Great Leadership Starts With You

Peter Avis 19 September 2016

On my last day at school, I always remember speaking to my Deputy Head and asking him if I could stay on one more year to resit my exams as I knew I had failed. He patted me on the back, and proceeded to tell me what he thought was a motivational comment, He said, "some kids are meant to sweep the streets and support their families and you are one of them."

I remember feeling that this was it now for me - that day has always stayed with me. After leaving school I really did not have any direction of where I was going in my life, after about 6 months of sitting on the street corner night, after night, I got the chance to go visit my sister in the USA.

Once in the States, I got my first job as dishwasher washer in Miami when I was 17 years old. I rose through the ranks and the hospitality industry  and today, I am a multi award-winning restaurant manager. I have had over 15 years worth of experience working for the forward thinking Virgin group, running Sir Richards Branson’s Babylon Restaurant at Roof gardens in London.

The gardens at Babylon Restaurant

Over the past 20 years in the industry, I have learnt that great leadership  simply starts with the leader, I am often asked how do you maintain such a great passionate team and here I would like to share a few secrets that I have learnt that have helped me get to where I am today.

1. Put Your Staff First
It is so important to make your team feel valued. Here at Babylon, I always make sure I have a coffee with all new staff, just taking a few minutes to sit with them, get to know them and make sure they understand our culture can really be a game changer.

2. Transparency
A key part of the Virgin Culture is being really open and honest with the team. We always make sure the team are aware of what it is we are trying to achieve both financially, and also morally. We have found that sometimes the base line staff have the best ideas which can really move the business forward. I always remember a few years ago, we were struggling with achieving our budget as we were approaching the winter season, I told the team about our challenge and one young waiter suggested we use our terrace area for baked cheese’s, this idea evolved and now this area is fully used for baked cheese, hot chocolate’s and cocktails during the winter. This brings huge revenue in for our business, and the solution to the problem was found because I shared our challenges with the whole team.

Sir Richard Branson: The Founder of Virgin Group

3. Lead From the Front
I truly believe that a great leader needs to be at the front instilling passion in the whole team and this is how I see my role here at Babylon. At Virgin as a whole, we are all about being a force for good. I don’t see Babylon as just a restaurant to make money, I see it as a place where we can really help to make a change . No matter how big or small your business is you can make it a place with morals and principles that will ensure both your team  and clients stay engaged.

At Babylon, we always engage with local schools and colleges  to show young people how great a career in hospitality can really be. It is so important as a leader that you are always open to feedback from your team, no one is perfect! The best way to learn new things is by doing them, even if they do not work out as the best idea - at least we tried.

Flamingos are kept at Babylon, Peter has to look after staff and occasionally some pink visitors

4.Staff Retention is Key
At Babylon, we do all we can to train, develop and retain our staff. This has a very positive effect not only on our guest and team experience but also, it saves so much cost in terms of training and recruitment. Developing your staff also ensures you are developing team members to be the best they can be.

Peter's tips prove to us that with determination, attention to staff and open honesty, you can make a team great. Leading one of London's most successful restaurant venues, Peter is an example of how instilling passion in your team and your work is the recipe for success.

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