Institute of Business Administrtion

Accidental Entrepreneur

Sardar Abdul Rahim, Director BBQ Tonight, divulges his recipe of success


Mr. Sardar Abdul Rahim, Director at Bar B Q Tonight Global Pte Ltd (International Franchiser of Bar B Q Tonight System) explains how twist of fate thrust him into being an Entrepreneur. Mr. Rahim is an IBA Alumnus, having completed his M.B.A (Marketing) in 1978. He did his B.A (Hons) in International Relations in 1976, from the University of Karachi .He also acts as Managing Director, Unity F&B Singapore Pte Ltd. and Director, Unity F&B SDN BHD.

Here's how he sums up his 3 decades of journey to the Land of Entrepreneurship:

1. How would you describe your business in three short sentences?
Restaurant business is an art and also science of satisfying the innate urges of customers with respect to their culinary needs. Food and the environment in which food is served touches significant aspects of human life with respect to their (Maslow's hierarchy of) needs. A successful restaurant organizes itself to fulfill all levels of customer's culinary needs in the best possible manner and also make profit in the process.

2. What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?
I guess the pride in Pakistani nationalism was the prime and single most important element that triggered off my journey towards entrepreneurship way back in 1987. I had a very cozy and cushy job in one of the Gulf countries then. While working there for almost 6 years I decided that I should be traveling by Pakistan International Airlines, it being our national carrier. However the mistreatment that was meted out to the Pakistani passengers upon reaching there was shocking. Then and there I decided not to work in that country any more. I resigned and came back to Pakistan despite advice to the contrary by my bosses. I came back without much savings or any plans for future. Although it was an emotional decision, however, it was tagged with the determination to be able to earn as much as I was doing in that country. The idea to set up a restaurant developed when I and my brother bought 2 shops in the building where Bar B Q Tonight is housed presently in Clifton Karachi. Setting up a restaurant was suggested by one of my cousins. So, basically, Bar B Q Tonight was not planned it just happened. All the planning, organization and execution followed the emotional decision to leave a good job and venture out on my own.

For the student readers I would like to cite the following extract on emotional motivation and EQ that is relevant for success as an entrepreneur:

"In general, negative (p. 76) emotions motivate avoidance behavior and a more conservative, methodical, and analytical approach to problem solving, whereas positive emotions motivate approach behavior and are associated with a more holistic, creative, and flexible style of thinking (Fazio, Eiser & Shook, 2004; Isen, 2000)."

In my case both the negative and positive emotions played their part in my determination to be successful in the enterprise I was going to set up.

3. How did you make your first sale?
Bar B Q Tonight was opened for customers on 10th November 1988 at around 6 PM. The first customers were a Jordanian young man and his Pakistani wife. By 9 Pm, same day, all the seats were taken. We never looked back after that with God's Grace.

4. How did you get credibility quickly?
Providing consistency and standardization in taste of food, better service, reasonable prices and hygiene standards in a congenial environment developed trust amongst our customers.

5. How did you develop key partnerships?
Foundation of any business venture is strengthened when solid partnerships with all stake holders are formed, developed and sustained. We have done that on 4 levels:
A) Management
Bar B Q Tonight is a family owned restaurant. Although, it was started primarily by myself and my younger brother Sardar Abdul Qayyum, however, gradually all my brothers got involved in this business as beneficiaries and as such are stake holders. Apart from the Sardar blood brothers ( Myself, Qayyum, Micky & Aziz ) our key management players ( Tahir Ahmed and Yousuf Iqbal ) too are like brothers and hold same level of respect, trust and decision making capacity as us brothers. The advantages of creating this management platform are ease, confidentiality and reliability of communication, trust in decision making, quick feedback and corrective action process, ever present strong family support system and extensive top management's physical presence. We call our management system "Management by Wandering Around". One of us is always there on the floor patrolling around seating halls and the kitchen to see to it that everything is in order and as per standards, talking to customers and seeking their feedback, marshalling staff to put in their best efforts in the right way. Not easy but we have continued doing it for the last 26 years. With God's Grace we are lucky to see our second generation inducted in our management platform while we are still actively involved.
B) Staff
Staff is the most valuable asset any business operation possesses. We have always been mindful of this fact. Besides giving importance to this aspect operationally we have created an unusual bonding with our staff. We treat them as an extended Bar B Q Tonight family and this sense of belonging results in intrinsic motivational spirit within them. Although Bar B Q Tonight employs the highest number of staff in F&B chain of restaurants in Pakistan yet the employee turnover is the least.
C) Vendors
There is no way that substandard raw material can be practically transformed into a high standard product. That is how vendors and suppliers of raw material assume a cardinal importance in F&B business. Buying good quality products at the right price day in and day out is a challenge that every restaurateur has to face all the time. Besides price, consistency of supply, timing of supply, right quantity being supplied, correct invoicing and sourcing of new items have direct bearing not only on quality of the end product but also on operational profitability. There is lot of wisdom in the saying that "Profits are in buying". This may not be wholly true but certainly better purchasing places an establishment in a more advantageous position. All this cannot be achieved without excellent vendor relationship.
D) Customers
Customer is indeed the king. A restaurateur is dependent on customer's patronage even if all the other elements of F&B business have been taken care of in the best possible manner. Every potential customer is unique with his perception, taste buds, appetite, health condition, past experiences, financial capacity, time availability, age and ethnic background. To profitably cater to each customer to his liking virtually becomes impossible with a limited menu. It's here that F&B business becomes an art whereby a facility is developed wherein a commonality is created whereby most of the customers are satisfied individually within a large and varied collective customer base. Successful restaurants are able to create a sense of ownership amongst the customers by empathizing with customers with respect to their culinary needs and expectations. Again not easy but we believe Bar B Q Tonight has generally been able to create that sense of ownership within its customer base.

