QSR Brands fosters culture of ownership: Mohamed Azahari

TO kick off the new year we get thoughts and views from fast-food chain KFC and Pizza Hut franchisee QSR Brands (M) Holdings Bhd Managing Director Datuk Mohamed Azahari Kamil.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have spent over 30 years in the financial services and educational sectors and now with QSR Brands, and throughout that time, I have always valued the importance of acquiring knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge is a never-ending journey and my thirst to learn more has kept me on my toes and been my guiding light. My life experiences have taught me to treat people right, be enthusiastic and take pride in everything I do. I can honestly say that my ability to network has also played a major part in making me the person that I am today.

What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?
Our QSR Brands family is made up of over 35,000 people (full time and part-time) across the region comprising a great many different people and personalities. As such, talent management is critical to ensure we act and perform like a family. So, our common DNA is guided by our CHART behaviour guide. CHART which stands for "Can do attitude", "Honesty", "Accountability", "Respect" and "Teamwork" is practiced not only at the group level, but also across our brands, at our restaurants, our production facilities and all the way to our hatcheries. We foster a culture of ownership, which we believe is the cornerstone of our success. Candidates who embody our CHART principles will definitely be the right fit for us. Aside from these traits, I also place high value on intellectual curiosity, the right attitude and integrity.

How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future?
In exploring growth opportunities, QSR Brands will look at increasing middle class consumption, product innovation and technology. KFC and Pizza Hut are already part of the popular culture in consumers' daily lives. We have achieved this strong consumer appeal and loyalty by developing menus that not only offer great-tasting food and variety, but also by working closely with YUM! Brands (the brand owner of KFC and Pizza Hut and one of the world's largest fast food companies in the world) to constantly innovate and develop high quality, locally-tailored, fresh new offerings to delight our customers. Over the past three years, we have launched 18 new products which were commercially successful.
We do not shy away from technology and automation to enhance our customers' experience and improve operational efficiency. We are always looking at ways to provide convenience to our customers and enhance their experience, be it in-store, through delivery, while ordering online or by introducing enhancements such as e-payment. Besides that, QSR Brands' is also looking at improving efficiency in our upstream business through increased automation and perhaps, even robotics.

What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?
I have been guided by a few simple principles throughout my working life and these have served me very well. Above all, I believe we must respect the environment in which we operate and the people with whom we work. One must also learn and appreciate the ability to work as a team because we do not operate in isolation. I have always practiced loyalty and dedication while keeping my hunger for knowledge alive.

We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts.
We are already within the technological revolution now and it has brought about significant disruption to the economy and the way we conduct business. With an average of 25 million customers every month, QSR Brands does not take customer loyalty for granted as we are living in the age of the "I Want What I Want and I Want It Now".
In recent months, we have embraced technology to cater to consumer needs including developing a mobile responsive website for easy navigation and order placement. In the coming months, we will launch our brand new mobile app for Pizza Hut, to make it even easier to order a great pizza and have it delivered within the hour. Similarly, for KFC Delivery we have streamlined to a three-step online ordering process and value-added benefits.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?
There has been a great many individuals and experienced gurus who have provided invaluable guidance to me over the years. I have consistently emphasised the importance of knowledge and education as a lifelong process and to that end, reading and learning, have been my best mentor. My life experiences have also taught me well. Besides that, I believe that my reflections, as well my empathy or my persistence to understand others, have made a difference in my professional life.

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?
KFC and Pizza Hut have a long and rich history in Malaysia that opens us up to a multitude of opportunities. As the largest fully integrated 'Farm to Fork' franchisee across Yum! Brands' global network, there are many moving parts to QSR Brands with the financial aspect being one of the crucial areas of success for the business.
As a banker, and knowing our restaurants and farms as I do now, I am able to take advantage of these opportunities in ways that we may not have been able to previously. That is my focus for the foreseeable future besides building a culture of innovation. I am also committed to ensuring that corporate governance and compliance complements the utmost professionalism in which we conduct ourselves in and around the workplace.

Best piece of advice you ever got in your career?
"Do what is right and fear no one except God."

Most admired business leader? Why?
I have long admired Jack Ma, because of his persistence and perseverance. I am excited to see his collaboration with the Malaysian government in the world's first Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ). This will benefit small businesses and young entrepreneurs in Malaysia and across Asia to leverage digitalisation as a stepping stone to e-commerce and greater business opportunities. With his knowledge, drive and vision, I believe Malaysia has picked the perfect partner to take us to the next level.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?
It's not easy to engage with all 35,000 people, as well as our partners, suppliers and various stakeholders in QSR Brands' universe but nothing is impossible. I have been travelling across the country and beyond to meet them and what a great journey it has been. I get to understand first hand, their challenges and motivations and I am inspired by their dedication and sincerity. I am still learning but I believe that if I surround myself with experts and good people, we can collectively keep abreast and tackle any challenge affecting the industry and arrive at smart solutions.

If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, who would it be and why?
That would be Jack Ma, of course, because I admire his ambition, his dedication and his quest for knowledge and his humility. There is a lot I could learn from him in that one hour. Now that he is working closely with the Malaysian government, I hope to have an opportunity to meet him or even collaborate with him. That would mean a lot to me!

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced and what did you learn from it?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was in managing a conflict among shareholders. After having succeeded in managing the situation, the takeaway is that compromise can often be a good thing for all parties involved. I learned that in addition to being professional at all times, an offer of compromise is key to solving a management crisis.

What was the most outlandish business proposal you have heard of?
Every business proposal to me can be outlandish in some way but if you really put your heart and soul into any endeavor, nothing is impossible in this world. QSR Brands' is living proof of that - we are the largest integrated franchisee across the YUM! Brands network. Not many people would guess that Malaysia ranks as one of the top markets for YUM! Brands across the world, QSR Brands has made that possible.

What man made innovation confounds you? Why?
The evolution of technology continues to amaze me, especially in terms of the opportunities it offers, not only to businesses but to every individual. Man-made innovation in digital technology, especially advancements to replace human tasks is also a development, which I find outstanding. And finally the speed in which we can now disseminate content is truly fascinating for me as it greatly feeds my thirst for knowledge, but I am acutely aware that this can be a frightening prospect if not used or consumed in a responsible manner.

Malaysia's greatest brand.
No doubt, it is KFC and Pizza Hut.

A must-read for every business owner/manager is...
'Your Job Survival Guide: A Manual for thriving in change' by Gregory Shea and Robert E Gunther from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This book is a guide to managing your life amidst all the change that is taking place in the business world and everywhere around you. It give you practical yet hard-hitting advice; simple yet very real steps you can take that goes beyond mere job survival; it tells you how you can bounce back from failure and keep pushing the boundaries, and above all, how to have fun while being in charge of your working life and beyond.

How do you expect policies on climate change to impact businesses in the future?
Policies on climate change are instrumental in getting companies to commit to sustainable development and embrace green technology. At QSR Brands, we do have initiatives that embrace green technology, including wastewater treatment and green restaurants, but we are still a work in progress. We must ensure that our footprint on this planet is a constructive one and learn to operate while adopting sustainable and renewable resources to ensure that life on earth will still be possible in the future and for generations to come.

What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success?
In order of importance - a fear of God, respect for the environment and people, and always be bold, yet elegant.