Editor’s Comment: Leadership the ‘Ramsay’ way

15th Apr 2005

A critic once accused chef hot-head, Gordon Ramsay of being capable of ‘bayoneting the wounded’ and it would be fair to say that television series including ‘[***]’s Kitchen’ have done much to reinforce this image but beyond the bravado you find a man passionate about food and simply striving for the best; Editor’s Comment finds out what can be learnt from leadership the ‘Ramsay’ way.

Ramsay’s life has been dotted with successes and failures. Spotted by a Glasgow Rangers scout in an FA youth club match, Ramsay got a lucky break and after completing trials he was signed by the Scottish champions at the age of 15.

It was during these early years that Ramsay learned what could be achieved with hard-work and how to deal with pressure both from family, who had uprooted to help him pursue his fledgling career and the football squad he found himself a part of.

“I stayed on for extra lessons and trained very hard five days a week,” but explained Ramsay the football and extra-curricula training was not just evidence of his passion for the game but a form of escapism from an over-bearing father, “Football was my release.”

Three years later, a series of untimely injuries put an abrupt end to his football career and Ramsay was left to contemplate his next move.

His career adviser suggested he consider going into the police force but an HND in hotel management seemed more attractive.

“Dad thought cooking was for poofs but I saw the kitchen as a place I could hide.”

At 19, Ramsay moved to London, it was at this time that his mother and father were getting divorced having discovered that Ramsay senior had been having an affair.

“It was hard to swallow and I had to stand up and be strong, my brother turned to drugs.”

He channelled the emotional pressure he was under into his first big cooking break with Marco Pierre White in London.

“Marco showed me the light; he was on a mission and was merciless.”

Years of hard-graft soon paid off and Ramsay now has several restaurants and books under his belt. But it is his flirtations with our television screens that has seen him with the same hand, praised, laughed at and wrung out by the press and the British public alike that have catapulted him into popular interest.

Series including ‘[***]’s Kitchen’, in which a group of celebrities train to be cooks and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares where Gordon turns his hand to turnaround failing restaurants.

His career, it would seem has moved as fast as the food that flies out of his kitchens, accompanied by a generous smattering of Michelin stars.

So is he a good leader and can HR and trainers learn any lessons from him?

Ramsay admits his management and leadership style is one of ‘tough love’.

“You have to be blatantly honest, we provide a customer service and you have to alleviate your guilty conscience with how talented they become.”

It becomes clear from listening to Ramsay that he is not readily familiar with HR or ‘management’ ‘speak’ but what he employs are very cutting-edge training styles.

He empowers his staff, teaches them to understand the pressures on other team members and exposes them to learning opportunities wherever possible.

“We make our chefs spend a week with the waiters and when they come back they really understand how tough the job is.”

As for managing under-performance, Ramsay adopts the ‘lessons learned’ approach.

“Last week, I had a chef on ravioli and it was really poor, in front of the kitchen I told him to go home.”

As to how he helped the young chef make the awkward return back to work, Ramsay explains: “The next day I collected him from the front door, he was quite surprised, they don’t normally come through that entrance. I knew the only way he would be accepted back into the kitchen by the others was if he walked in there with me. We sat down had a coffee and talked about what had been learned.”

Watching clips of Ramsay in action, it’s clear that it’s not all bullying, arrogance and tough love but a passion for nurturing talent to produce the best. A pat on the back, praise for a job well done often goes unnoticed in the critics’ columns but it is these moments that get to the heart of his leadership style.

When Ramsay’s protégés receive praise they really know they have done well and you get the feeling that these rare moments are what makes them feel it’s all been worth it and what keeps them at his side. After all not many business leaders can profess to having kept 80% of their staff for at least 10 years.

But can HR and training professionals adopt his style and get away with it? After all his colourful language and bullying tactics would wind many up in court.

“I’ve never faced an Employment Tribunal. I say from ‘day one’ this is not personal, the kitchen is going to be like a concentration camp!”

Ramsay has found a way to build elite teams, one that certainly doesn’t conform to the politically correct, best practice methods drilled into many HR and training professionals but one that seems to work.

“People should stop being so over-precious, who benefits after all in the long-term?”

Ramsay is a leader who is determined to win. His methods might not rest easy with everyone but no-one can dispute the fact that his cajoling and confrontational style has got him where he is today – a winning recipe that he’d be loathe to give up on.

Gordon Ramsay was interviewed by broadcaster and journalist Sue Lawley at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s HRD conference, on 13 April.

HRZone would like to hear your views – what do you think of Ramsay’s leadership style? Post your comments in the box below and have your say.


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20th Apr 2005 16:52

I agree with much of what other colleagues have said about Mr Ramsey, he is without doubt an excellent and creative chef and I am sure that some of his training practices are effective at achieving a result, but so was pushing young children up chimneys and down mines. Does the fact that Mr Ramsey is a good chef give him some right to treat his employees in such a demeaning way? Has Mr Ramsey ever heard of dignity at work? What about harrassment/bullying. As for the fact he has not been in a tribunal yet; maybe that again is due to the fact that his employee's are fearful of him, or pure luck? It is without doubt that commercial kitchens and teams like Mr Ramseys do need a strong leader to maintain cohesion but I do not think Mr Ramsey's methods are the most effective. How many good trainees does he lose because they "can't take the pressure". Does Mr ramsey accept this as a hazzard of the industry or an accpetable turnover of staff?

It appears that this type of behaviour is seen as acceptable and possibly widespread in the catering business having just watched last nights episode of "[***]'s Kitchen" and the outburts from Jean Christophe, another acclaimed Michelin Star chef, towards poor Henry who was not only verbally abused but only just avoided physical injury. Should this be allowed in all work places as a way of motivating staff? It has taken many years of hard effort to drive this sort of approach out of many industries, by both application of legislation and the efforts of HR and managment teams who see these cultures as unacceptable and unproductive in todays society, maybe we should not sensationalise this type of conduct to make "good TV" for ratings sake. What sort of message does this send out to managers/supervisors in all industries!

Mr Ramsey et al should realise it is only a matter of time before the worm turns and they end up with some costly bills at the Employment Tribunals. Expect to see fine food prices escalate, the consumer will pay for Mr Ramsey and friends methods.

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By patward
19th Apr 2005 12:09

While I fully approve of Ramsay's cooking, I'm not sure I agree with his overbearing leadership style. In my eyes he is just a bully - a kitchen isn't a 'concentration camp' it's a place for creativity and expression - doesn't he know that lowering your voice is actually more effective when you're angry then shouting?!!!

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