With a passion for strategic leadership and a wealth of business acumen, John Gee is a dynamic professional dedicated to driving success and innovation in the corporate world.
Throughout his career, John has honed his skills in various industries, including finance, technology, and consulting. His ability to analyze market trends, identify opportunities, and develop effective strategies has consistently delivered outstanding results for the companies he has worked with.
As the Chief Operating Officer at Modern Foods Ltd., John leads large-scale, complex, multi-site, and multi-market operations. We caught up with John and discussed his professional journey.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Can you tell us about your background and experience in the industry and how you have seen the niche evolve throughout your career?
I grew up with a passion for the hospitality industry. At 11, I enrolled in a kids’ cookery school. I set out in my mind a path for my career; I wanted to be a hotel manager.
In South Africa in the 1990s, the best route to a successful hospitality career was to attend the Witwatersrand Technikon’s Hotel School and complete a National Diploma in Hotel Management. At this time, 2 years of military service was mandatory. To almost guarantee entrance to Hotel School, it was best to join the catering corps for two years, which I did. I achieved my National Diploma in Hotel Management and, in my early career, worked in various F&B positions around RSA.
Eventually, I took up a senior role in the most popular coffee shop chain in RSA called Mugg & Bean. After five years at Head Office, I decided to become a franchisee of the brand. I only had one branch and never intended for more. I sold my restaurant and relocated to the UAE and then, after nine years, moved to KSA to join Modern Foods.
I have often been asked why to leave HO to become a franchisee and then move back into the corporate world. My response was – “the easiest way to learn is when you have to do it yourself.” Operating a successful business of your own is the best university. Ten years ago, I also completed an MBA to expand my general business knowledge.
Describe in detail the values and culture that drive your organization.
Modern Foods has been operating restaurants in KSA for almost 30 years. The company has a portfolio of over 14 own brand concepts and franchises. Additionally, to these restaurants, Modern Foods also provides meal services to airlines in Jeddah and hospitality services in airports around the country.
One of Modern Foods’ successful own brands is Brew92. It owns significant parts of its supply chain, from personally sourcing green coffee beans, roasting in-house, and then supplying them to its restaurants. An additional revenue stream for Brew92 is supplying roasted coffee beans into the wholesale/retail coffee market.
Modern Foods’ mission and vision is to be the leading F&B operator in KSA, utilizing modern management philosophies while always maintaining the highest customer experience. This is achieved by recruiting expertise from around the world to assist in its growth, whether it be company staff or external suppliers.
Enlighten us on how you have impacted the dynamic industry through your expertise in the market.
I have a personal motto: “There is no limit to learning.”
As much as the hospitality industry is about a customer’s personal experience, it takes extensive analysis of data, numbers, trends, and internal and external factors to make the right decisions that eventually affect a customer’s experience. As with most businesses in KSA, information is not freely shared.
I have made it my mission to grow the amount of information sharing, resulting in better team performance. Ensuring everyone fully understands the discussion concepts is important when discussing any business topic. I take the time to explain if they don’t (my motto), and the results show for themselves. The future of Modern Foods is very bright indeed.
I have implemented a balanced scorecard to measure and manage the performance of various aspects of the business, such as customer satisfaction, financial performance, internal processes, and learning and growth.
Describe in detail the values and culture that drive your organization.
Modern Foods has a culture of innovation and adaptability. As mentioned, one of the key brands operates in the artisanal coffee shop market and, as such, always needs to be at the forefront of new concepts and trends. To this end, continuous internal experimentation and research of global trends exist. It is also aligned with my personal “No limit to learning.”
Coupled with the product’s innovation and adaptability, the company desires to be seen as ethical in all its internal or external dealings. A good example is following the changes in workforce legislation is the intention to do “what is right” and not what is legislated.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you advancing towards technological innovations to make your solutions resourceful?
We are in an era of massive technological change. The advent of AI will significantly change how we do business.
The customer experience should remain the same or similar, but how the experience is delivered will change. AI is already starting to creep into daily business routines. Tasks that used to take days can now be accomplished in hours or less.
The caution, however, is to take the AI-generated suggestions and utilize personal experience and knowledge to mold the response into what it perceived or expected to be the best solution for the business. At the same time, utilizing AI should not filter down into a customer experience that feels “automated.”
Loyalty programs for a long time have been critical to hospitality establishments. Gone are the days of stamp cards. This is being replaced by machine learning and AI that can understand your customer buying patterns and make suggestions of whom to approach with what offers. The AI can analyze the data and make recommendations in real-time, with very high levels of accuracy. Something that would take days for a human to do, by which time the moment could already have been lost.
An additional layer of tech use is in interpreting “the numbers.” Utilizing online business intelligence tools to interpret and make changes have fundamentally changed how quickly corrective actions can be taken.
What, according to you, could be the following significant change in your sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
No change is needed, but rather the exponential growth in technology should be embraced. The potential benefits must be addressed. There could be a gap in how quickly non-IT/tech people/industries utilize tech for everyday business. IT could evolve faster than its benefits are realized, resulting in a reduced desire to embrace its possibilities.
A significant challenge to the IT industry is to ensure that what is created can be understood by non-tech people. Make it user-friendly and more people will use it.
Where do you envision yourself in the long run, and what are your future goals for the organization?
I have committed my future to Modern Foods and look forward to leading the implementation of all aspects of technology in the company. I want to see the company as a leader in KSA for the implantation of tech-based solutions to providing superior customer service.
Some tech solutions will be available shortly that have yet to be considered. If they have the potential to change hospitality for good, then it needs to be implemented, and I want to see it implemented successfully.
What would you advise budding entrepreneurs aspiring to venture into the dynamic industry?
Be creative, be innovative, and don’t be afraid. Act quickly. Technological advancements are growing faster than anyone had expected. Listen to what the potential users of new technology want and need. Answer that question using technology, and the solution will be hugely beneficial and become a winner.