As part of the new Hero Award category at the Retailers’ Retailer Awards, MCA is profiling five senior managers who have gone above and beyond in steering their business through the crisis.

Rory Marthinusen

At the start of the pandemic, there was understandably lots of anxiety among staff at Giggling Squid, who were put on furlough.

Like many in the sector, they did not know if they would have jobs to come back to, suddenly going from the busy thrum of restaurant service, to a quieter life stuck at home.

Staff at the Thai restaurant group were thankful for the reassuring leadership of Rory Marthinusen, a chief operating officer with “the calmest of heads in the choppiest of seas”, according to his colleague Hannah Johnson.

“Particularly at the beginning, when everything was so uncertain, it was incredibly worrying for everyone,” she says.

“He was a very calming influence on the whole company, in terms making sure that everyone is reassured and working towards the same thing and not panicking.”

For an ops man to have no restaurants to operate was clearly a frustrating experience, and Marthinusen demonstrated a sense of empathy in the way he kept in touch with staff, Johnson says.

“Rory understands that it’s painful, he hated it as well. He likes to be out there and seeing the sites, and speaking to people,” the head of PR and marketing says.

“He was just incredibly mindful of the fact that people were really worried and sitting at home and not enjoying it. Lots of people enjoyed that first lockdown. It was sunny, they were at home, but for hospitality it was a very different.”

When it came to developing new ideas and innovation, Marthinusen listened to suggestions and consulted with restaurant staff about how any changes would affect them, fostering a strong culture of inclusion.

“He’s very good at creating a forum for ideas and an open forum for people to put forward their thoughts,” Johnson says.

“At the beginning, there were a lot of things coming out on what we could potentially do: meal boxes, frozen foods etc.

“It’s a testament to him that there’s a real culture for being able to put forward your thoughts.”

Marthinusen helped foster an agile business style, which enabled Giggling Squid to trial new things, such as new iterations of its takeaway and delivery service.

“He promotes a real culture of collaboration, which we all want to be part of, rather than just decisions being made at the top. It’s very much, ‘how is this going to work for the team?’

“The one thing he always does is keep our restaurant teams at front and centre. Any decision we make he really does do that. He keeps the general managers, the chefs, the waiters, at the front of the decision making, which they really appreciate and feel really valued.”

Despite being physically apart, Johnson says the pandemic has brought the company closer together.

“I think it’s helped unite us, and understand our shared values and shared ambitions, to keep the company going and make it a success,” she adds.

“Rory’s definitely been at the front and centre of that, with video messages every week, he was really driving that. I think it’s his values, his personal values and how he is as a person, that has been permeated throughout the business. We’re definitely closer.”

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