Luke Mangan - chef and restauranteur

Luke Mangan dishes up some entrepreneurial advice

Being a chef is no longer solely about the creation of delicious dishes. There’s a new generation of chef in town – and they’ve got minds for business and a decidedly entrepreneurial streak.

One such chef is Luke Mangan, one of the country’s most highly awarded restaurateurs, and rightly so, because Mangan’s worked hard to build a number of profitable businesses. He runs eight restaurants – in Sydney, the Gold Coast, Tokyo and on P&O cruise liners – has written four cookbooks, launched a range of gourmet products and is the consulting chef for Virgin Australia. He’s no stranger to the screen either, having appeared on multiple TV shows including MasterChef and The Today Show.

But it hasn’t been all glitz and glamour. Mangan’s had to learn the ins and outs of running a business and faced the very same challenges as every other small business owner. He’s sharing some of these lessons with Dynamic Business, and delivering some advice every aspiring entrepreneur can relate to.

Q. You run eight restaurants, are an author and have created your own range of gourmet products – what’s your secret to coordinating all these business responsibilities?

I like a challenge!

I also invest in key staff members and make them part of the business, so they have some ownership and feel part of the big picture. I try to focus on working hard and striving for continual improvement – that’s the challenge.

Long hours, little sleep and lots of coffee also play a part.

Q. Was learning the ins and outs of running your own business a steep learning curve? What aspect did you struggle with most?

Yes – very much and it still is. Business is a learning experience; you have to keep learning from the people around you, because the challenges keep coming.

In the early days, I neglected the more mundane aspects of being in business, until these began to affect cashflow. I didn’t get advice much from my accountant and I thought I was doing fine because my first restaurant was really successful, so I opened a second and a third. I didn’t understand that you can have great turnover, but not a great profit.

There are also a number of things I should’ve done. For starters, I should have sought financial advice. I always had an accountant checking things off but never used him to my full advantage. Once I did, I started to see better profit and thanks to a fresh approach to my cashflow, wasn’t under as much pressure.

Q. What’s your proudest business achievement to date?

That’s a tough one – I’m proud of them all.

In 1994, I moved to Sydney, where I met John Hemmes and opened CBD restaurant in CBD hotel. That was probably my most ambitious move, give my age – I was 24 at the time and incredibly enthusiastic. That was a great four-and-a-half years of learning, especially learning with John’s mind. He’s an incredible businessman.

In 1999, I opened my first own restaurant, Salt. It was just before the Olympics, which proved to be great timing because of the promotion of Australian tourism, including restaurants, were enjoying at the time. That was a fantastic time for me and really helped me get established as a well-known chef.

Q. Any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Think outside the square and never accept no for an answer. Everyday obstacles are put in front of you, so you need to learn to work around them.

It takes passion, focus and lots of hard work. If you think there’s a short cut, forget it!

Q. How important do you think it is for an entrepreneur to diversify their business, given the current economic environment?

I think diversification, teamed with careful planning, is a winning strategy.

To grow your business in tough times takes careful capital planning and tight cashflow management. Take risks, but only calculated ones. Invest money wisely and don’t put your eggs all in your basket. It’s important to follow a business plan with defined goals, to give you a clear path forward.

Q. Are there any entrepreneurs you look up?

Richard Branson – he really needs no qualification. The man is truly inspirational!

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