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Taste testing, rolling-up-the-sleeves, and resilience

In the latest edition of The Brief we speak with Damian Tarry the HR chief behind Australia’s largest food and beverage franchisor, Retail Food Group, to discuss the importance of recruiter relationships, and why rolling up the sleeves is a ‘must have’ trait in candidates.

Mention, Retail Food Group (RFG) to any city slicker and many beloved household names come to mind.

Childhood memories of devouring hot cinnamon donuts from Donut King; morning wake-up calls to the smell of Gloria Jeans’ award-winning coffees; the olfactory senses of bread baking at Brumby’s, or wood fired treats from Crust and Pizza Capers. These brands hold a special place in the hearts of many. RFG has been a significant cornerstone for the Australian fast-food sector, and for more than two decades, has provided countless job opportunities through its head office operations.

It’s important to acknowledge the dynamics of this business before understanding the truly unique contribution its HR Chief Damian Tarry has made, and why the recruitment of roles within the business has been instrumental to its longevity.

Damian has a diverse background encompassing tourism and hospitality, finance, childcare and retail. His broad skillset and experience across service culture, targets/KPIs, organisational capability and engagement has enabled him to impact businesses for greater success.

During Damian’s six years with the business, he has seen significant organisational changes including acquisitions and dissolutions of affiliated brands, international and domestic expansion, head office relocations, executive board overhauls and c-suite appointments, mass restructuring and turnaround strategies, multi-million-dollar losses and gains, a Royal Commission into the industry, complex share updates, as well as countless team member development programs and initiatives.

“RFG has afforded me a wealth of experience and opportunity, and I have been fortunate to work with some amazing team members, past and present,” Damian said. “I’ve had people start their career with me and become incredible practitioners (teaching me along the way) and go on to lead their own teams.

“I try to lead with authenticity and strong values and believe that good leaders are the ones that give people a reason to follow and are able to bring people together with a common goal.”

Damian said the secret to building a culture of longevity within a business could be found in recruiting people that had similar values, enjoyed having fun along the way, and demonstrated several key attributes.

“We look for service-focused mindsets, coupled with people who show they are positive, resilient, adaptive, hardworking, and open to problem solving. And if they don’t mind taste-testing as we develop innovative new products, that’s a bonus,” Damian said.

“While we do most of our recruitment internally, we engage recruiters for key and challenging roles.

“These recruiters need to have a deep understanding of our business and the candidates and show how they will fit with our dynamic.”

Damian has seen the value and cost propositions of hiring the right and wrong candidates for businesses throughout his career and said the cost of those decisions was difficult to measure owing to the broad impacts they could have.

“The wrong person can adversely impact the business on many levels across areas including finance, legal, customer relationships, brand reputation and morale,” he said.

“In contrast, the right person can bring a fresh energy and approach that could benefit the whole team and wider network, and we place great value in how that positive building of momentum is amplified across their touchpoints.”

Taste testing, rolling-up-the-sleeves, and resilience – the key candidate recipe sought by Retail Food Group executive

When asked about building culture, Damian said he found it easier to build culture rather than re-build culture as muscle memory held strong, and the best-appointed people were a great aid to maintaining morale.

Damian said he had experienced both negative and positive experiences with key appointments by recruiters and laid out his insights into what the business often looked for in those pivotal relationships.

“The recruiter that takes the time and cares about the outcome will always do well, and this is where the loyalty is built - it’s the personal integrity and quality of service that I value,” he said.

“A recruiter placed a senior role for me recently, and they took that extra time to understand the brief, the business, and what was required in the first 12 months of the role.

“The recruiter was extremely effective in preparing a shortlist and made the process very simple and professional.

“We were fortunate to have three shortlisted candidates that were all well aligned and for us, making it a hard decision, but the recruiter was able to assist in the final selection by giving us extra insights into the personal traits that the successful candidate demonstrated during their engagements.”

There were bad dealings with recruiters too – Damian said one had not dedicated adequate time to source candidates, did not successfully place the role, and still charged the business.

“This was a really negative experience and wasn’t something I wanted a repeat of, however, it did provide me with insights into ways our relationships with recruiters could be more effective,” he said.

“If a recruiter can be upfront and clarify the process from the beginning, that would be helpful and dispel some uncertainties around pricing.

“Sometimes pricing formats are inflexible and costs can be prohibitive.

“It would be good to see an industry-led format that is more transparent and consistent.

“Recruiters play a significant role for our business and the success of that relationship needs to be built on mutual trust, respect and knowledge sharing.”

Respect and trust are intrinsic within Damian. Multiple RFG team members reported seeing him roll up his sleeves in favour of some hammer wielding when their previous head office location in Southport was decommissioned.

The brand decided to move its operations to a new site in Robina on Queensland’s Gold Coast, which could better cater for the needs of the team, and as part of the existing lease agreement, it stipulated that any old infrastructure needed to be removed.

“Yes, I did get into that industrial bin and was using a sledgehammer to demolish old furniture,” Damian said with a laugh.

“Sometimes a role leads you down (or into) some unexpected places but it’s during those moments and decisions that you yield respect. What I enjoyed most about that experience was the comradery of the team that worked tirelessly to help the business relocate and make the transition as smooth as possible.

“We need that attitude in our people and we lead by example.

“We don’t just look to recruit that attribute; we try to attract it every day through the smallest interactions and that has been instrumental to the longevity of RFG.”

Damian said the business would be open to candidates that celebrate diversity and a willingness to roll their sleeves up when the job called for it.

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