Me And My Partner: 'The job split suits both our abilities'

Tim Hill and Kate Skeritt launched healthy fast-food outlet POD in London in October 2005. Turnover is now approaching £800,000. They plan to open five more outlets from 2007
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The Independent Online

Tim Hall

I've been an entrepreneur for about 10 years. I did work in advertising, but creating value in other people's businesses just didn't sit well with me, so I started my own business.

I had a few other retail businesses before we started POD. The idea behind POD stems from my belief that we are seeing a significant shift in the way people buy products and the kinds of products they buy. The internet is having a huge impact on retail, such as white goods, books, music and, increasingly, clothing. I was very conscious that if I was going to be in retail, I didn't want to be in a retail space that was going to be badly affected by the technological revolution. For me, that meant freshly prepared food, which is about the only thing you can't buy online.

I considered doing it on my own, but quickly realised I needed a partner. I needed somebody who could bring the food retail skills that only come from experience. I've seen so many other businesses fail because they lack the key ingredient of operational skills. And I also felt that although I love food and I'm very interested in food, I wasn't good enough to create commercial recipes.

I spoke to some recruitment specialists, but I also went to the best performing food retail outlets in London and spoke to the managers about the idea. When I met Kate, it was obvious that she was the right person for the business. She has such a passion for nutrition and homeopathy and she's so interested in the health giving elements of food. It was a eureka moment. I thought, If Kate's interested in this, the business is going to be successful, because she had it all.

We spent a lot of time getting to know each other and making sure that our relationship was going to work and it just happened I am much more commercial and strategic; she's more on the food and health and nutrition side.

It can be difficult and destructive if both parties want to get involved in the same areas and have the same skills. But Kate doesn't want to get involved in the commercial and financial dynamics side of what we're doing because that's my expertise. And although I'm very keen to eat the food, I'm not desperately keen to get in the kitchen and start creating recipes. So it works well.

We're currently in the process of opening five more units. My role within that process is raising money and securing agreements with shareholders and banks. I deal with all the legal and contractual side of those agreements and the leases that we're signing up to. I deal with the refurbishment in terms of contracts, trades people, costs and schedules. So all of the commercial and financial detail side of things is my role. We both have an input into strategies, where the shop's going to be, what products we will be putting out into the marketplace, that's probably the one area where we both work together. But then operationally, recruiting the teams, running the staff rotas, motivating them, dealing with suppliers, dealing with product display, dealing with wastage, all of those things, they are all Kate's. Basically, Kate works on the shop floor and I work in the office.

Kate Skeritt

I was a little nervous about leaving my previous job to join Tim. I was quite a senior manager and was a partner in the business, but at the same time I felt that I needed to challenge myself a little bit more.

Tim approached me with his idea and we had various conversations. I thought it was refreshing concept. There are a few people exploring similar themes now, but at the time - about 18 months ago - it was still a very new market. I am passionate about food and health and nutrition. I believe that what you eat will make you healthier or happier. And here was an opportunity to build a business around those values.

Tim is very focused and he's a doer. If he sees something, he will go and get it. After we'd had a few conversations I was confident that he would deliver on his vision.

My responsibility is all the operational issues around creating and selling the products and running the outlets. We have regular meetings. I always take his comments on board, but the final operational decisions are largely down to me. Similarly, he will take my views into account regarding issues he is dealing with, such as the layout of a new unit. But ultimately, that is his job and it is his responsibility to get that right.

We don't see much of each other on a daily basis. Tim is office-based. I like to be in the thick of the action. We see each other about twice a week, although we speak on the phone everyday. We both like working independently, but towards a common goal.

The job split is a very comfortable one and suits both of our natural abilities. Tim is business and finance; I am more about the people and the products. Most of the staff that we employ in the shop used to work for me before. Building strong relationships is a big part of being successful.

For the first four or five months, it was much harder than I expected. I have a lot of experience in food retail, but I did make mistakes. Certain roads we took ended up being dead ends. But you learn from that and move on. Now, a year a later, it is a lot easier. We know each other better and respect each other more. Tim took a big gamble on asking me to join him. In the beginning, he was not 100 per cent sure if I would be able to do it, but I think he trusts me more now.