Having said that, he also stresses on the fact that it takes a lot of hard work to succeed. “When my father’s generation had to be in at work at seven, they got in at 6:30 am. The youth now, if they are 15 minutes late they think they are doing good,” he shakes his head, as he talks about how the recession forced us to abandon that complacency and feeling of entitlement. “We’ve now gone through a catastrophic economic failure globally. The game is over. Sitting on bean bags at work, bringing your pet to the office, having a ping-pong table, ‘where’s my equity and share’ – that’s gone. Hard work is back. The world is rolling up its sleeves again and our parents’ work ethic is back.”

So what are his parting words of advice for businesses: “I think the last few months have been a wakeup call; companies and individuals who work hard and smart will have an edge. For us, what’s going to determine our success or failure is the quality of our people. It’s just that simple. Money is everywhere – that’s easy to raise. The magic is not raising money, the magic is making money.”

That’s a good line. He should definitely tweet it.