How to build a self-managing business

Posted on: Monday 02 December, 2019
How to build a self-managing business

Going from hunting Russian submarines to building a fish and chip empire in Cornwall might sound like a confused career path, but for Pete Fraser it has been a dream journey and one which now gives him the perfect balance.


Pete Fraser left the Royal Navy at 40 knowing the next step of his life would involve becoming a business owner. But that was about the extent of his planning.

“I opened the local paper and saw a chip shop was for sale. I had no catering background, but one of the principles I had picked up through an Open University course is to pick a business in a great location that is not trading to its full potential.” Fast-forward 19 years and Harbour Lights in Falmouth has a turnover set to hit £1.7m and employs 55 people at the height of summer.

A self-managing business

His leadership style is cemented firmly in a hands-off approach, “When people make mistakes, which everyone does, don’t bite their heads off. Instead, enjoy it as a learning opportunity by talking it through” he said.

Pete’s ability to prosper in an industry he had no experience of operating in has been made possible by an upfront approach to lacking certain skills or knowledge. When he bought Harbour Lights, Pete walked into the nearest fish and chip shop to his home, not knowing he was about to meet the guy who was a recent fish and chip shop of the year winner. “I just asked for help and over the next 2-3 years this extremely kind guy bent over backwards to do so.”

Pete’s eternal hunt for best practices, combined with a management team comfortable with decision making means he sets aside two days a week for what he labels “strategy”. He disconnects himself completely, switching email and his phone off, and escapes to a place with zero distractions. This allows him to uncover new practices, speak with his mentors, analyse market trends and generally get “out” of the business.

Staying on top

A self-managing business needs systems and processes which give the business owner confidence that everything is running as it should be. For Pete, that means having a scoreboard so he knows where the company’s financial health sits. “If I’m lucky enough to be on a Caribbean beach I could just look at the scoreboard – 60 per cent of that is financial health, how sales are doing, costs and profit. But there are also gauges of how happy staff and customers are,” he explained.

He cited Gino Wickman’s book, Traction, as the inspiration behind his efforts to build a self-managing business. Wickman’s theory is based on having a company that is goal focused, breaking them down into chunks that can be achieved over a certain period of time.

While building a self-managing business does not happen overnight, Pete’s story shows how setting the right goals in the right sort of time to the right kind of employees contributed to the success of his business.

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Written By: Be the Business | Monday 02 December, 2019

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