Motivational speaker serves up recipe for success

by Adam Ledlow

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Rivers Corbett, president and co-founder of The Chef Group, a New Brunswick-based catering group, served up his 12 key ingredients for success for Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) members at the recent APTA conference in Saint John, N.B.

Dressed in the traditional white chef’s coat, Corbett said that even though his business focuses on loading your stomach rather than loading your trailer, his business values can be easily applied to any industry. Both the trucking and food industries are necessities, Corbett said, with each trying to climb to the top of their own “mountain of success.”

“What I do as CEO of my company is very similar to what you do as CEO of your own companies,” he told the group at the Delta Brunswick Hotel in downtown Saint John.

The self-described “chef pimp” – who coincidentally doesn’t even like cooking, quickly shedding his white chef’s uniform in favour of an all-black ensemble – and his business partner, Chef Danny Bower, started Rent-A-Chef back in 1999. From a $3,000 start they eventually built a million-dollar chef business in just four years, with the help of Corbett’s key ingredients for success.

His first ingredient for success involves “meeting the person in the mirror” to help assess your personal role in the industry. He said nobody on his team ever strays from their respective role, which helps the company form its winning combination. The most notable role players are the two co-founders themselves, with Corbett opting to stay out of the kitchen and Bower leaving the business end in Corbett’s hands.

His second ingredient, “Branding: It’s not just for cows,” touched on how important it is for trucking companies to define their brand. With the Chef Group, Corbett reinforces its brand as ‘chefs’ wherever possible – from business cards donning a mini chef’s hat to incorporating the word ‘CHEF’ into its company’s phone number. As an industry overall, Corbett conceded that trucking needs to start wearing the brand of an essential service like doctors and nurses if it wants to be taken seriously.

Once the brand is defined, the trucking company must then find out what’s unique about that brand, by using Corbett’s third ingredient, “Stand out from the crowd.” He said competing with price alone is not enough for long-term success, so finding a unique niche to differentiate yourself is very important.

“Knowing your customer,” came in at number four, though, as Corbett said, “We all think we’re experts on knowing what our customers want.”

However, according to Corbett, this is not always the case. Keeping this in mind, he said every company could stand a little of his number five ingredient: the reality check.

The reality check forces you to analyze your business, both on a personal and professional level, to find things that aren’t working and paves the way to do things that do work for you and learn from your mistakes.

“Don’t just do things because you’ve always done it that way.”

Being an innovative marketer found its place at number six with something Corbett called “guerilla marketing.” By looking at both yourself and other organizations, you will get a scope of who you can align yourself with for future business opportunities. Corbett used restaurants that get into the catering business as an example.

For his seventh ingredient, Corbett borrowed a quote from Frank Sobey of Sobeys Inc., the grocery store chain that has all its cooking classes run by The Chef Group. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Sobey was quoted as saying.

Corbett and The Chef Group took this advice to heart, earning $150,000 in revenue in their first year and $1 million by its fourth. It’s also grown from two employees to a team of more than 2,500 chefs operating across North America.

“We’re constantly focused on growth,” Corbett said.

Points eight, nine and 10 are linked to the failures that can befall a business, noting that there will be tough times, planning is essential and mistakes will happen. Corbett said he knows what it’s like to experience “The Fast Fall.” His company lost about $500,000 of business in about three weeks time, but they knew they had to move on.

“We had a hard time accepting it and adjusting to it,” he said.

But as far as failures are concerned, Corbett said there isn’t anyone to blame but the man in the mirror if you don’t plan ahead.

“It’s a lot easier to fall off the mountain (of success) with a parachute,” he said.

Keeping a positive attitude and realizing that mistakes and failures will happen also helps in the long run.

His last two points centre on staying hungry in business and remembering to invest in yourself. By going after what you want and taking 100 per cent responsibility for your life, both you and your business stand a good chance of making it.

But Corbett also said not to forget to make time for family and friends and enjoy the little things along the way.

“Life’s a journey: enjoy the ride, not just the destination,” he said.

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