Phillip Di Bella’s story is one of indisputable financial success but for him it was never about “the money”. Today, with BRW putting his personal wealth at more than $100 million and with Retail Food Group as a billion-dollar stakeholder in his dream, it’s now about everything but the money.
Talk to Phillip and you can’t avoid the message – delivered loud, clear, eloquently and long – that it is, and always will be, about “Vision, Passion and Brand”.
The son of migrant parents, Phillip only saw his father on Saturday’s because working Sundays for overtime and a second job part-time on Fridays gave his father the means to provide for his family. “My father was a great model for me in that we never went without”, Phillip will tell you, “but I didn’t want to be giving up my Sundays, working six days a week just to be able to provide for my family and I suppose, doing that, my father created a drive in me to succeed, to control my own destiny.”
One of Phillip’s favourite observations is that he has always learned more studying business failures than business successes. “If you study successes and emulate them, you are a fake”, he says, “but if you study failures, take the lessons and apply them, you are original. I like being an original.”
But here I’m going to break Phillip’s rule and look at success – his success – and at his thoughts on at two core concepts that are key to his and to Di Bella Coffee’s success.
I found it interesting to hear Phillip’s ideas on business (in quotes below) and could not help but draw parallels between those and the observations made by Jim Collins and his team in “Good to Great” (G2G), in which they shared what it takes to generate enduring success in business.
The First Triangle
“It all starts with a Vision. You can have a dream but that’s just in your head. A Vision is out there on a piece of paper, staring you in the face, making you do something about it.”
G2G: Every successful enterprise has, at its head, a CEO with low personal ego but a fierce passion for the vision for that enterprise, its purpose and potential.
“Passion for me is lived, not just talked about. It is essential to give you the resilience to face the setbacks and challenges.”
G2G: Collins described a Hedgehog Principal under which enduring success was predicated on another triangle: That of being passionate about what you do; knowing what you can be world-best-at and sticking to only that; and understanding the economic engine of your enterprise.
Di Bella is obviously passionate about coffee, and he and his team have demonstrated they can match – and beat – the world’s biggest and best in coffee sourcing, roasting, delivery, equipment provision and training. And they’ve chosen not to do much else!
As for understanding the “economic engine” and what the business really runs on, I found it powerful that much of what is measured within Di Bella’s is expressed in ‘cups of coffee’ rather than dollars or kilos.
“Brand, without which we are nothing, and staying true to it is everything.”
It’s on the subject of brand – actually “the brand essence of Di Bella’s” that Phillip’s second triangle kicks in:
The Second Triangle
“Brand starts with Perception. I set out to build a company that has immaculate branding; clear positioning; is easy to ‘read’; ‘flows’ in that the colours, layout, look and feel are right; where every engagement with the brand is quality, so that you see it only in quality places.”
G2G: For me, listening to Phillip, Collin’s ‘Flywheel Principle’ rang out; the observation that all enduring success is built not on ‘creating the killer app’ or ‘hitting one out of the park’ but on an enduring commitment to consistency and congruence in everything. The track to success is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. All Great companies’ successes were built on a thousand small things, all aligned and supporting a consistent perception of the enterprise’s behaviours and products.
“Our product quality must match our promise. We invest in quality people throughout the organisation. Our coffee is roasted and ground to order, not mass-produced. It’s fresh every day. Our supply chain has been developed with single coffee farmers who care deeply about their crop, and secured through mutually-beneficial contracts to ensure that we have reliable access to the highest-quality product, independently of what the bulk commodity market is doing. We use only the best of equipment for our roasting. We even go to the extent of recruiting our roasters based solely on their attitude, and then training them wholly in our ways of roasting. We support our resellers with high-quality equipment so that our product is well-treated, and we provide them with in-depth training to help them to deliver a high quality cup of coffee, every time.”
G2G: Collins talks about winning cultures being based on ‘first who, then what’, the necessity of attracting and engaging quality people to build a quality enterprise. He also talks about ‘good being the enemy of great’ in that many enterprises invest time, energy and resources in what would make them ‘good’ when the same time, energy and resources could be committed to doing the things that would make them, their products, and the service they wrap around them, truly ‘great’.
“We had to build relationships, as well, to ensure consistency in our model – consistency of product quality, consistency in delivery and partner dealings, consistency of customer experience. So, you don’t find us in service stations or supermarkets. You find us in high-quality cafés and restaurants. For us it’s never been about volume distribution. It’s always been about who pays particular attention to and takes particular care with our product. It’s about consistent, high-quality distribution. It’s about delivering ‘brand consistency’.
G2G: Collins saw that great companies relied not on rules and enforcement to gain efficiency and consistency, but on attracting, recruiting and engaging self-disciplined people who did not need discipline to perform consistently at a high level. Di Bella’s attracts such people.
And before Collins there was W. Edwards Deming – the man who taught the Japanese to build cars, better than anyone else had ever built them. A quality assurance expert to rival Henry Ford (though Ford’s was broader talent), Deming proved that a focus on consistently eliminating errors, inefficiencies and constraints would not only deliver cost savings but would inevitably boost brand recognition because, well, people recognise, admire and pursue quality.
Given Phillip Di Bella’s passion for his Vision of delivering the ultimate coffee experience, and his focus on the two triangles that power the realisation of that Vision, his coffee is likely to be recognised, admired and pursued for a long time to come.
You might enjoy the exercise of applying Phillip’s two triangles to your enterprise. Who knows what insights might arise that may speed you on the path to your own Vision?