6. How did you get funded or what creative strategies did you use to execute on minimal cash flow?
Initially, we started with my brother's savings and seed money from a close relative as our capital which was enough to buy 2 shops, totaling 1200 sq ft. As business grew we ploughed back profits towards growth and expansion of business. Thus growth resulted in greater profits and subsequently further opportunity for growth was ensured in this manner. This conservative strategy has been successful for us and as such continues even today.

7. How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
The truth is we have never considered any one as competition. We just focus on our own business. We have a winning combination therefore looking over our shoulders towards others can disturb our formula for success. One of my brothers rightly commented that "no one can touch our success unless we spoil it ourselves ".

An inside view of BBQ Tonight

BBQ Tonight, Karachi


BBQ Tonight Inauguration Ceremony,

Kuala Lumpur

BBQ Tonight, UAE


8. What was your biggest mistake during your initial years as an entrepreneur?
Partnership with non- family members can be considered a mistake. Kublai khan (the Chinese restaurant on Sea view Karachi) was established by me with a partner but that partnership didn't work. In my opinion, generally speaking, partnerships are not meant for Pakistan.

9. How did you learn from failure?
No more partnerships!

10. What mindsets helped make your successful?
The will to succeed is the real power behind any success. Strength of conviction and resilience to never give up are the fuel to enlighten the path of vision that one has for any business opportunity. One essential thought that fortifies one's self confidence is that "If anyone else can do it, so can I".

11. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Any advice you would like to give to budding entrepreneurs?
The skills required to be a successful entrepreneur can be described as sum total of capacities an individual must have which leads to a successful and profitable achievement of desired business model. Broadly speaking these capacities are as follows:
i) Capacity to dream: In corporate terms it is called having a Vision. It is also termed as Mission Statement, Corporate Goals and Company Objectives. The only difference between these terms and a successful entrepreneur's dream is the element of passion, zest and self confidence in achievement of that dream. Somehow these elements are inborn and cannot be taught or inculcated in business schools or board rooms. Essentially that is the difference between an entrepreneur and a high profile executive.

The only way one can find out if one has that golden trait of dreaming a successful business model is to be bold enough to take a plunge at the cost of losing a secure job!

ii) Capacity to live that Dream: Knowledge, business acumen, situational flexibility, public relations, management skills, financial freedom and ability to grasp an opportunity are the essential elements that help to live an entrepreneurial dream successfully. But more importantly one should have the will, strength of character, boldness and capacity to work hard under any circumstances to make that dream come true. Entrepreneurial journey is like swimming against the tide therefore unless one works wholeheartedly with indomitable passion to succeed one can never achieve the prized position of a successful entrepreneur.

iii) Capacity to sustain living your dream: Once the entrepreneurial dream transforms into a living reality one needs to sustain that success through even more watchful means. This means more hard work and seeing to it that there are no digressions in the business model that has succeeded. Toyota had a very meaningful caption for its spare parts that said "never change a winning team". It is so apt in maintaining a successful model. There are lot of pressures and temptations to change as we live in a dynamic world but changing the basic model can be counter-productive.

12. Describe/outline your typical day?
Mornings: Spend time with family and reflect on whatever is going on
Afternoons: Have business meetings or business errands
Evenings: Be at restaurant and look after matters there.

13. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
My family has been extremely supportive and have adapted to a restaurateurs life style well. That is the reason why my sons have willingly adopted this trade as their profession. With God's Grace we are a happy and contended lot.

14. What motivates you?
The fear of failure motivates me the most.

15. If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Despite everything I believe in fate and destiny as such do not really bother about such things. I know whatever I have to do must have my 100%.


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